Eastern Yosemite Loop from Tuolumne Meadows, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14191A, Supported Trekking


  • Trek with only a day pack and let pack animals carry the equipment and food
  • Experience a cross section of one of America's best known national parks
  • Enjoy three layover days to explore or relax


  • All meals from first day dinner to last day lunch prepared by the packer's cook
  • Wranglers, pack animals, cook; packer’s staff gratuities
  • Camp chairs and large tarp for possible rainy days


DatesJul 26–Aug 7, 2014
StaffMarvin Schinnerer

Trip Overview

The Trip

On our journey, which loops through the central-eastern section of Yosemite National Park, we travel through a wide variety of terrain.  We start and finish our hike at beautiful Tuolumne Meadows, one of the gems of the Sierra.  We meet the afternoon of the first day of the trip to get acquainted and have our first dinner together, prepared by the packer’s cook. A day will be spent camping at the Meadows to give us a chance to acclimate to the elevation of 8,600 feet.  We will have an opportunity on this day to take one of the many day hikes possible from the Meadows.

At the start of our 11 days on the trail we will take the shuttle bus to a trailhead between Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya Lake.  There an old unmarked fisherman’s trail climbs steeply to Lower Cathedral Lake, a considerably shorter route than the regular trail.  We pass Lower and Upper Cathedral Lakes, cross Cathedral Pass, wander down scenic Long Meadow and, after passing by the Sunrise High Sierra Camp, arrive at our first night’s camp at Sunrise Lakes.  The second day, on our route to a camp on Sunrise Creek, we will have the opportunity to take a side trip to climb Clouds Rest for a terrific view of a good portion of the Park.

For the rest of the trip we have a fine mix of canyons, meadows, lakes, forest, streams, and high timberline country.  Refer to the itinerary section of this brochure for a more detailed description of each day’s travel.  Briefly, we descend to the Merced River at Echo Valley and continue up that stream past Merced and Washburn Lakes to the headwaters of the Triple Peak Fork.  From there we double back high above the Merced River to Lewis Creek, which we ascend. Then we visit Bernice Lake, cross Vogelsang Pass, go past the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and Evelyn Lake, and finally return back to Tuolumne Meadows.

A total of 11 days will be spent on the loop trip. Three of these are planned as layover days. On the eight moving days, we will hike about 66 miles and climb 11,000 feet for averages a little less than 9 miles and 1,400 feet per day. Including the two days for acclimation before starting on the trail, the trip has a total of 13 days.

The packer will furnish delicious meals with a cook to handle all the kitchen chores, including cleanup. Chairs are furnished to relax in camp. In case of rain, the wranglers will put up a large tarp to sit under. A sit-down toilet will be provided at each camp with a privacy tent.  Mules will carry all equipment and food except what we require during the day and carry in our day packs.


Day 1: Meet by 4 p.m. at a campsite at Tuolumne Meadow. (The exact location will be indicated to trip members later.) We will have time to get acquainted before dinner at about 6 p.m.

Day 2: We will plan a day hike in the Tuolumne Meadows area. There are many choices to select from.  We will have time in the evening for the trip leader to give an orientation of trip procedures.

Day 3: We take the Park Service shuttle bus toward Tenaya Lake to the start of an old fisherman’s trail from Tioga Road. This is a shortcut to Lower Cathedral Lake.  We continue past Upper Cathedral Lake, climb to Cathedral Pass, and hike on through Long Meadow to Sunrise High Sierra Camp.  From there we take the trail heading for Tenaya Lake to our first camp at Sunrise Lakes. (8.5 miles, 2,000 feet elevation change)

Day 4: A short mile from our camp, we meet the Forsyth Trail, which we follow across the western side of Sunrise Mountain. A side trip on the Clouds Rest Trail takes us to the top of this peak (just under 10,000 feet) for a terrific view of a good portion of the Park. Retracing our steps, we return to the Forsyth Trail and follow it south to our camp on Sunrise Creek. (10 miles, 1,300 feet)

Day 5: We hike down to the Merced River at Echo Valley. Following the stream, we climb to Merced Lake, pass the High Sierra Camp and ranger station, and continue upstream to camp at Washburn Lake. (9 miles, 1,400 feet)

Day 6: Continuing to climb up the Merced River, we pass the junction of the Lyell Fork and hike up the Triple Peak Fork. Our camp lies at timberline, just below Isberg Pass. (9 miles, 2,600 feet)

Day 7: Layover day. We can choose to rest, climb Isberg Pass or Post Peak, or visit Turner Lake.

Day 8: The trail goes north on a shelf high above the Triple Peak Fork of the Merced River.  When we come to the Lyell Fork of the Merced, we go upstream to camp. (6 miles, 600 feet) An optional side trip to Harriet Lake will add about 3 miles and 500 feet of climb to our day.

Day 9: Layover day. Rest or explore the lakes up the Lyell Fork or Hutching Creek.

Day 10: We contour high above the Merced River and descend to Lewis Creek, which we follow upstream to Bernice Lake.  (10.5 miles, 2,500 feet)

Day 11: Layover day. Rest or explore the lakes above Bernice.

Day 12: After descending from Bernice Lake, we climb Vogelsang Pass, pass Volgelsang Lake and the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp at Fletcher Lake.  We continue on to camp at Evelyn Lake. (6 miles, 1,300 feet)

Day 13: On our final day, we take the Rafferty Creek Trail down to the John Muir Trail, coming up the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne.  We follow the Muir Trail back to our cars at Tuolumne Meadows. (7.5 miles, negligible elevation change)

Note: The distances and elevation gains shown above are approximate. The planned itinerary may have to be modified due to factors such as weather and limitations for camping with stock. 



Getting There

Our meeting place is at a camp at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. The exact location will be indicated later to those signing up for the trip. Tuolumne Meadows is on California State Highway 120.  From the west, follow California 108 from Oakdale to Sonora and turn off on California 120 about 26 miles past Oakdale.  It is about 95 miles and 2 to 2.5 hours from this turnoff to the Meadows.  From the east side of the Sierra, turn off from US Highway 395 just south of Lee Vining and go west on California 120. From this junction, it is about 20 miles and a half-hour drive to the Meadows.

Sierra Club leaders are not allowed to make carpool arrangements for participants, but a list of trip members to contact for possible ride-sharing arrangements will be provided before the trip. If you are flying in from outside of California, the nearest large airports are Sacramento, Reno, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco.  There is also a smaller airport at Mammoth Lakes.  

Accommodations and Food

We will use our individual tents and sleeping bags for accommodations at wilderness campsites after the first two nights of car camping.  At each camp a latrine will be dug, and a sit-down toilet and toilet tent will be set up by the wranglers. Folding chairs will be provided for comfort in camp.  A large tarp will be set up in camp in case of rain.  All meals will be prepared and served by an experienced cook beginning with dinner on the first day and ending with lunch on the last day.  The cook will also handle the cleanup after meals.  A food preference sheet will be furnished for trip members to fill out so that the food provided can more closely meet trip members' needs. If you have special diet requirements, let us know and we will check with the packer to see if they can be accommodated.

Trip Difficulty

The overall trip rating is moderate to moderate-strenuous. The relatively light day pack and layover days make the trip suitable for most people in good health who follow a good conditioning program for at least a couple of months before the trip.  Be aware of the effect of the relatively high elevation on your hiking ability. Refer to the itinerary for the individual day’s hiking requirements. The most difficult days involve elevation gains of about 2,500 feet in a distance of about 10 miles. Endurance is much more important than speed.  Our travel on moving days is all on trails, but exploring on layover days may involve cross-country routes over a range of difficulty. These excursions are optional for trip members.

The weather is usually quite good at this time of the year in this area, but we should be prepared for wet and cold just in case.  Most likely it will be fairly dry with temperatures in the 60 to 75 F range for highs, and the 35 to 45 F for lows, but be prepared for considerable variation from these ranges.  Most summer precipitation comes in the form of afternoon thundershowers, with usually a clearing sky by evening.

Equipment and Clothing

Those signing up for the trip will be furnished, a couple of months before the trip, with a detailed check list of required and optional personal items they should bring on the trip. These items will be very similar to what you would bring on a backpack trip, except that the generous 35 lb. limit means that you can indulge in a little more luxury. You need only a day pack to carry gear since the mules will carry everything except what you will need during the day on the trail.  The gear to be carried on the mules should preferably be placed in one large duffel bag.  However, it is ok to split your gear into two bags.  A sturdy pair of boots, broken in but not worn out, with good quality lug soles is needed.  Your sleeping bag should be comfortable to about 25 F in case we get a cold spell.  You can get by with a higher temperature rated bag if you are willing to wear your warm clothes to bed.  A quality tent is recommended since we are camping at relatively high elevations and need to be prepared in case stormy weather catches us in an exposed location.  The packer will furnish stoves, cookware, cooking utensils (including eating utensils and plates for trip members) and food.  You will also have a camp chair provided.  You might want to bring a mug or insulated beverage container for your hot drinks and a plastic container for lunch sandwiches.  The Sierra Club will furnish a group first-aid kit and a satellite phone in case of emergency.  You are expected to furnish your own basic first-aid supplies, such as band aids, blister material, headache relief, etc.


There are many sources of information on the Sierra Nevada in general and also the Yosemite area in particular. The same is true of maps. We will list a few of each and leave it to you to search in the internet if you want to find others.


  • The National Geographic Trails Illustrated map “Yosemite SE” covers the area we hike with a scale of 1:40,000 and a contour interval or 50 feet.  This map also shows trail distances and sells for $9.95.
  • The following U.S.G.S. 7.5-rninute maps together cover our planned route: Vogelsang Peak, Tenaya Lake, Merced Peak, Mount Lyell

These maps may be purchased on line at:  http://store.usgs.gov/


  • Arnot, Phil, John Muir’s Range of Light. 
  • Storer, Tracy and Robert Usinger, Sierra Nevada Natural History.
  • Secor, R J, The High Sierra:  Peaks, Passes and Trails. 
  • Starr, Walter A., Starr's Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Region. 
  • Horn, Elisabeth, Sierra Nevada Wildflowers. 
  • Brown, Ann Marie, Yosemite. 
  • Soares, Marc J., Yosemite National Park. 


Since we are hiking in wilderness, one conservation focus will be on wilderness. This includes how wilderness is defined, designated, and preserved. Our contribution to wilderness preservation will be to follow Leave No Trace principles.

A second approach to conservation will be to ask each trip participant to select a conservation issue, preferably one from the vicinity in where they live, and present that topic to the group for information and discussion.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Yosemite National Park.



Marv Schinnerer, a native of Berkeley, started backpacking in the Sierra in 1948. Since that time he has hiked most of the trails, and numerous cross country routes, from Lake Tahoe to Domelands Wilderness at the extreme south end of the range. He has done significant hiking throughout the rest of California and many Western States. Numerous bicycle camping trips have taken him through much of California, most of New Zealand, and a significant portion of Australia. Marv was an instructor at City College of San Francisco from 1963 until retirement in 1996. He started leading Bay Chapter Sierra Club backpack trips in 1971 and National Supported Trekking trips the year he retired. He has led a total of 19 Supported Trekking trips for the Sierra Club.


Mark Sapiro is a longtime backpacker. He is also a rock climber and enthusiastic bicyclist. He has been leading Bay Chapter backcountry ski trips and assisting on Chapter backpack trips for more than 20 years. He has also assisted or co-led 11 Supported Trekking trips. Mark is a native of the Los Angeles area and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 50 years. He was dean of computer services at City College of San Francisco until his retirement in 1992 (at a relatively young age).

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