Yosemite Wilderness Inspiration, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14143A, Backpack


  • Be inspired by exceptional scenery
  • Swim in High Sierra lakes
  • Gain firsthand appreciation of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act


  • All meals
  • All group camping gear
  • Exceptional camaraderie


DatesAug 24–30, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffDave Simon

Trip Overview

The Trip

But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly aware, yet heedless, of everything going on about them. Awful in stern, immovable majesty, how softly these rocks are adorned, and how fine and reassuring the company they keep. – John Muir, The Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is the spiritual home of the Sierra Club and has long been a profound source of inspiration for those who have been fortunate enough to visit. This part of the Sierra is renowned for its history and its high mountain passes, its many lakes, and its polished granite basins. 

Our trip will take us into the High Sierra from the most famous west side entry point, where we can do as Muir says and climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Starting near Glacier point, we will make our way up into the basins before descending from the headwaters of the Merced River. Our 50-mile route will be on-trail. We will pass stately lodgepole pines at lower elevations, which give way to Sierra juniper higher up. While the prime flower season will likely have passed, our ramblings will take us through many meadows, where we might still see a few late-blooming wildflowers. We also spend a portion of the trip near tree line and have the opportunity to see the work of the glaciers up close. And, we will pass (and stop at and swim in!) an assortment of streams and lakes: Ottoway Lakes, Isberg Lake, Washburn Lake, the headwaters of the Merced, and many others.


Day 1: We will start at Glacier Point and follow Illilouette Creek, making camp in the shadows of Mt. Starr King. With little down and a little up, these first seven miles should give us an opportunity to acclimate to the moderately high altitude and our heavy packs.

Day 2: The second day will be challenging. We will ascend 2,400 feet over 8+ miles, hiking up into granite basins and lovely Ottoway Lakes.

Days 3-4: On our toughest day, with 10 miles and two climbs totaling 2,400 feet, we will make our way over Red Peak Pass, which will afford views of the entire Clark Range to the north and Mt. Ritter and The Minarets to the south. Red Peak Pass is one of the most intriguing passes in the Northern Sierra, with its sharp western ascent and gradual eastern descent. After the pass, we descend into a valley carved by one of the forks of the Merced before a last climb to reach lakes just below Isberg Pass. Our significant efforts will be rewarded as we will be surrounded by lakes and several high-country passes. On day four, our layover day, we will be free to climb nearby peaks and passes, wander off to nearby lakes, or just snooze in the sun.

Day 5: Leaving our inspirational layover spot, we will be well rested for a descent down the headwaters of the Merced. This will be another long day as we continue to the area around Washburn Lake.  

Day 6: We head down the Merced drainage, past the High Sierra Camp at Merced Lake. We expect to find an inviting spot in the sometimes crowded backcountry campsite in Little Yosemite Valley after a long 12 miles. We will have one last night to enjoy another of Charles's gourmet dinnerand the Milky Way on a nearly moonless night.

Day 7: Our last day takes us back to the departure trailhead near Glacier Point. Even our last day will provide inspiration as it will be filled with views of Yosemite Valley, iconic waterfalls, and Half Dome.  We should be back to our cars by early to mid-afternoon on Saturday. However, it is recommended that participants plan return flights for the next day as there is no guarantee that we will return to the trailhead at the expected time.

Please bring a flexible demeanor with you on the trip. The itinerary may change due to unforeseen conditions or circumstances. Whatever route we take, ours will be enjoyable and inspirational—in this place that “seems to glow with life.”



Getting There

Our trip begins in a campground near Glacier Point Road in the middle of Yosemite National Park. We will meet informally the evening before the trip begins to get to know one another, and begin to acclimatize to the altitude. The trip will officially start with breakfast on Sunday, August 24 and we plan to be on trail before 10:00 a.m. The closest airports are Sacramento (190 miles and four hours) and San Francisco (200 miles and four hours), and Reno (225 miles and five hours). A group roster will be provided well before the trip to assist trip members who want to form their own carpools to the campground.

Accommodations and Food

The trip price includes all meals from breakfast on day one through lunch on day seven and use of group camping gear. Creating masterpieces from dried and dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and meat is a passion of your assistant leader. You may even find yourself signing up for future trips just for the food! A nutritious, high-energy diet is planned. Participants will be divided into cook crews so everyone will have a chance to prepare (and clean up) a day’s meals.

Trip Difficulty

Our trip is rated “moderate/strenuous” (4) as we will experience significant elevation gains and losses while traveling 8-10+ miles/day. On a couple of days, you may wonder why the trip was not simply rated “strenuous” (5), and it will be important to remember that trip ratings take a holistic view of the trip as several of our days are less challenging.

The ability to hike 12 miles at high altitude with a full backpack is a necessity. You must be comfortable carrying a heavy backpack. The need for mental and physical preparation cannot be overemphasized. If you have never hiked long distances at high elevation with a heavy pack, this is likely not the trip for you. And, even if you have, you will need to train for the challenge. If you are in excellent physical condition before the trip starts, you will find the rewards well worth the challenges!

Yosemite and the High Sierra are renowned for their excellent summer weather. However, afternoon thunderstorms are common and even extended rainstorms can occur at this time of year. Temperatures can range from the 80s at midday on down to the 20s at night. A cold, wet day in the 50s is not expected, but would not be a surprise. And, we may encounter snowfields on small portions of our route. Proper clothing for these extremes is critical.

Equipment and Clothing

We will provide the group equipment, including food, bear canister, pots, utensils, stove, first-aid kit, trowels, ropes, and group tarp. Your share of the group load will be about 18 lbs. at the start of the trip—a bear canister and another item. This share of the group load will occupy at least as much space as three one-gallon milk jugs—so limit your personal gear to less than 25 lbs. 

Trip members are expected to furnish their own backpack and personal gear. Be prepared for the extremes of our alpine environment. Don't skimp on tent, rain suit, or boots. Adequate protection from the vagaries of the "Gentle Wilderness's" inclement weather is a must! Don't wear new boots on the trip. Allow at least a month of near-constant wearing of new boots to get them broken-in.

The trip leader can furnish a custom equipment list early in the summer. In the meantime, see http://www.knapsack.org/basic_equipment.html for a list of suggested gear.



Maps can be ordered from the US Geological Survey at http://store.usgs.gov/ — Half Dome, Merced Peak and Mount Lyell USGS 7.5” quadrangles.  Tom Harrison Maps (www.tomharrisonmaps.com) also has a Yosemite High Country map, which covers the whole trip.


  • Roper, Steve, A Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra. Sierra Club Books.
  • Secor, R.J., High Sierra. Mountaineers Books.
  • Whitney, Stephen, A Sierra Club Naturalists Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Sierra Club Books.
  • Winnett, Thomas and Jason, Sierra North. Wilderness Press.
  • Muir, John, The Yosemite. Sierra Club Books.



If people in general could be got out into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish. – John Muir

The Sierra Club's history is steeped in efforts to preserve endangered habitat and wilderness. And, this history is intertwined with the history of Yosemite National Park. The Club was instrumental in efforts to move stewardship of the park to the federal government from the ineffectual efforts of the state of California. This action was a result of the 1903 three-day trip of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, who camped in the very spot of our departure!

The Sierra Club also played a large role in the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. On this 50th anniversary of the legislation that did so much to protect areas “untrammeled by man,” we have the chance to think of our good fortune due to the efforts of others as we hike through the region.

Yosemite is thought by many to be the jewel of our national parks system. With towering waterfalls, polished granite, giant sequoia groves, brown bears, and other species, Yosemite is an area that we can enjoy but where we must leave no trace so that our natural heritage is protected for future generations.

While on this trip, feel free to ask the leaders about any conservation issues. Since the days of John Muir, the Sierra Club believes that its outings program provides a perfect opportunity for members to both enjoy the fruits of past conservation victories and learn about current concerns.

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.



Dave Simon has been backpacking for over 20 years and been enjoying the Sierra since the mid ‘80s. This is the ninth trip he and Charles Hardy have led together. Sometimes Dave assists Charles and sometimes Charles assists Dave. This time it is Dave’s turn to lead! Dave especially enjoys backpacking with his wife, two kids, and the numerous friends they have introduced to the wonders of the backcountry. He also runs, bikes, and plays soccer.

Assistant Leader:

This will be at least the 22nd Sierra Club National Outing that Charles has staffed. Backpacking above timberline is one of his favorite pursuits. When not in the mountains, he usually can be found at a baseball game, most often at PacBell Park cheering on the Giants. Among his other interests are walking, running, reading, films, cooking, and spending time with friends. One of the absolute best weeks of every year for Charles is the one he spends sharing his love of the High Sierra with Club members.

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