Back to index Yosemite High Sierra Camp Loop Hike - Day 4

An edited version of my adventure on the High Sierra Camps Loop appeared in the second issue of  Sidewalk - A hiking and backpacking magazine
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Day 5
Trip Date:  08/24/2014

: 10.2 Miles

Vertical Gain: 424'

Group Size: 6
Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard   Strenuous
Yosemite High Sierra Camp Loop Hike Day 4
Download GPX GPX for this trip
HSC Day 4 Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 37 52.699, W 119 20.315 (parking for first day's hike)     End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates  
Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   Take Highway 395 south from Monitor Pass toward Mono Lake.  At Lee Vining, turn on Highway 120 (Tioga Pass) and enter Yosemite Park on the east side.  About 10 miles into the park turn at the Wilderness Permit area (Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Road) and continue to the parking coordinates for backpacker vehicles.
Hazards of Note:   Wildlife, especially bears.  Some of the trails are difficult and footing can be tenuous at times.  Much of the uphill and downhill sections are made up of granite steps which are rough on the feet after time. Crowd Factor:   Mixed.  Yosemite is a very popular destination during the summer months, and this hike and option to stay in the HSC locations with served meals is available only by lottery system.  The further into the park the trails will be less crowded, but there are many places for day hikers to pick up the trail system.
General Notes:
Day four is the longest single segment on the High Sierra Camp loop, at just over 10 miles from Sunrise HSC to Merced Lake HSC.  Fortunately, most of the trip is downhill and through a wide array of scenery, making the trip a pleasant one.  This is good as it is sandwiched between two of the toughest days on the entire loop.  Dropping down from the Sunrise HSC, you pick up the John Muir trail for about 9/10 of a mile, going the opposite direction you might think.  As you head up this trail, you get a great view of Tenaya Peak, very interesting with its rocky spire pointing toward the heavens.  
Soon you take a junction to the right, and start the long descent that will dominate most of the trail for the day.  Although you are mostly in canyons hiking along the path of rivers in the area, the views routinely open up to amazing vistas of granite domes and mountain peaks off in the distance at many spots.  Just before the junction to the trail which heads off to the main Yosemite Valley, there is even a small area of lush trees and ferns, quite unlike any other area on the entire journey.  
Pas this trail junction you actually drop to almost 7000', and then have a couple hundred feet in elevation to make up gradually over the last mile and a half to Merced Lake.

Up early to check out the looming sunrise about to come up over, well, Sunrise Mountain. Just about dawn
The view we had from our campsite, looking far off toward Vogelsang mountain, where we would be camping in two nights from now.
View from camp
Brent breaking down his campsite and about ready to hit the trail. Packing up
Phil and Diane above Sunrise meadow before we headed on out. Morning pic
Brent and Diane in the same place.
Brent and Diane
...and one more obligatory shot before loading up and hitting the John Muir section of today's trail. Yours truly 
The Sunrise HSC main dining tent, where we loaded up with a big breakfast and then headed on out. Sunrise HSC Sunrise HSC
Diane watching the activity in Sunrise Meadow when one of the pack mules for the group riding between camps bucked its rider off and then sprinted off across the way.  Ouch.
Sunrise Meadow 
The profile of the very distinctive Tenaya Peak.  Not sure if that's climbable or not but it looks like it might be. Tenaya Peak
The first drop down from the John Muir trail had us among a lot of granite for a couple of miles, as well as the remnants of a forest fire from many years ago. Greg and Diane
Brent took care of the sweeper job for us today! Brent on the way
This area of lush greenery, filled with ferns was an unexpected surprise along the way. Interesting fern grotto
Even though today's route was relatively tame, Vogelsang Mountain kept rearing its head in front of us, reminding everyone of what lay ahead for the next day. Vogelsang Peak
Something about this particular granite feature kept me smiling for much of the day. Nice feature
Interestingly enough, tomorrow's hike would have us climbing up on the other side of the ridge across the way. ridge to tomorrow
About 2/3 of the way to Merced Lake was a junction (you can see the sign near the lower left) with our trail and the one to Yosemite Valley, and we found a nice spot in the shade to stop and enjoy our lunch. Rest stop junction 
This junction was a nice place for lunch, and we enjoyed a long break from pounding on the trail. A rest A rest
Not far past our rest stop we saw this little guy stripping bark off the tree and taking it back for his nest.  He was really fast about it, as well. Busy
Yep, that's where we are going, with Merced Lake tucked in the valley in the distance. Heading up to the lake
Its impossible to imagine the forces that carved this scoop right out of the solid granite above us. Impressive 
It's always nice to see one of these signs and realize how close you are to a nice long rest at the end of the day's hike. Getting close
Still a good amount of water flowing down the Merced River, even at this late point in the summer. Following the Merced 
A lot of work was done by the trail makers on this last stretch to Merced Lake, as the path was carved right out of the solid granite.  Amazing! Last stretch Last stretch
Seeing this sign at Merced Lake was definitely a sight for sore feet (sic) Finally! 
Another look at Merced Lake.  The High Sierra Camp is just on the other side of the lake, hidden behind the tree in the foreground. Merced Lake  
The Merced Lake HSC building.  This was probably the nicest of the staffs that we had along the trip. Merced Lake HSC 
Yeah, I think I could live here, for sure. Swimming hole 
Merced Lake is the largest of the HSC camps we visited on our loop. The HSC 
Our campsite at Merced Lake. Our campsite 
Sunset over the lake. Sunset approaching 
GPS Track of the full hike. GPS Track of Hike