Yosemite ~ Panorama Trail & Half Dome ~ 10/10/10

Candy & I did a 3 day/3 night trip along the Panorama Trail in Yosemite on 10/10/2010. The goal of the trip was to give Candy a fun and easy introduction to backpacking. I have enjoyed backpacking solo or with various groups for many years, but lately I have been hoping she will join me for a 2 week JMT thru hike next summer. . . .

Trip description:

- 3 days, 3 nights out and back.
- Total mileage: ~24 miles
- Elevation from ~4,000’ to 8,842’.
- Mild weather mid 30’s to mid 70’s.
- Map used: National Geo Illustrated Topo / carried but not needed on well marked trails.

Day 0:

Arrive at Yosemite Valley at 10:00 pm. Camp at the ‘backpacker campground’ (~4,000’).
Mileage: 0

Day 1:

Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley via Panorama Trail.
Mileage: ~7 miles.

Day 2:

Little Yosemite Valley to Half Dome (8,842’) and back via a small portion of the JMT and the Half Dome Trail.
Mileage: ~7.2 miles.

Day 3:

Little Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point via Panorama Trail.
Mileage: ~7 miles.

backpacker campground

After arriving in the valley at 10:00 pm we had a little trouble finding the backpacker campground, so we just set up next to this table near Curry Village. It turns out we were right next to a range station. The ranger looked perplexed as he saw me getting out of the tent in the morning. He politely pointed out that we were not in the backpacker campground. He didn’t seem to mind that Candy slept in while I got the permits and coffee at the village.


We used Gossamer Gear packs, a Gorilla and Murmur. Candy’s pack weighed in at 7.5 lbs and with the exception of some water along the trail her pack weight stayed the same the whole trip. She carried an REI Sub Kilo 15 degree down sleeping bag, silk long underwear, Patagonia mid-weight long sleeve capilene, EB downlight jacket, an REI rain/wind shell and Smartwool sleep socks (I would be sweating in all of that).

I started out carrying 20.5 lbs on the first day which included a double wall tent (the ‘Condo’, . . . had to leave the Hexamid Tarp Tent at home), Neo-Air sleeping pads, MB super spiral down #3, cook-set and 7.5 lbs of food and fuel for three days. For warmth I used a polartec long sleeve top and long john bottom for a base layer, MB ex light down jacket, a TNF triumph anorak rain/wind shell and silk sock liners for sleep socks. I brought a few luxury items like two Therm-a-rest camp chairs (to use with the Neo-Air pads) and several micro LED’s for our ultralight ‘chandelier’. We never used the camp chairs.

Candy likes the double wall 2 door/2 vestibule Big Sky tent. I found one at a small shop in Colorado earlier this summer so there was no problem with the extended wait times I’ve heard about. The 2 door/2 vestibule setup is great but the GG Squall Classic at the half the weight is hard to beat. . . and I'm working on a 2 person tarp tent with cuben fiber at 1 lb for this summer.

candy at glacier point

Starting out at Glacier Point on day 1.

candy on panorama trail

Along the Panorama Trail.

view on panorama trail

View from the Panorama Trail. Half Dome, Grizzly Peak, Mt. Broderick, Liberty Cap, Vernal & Nevada Falls.

view on panorama trail

View of the Grand Staircase from the Panorama Trail.

grand staircase

Liberty Cap, Nevada Falls & Little Yosemite Valley in the background.

nevada falls

Finishing some coffee at our camp in Little Yosemite Valley before heading out to Half Dome on day 2.

candy in camp

A serene trail to Half Dome.

serene trail

Drill holes from where explosives were used to split rocks along the trail.

drill holes

We passed this exhausted looking group on the way to Half Dome. Are those ultra-heavy walking sticks? . . . thanks to BPL for helping us keep a low BMI (Backpack Mass Index).


Granite stairs on the way to Half Dome.


Climbing the cables up the last 400 feet to the top.


Finally on top, the Diving Board.

diving board

The view of Watkins Pinnacles, Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest, and the side of Half Dome from the Diving Board.

tenaya canyon

The North Rim from Half Dome.

watkins pinnacles

The switchbacks up to the Snow Creek Falls area are visible in the lower middle of this pic. Thanks Dylan Snodgrass at BPL for your trip report about the beautiful campsite in that area (next on our list).


Getting dark on the way back to Little Yosemite Valley.

dark trail

On the way home on day 3: the bridge over Nevada Falls with the Liberty Cap in the background.

nevada bridge

Nevada Falls.

nevada falls

Along the Panorama Trail on the hike out.

pano trail home

The back of Half Dome from the Panorama Trail.

half dome from panorama trail

A panorama of the Panorama Trail.


Pools nearby Illilouette Falls.

green pool

On the bridge over Illilouette Falls.

illilouette bridge

Upper Illilouette Falls.

upper falls

Along the Panorama Trail on the hike out.


Great view from Glacier Point.

yo valley

After finishing the trip Candy mentioned on the ride home, “I would love to do a two week trip like that in the Sierra’s”. Mission accomplished.

First Solo Ultralight Hike ~ Dinkey Lakes Wilderness ~ August 2010

For my first solo ultralight hike I went back to my usual favorite area in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. This area features a popular loop hike of the Dinkey Lakes but I have always been into backpacking in the areas that are off the trails. Since the mid 1990's a group of close friends and I have gathered in a few 'secret' spots in the area. During these trips we have taken a few hikes into the wilderness and thanks in part to Google Earth it became easier to scout new spots. One of these trips was to Virginia Lake where there are good views looking up the vast granite valleys into the high country. I always wondered what was up there. . .

This time I would park at the end of one of the dirt OHV roads and bushwack down into the granite canyon and up the south fork of Dinkey Creek up into the high country. This trip was completely off-trail and I just used a map and compass to navigate.

This is the view from where I started climbing into the canyon: From here I climbed down into the canyon and the intersection of the north and south forks of Dinkey Creek, then followed the granite canyon up toward the high country in the background. The mountains at the top of the canyon in the distance are over 9,000 feet. My goal is to get to a lake in the next valley and up to Sportsman Lake at 9,250 feet before nightfall.

This is the view from the bottom of the canyon at about 7,500 feet looking back at the top of the mountain where I started.

                          The view looking up the granite canyon on the way up toward Virginia Lake.

Virginia Lake at 8,500 feet.

Betty Lake at 8,700 feet.

The climb up the talus out of the valley to 9,000 feet.

Sportsman Lake (9,250 feet) at the base of Mt. Nelson.

Waterfront UL campsite along Sportsman Lake at the base of Mt. Nelson. The SMD Gatewood Cape shed the little bit of rain that night and the Serenity Net Tent kept the bugs away. The mosquitos were voracious this time of year. I wasn't aware back then that I was supposed to camp at least 100 feet away from the lake. . .

The next morning I climbed Mt. Nelson (10,025 feet). This is a view of the talus slope along the east side of Mt. Nelson from a few miles away.

The talus slope on the way up to the top of Mt. Nelson was nearly vertical in some places. An afternoon summer storm was brewing as I neared the top.

            And finally, some views from the top. . .

Camping later that night along the South Fork of Dinkey Creek.

Waterfall along lower Dinkey Creek on the hike out.

The view of Dinkey Dome on the climb out.

The last view of Dinkey Dome on the climb home.

That was my first attempt at solo ultralight backpacking. The three day/two night trip was a lot of fun, and I finally walked through my fear of bears at night in the wilderness alone. The solitude was peaceful and it was a wonderful break from busy city life. I learned that I was still bringing way too much stuff that I thought was 'necessary'. By lowering my pack weight to about 15 pounds on day one I was able to climb anywhere and just camp wherever I ended up at the end of the day. The journey continues.