Backpacking Yosemite: Day 1 – To Glen Aulin

I recently got to social distance myself by backpacking in the Yosemite Wilderness with my 17yo and two of his friends. And yes, we all got tested negative for Covid the week before. It’s not everyday that you get to snag a wilderness permit. We got lucky to get one this year, thanks to my neighbor. It was four magical nights (isn’t that every night?) up in the Yosemite High Country. Because of Covid restrictions, the late July crowd was largely absent leaving all of the mountains to the few that were able to make it up there with reservations. This is a three part blog on our journey from Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin, then to Young Lakes and finally back to the Tuolumne Meadows. I can’t believe the last time I backpacked in Yosemite was in 2015!

Prep for Backpacking Yosemite

Given the teens’ high caloric intake (!!), we had to plan the meals extra carefully. We stuffed the bear canisters with hand picked Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry freeze dried food. Each of the teens got to have 2 servings of each for every meal (700 to 900 calories) with the Pad Thai ending up as their favorite meal. We thought we had enough redundancies built-in (two Jet Boils, extra canisters, Sawyer gravity filter + a UV pen, etc.), but ran into some fun (in retrospect!) problems that we had to solve in realtime. Each of our packs ended up around 35lbs which wasn’t too bad at all for backpacking Yosemite.

We drove up to Tuolumne Meadows on a Wednesday afternoon and setup shop at the backpacker’s campground. The first and the last night stay were included in the wilderness permit at $6/person/night. Had to park along the road just outside of the Lambert Dome parking lot and then hike in. I’ve so missed the high mountain crisp air, the sound of the gurgling streams, the meadows with wild flowers and the granite crags all around us!

Setting up at Tuolumne Meadows backpacker's camp for the backpacking yosemite trip
Got a fire going at our backpacker's campsite

Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin

This segment of our trip was pretty chill, just a gradual 7 mile descent towards Glen Aulin on the Pacific Crest Trail. Starting at the Lambert Dome parking, the trail goes past the stables, the meadows and largely follows the winding Tuolumne River. The weather was just absolutely perfect (mid 70’s) and we took a short detour and hiked up one of the granite domes. At one point, I took off my backpack and ran up to the top of a granite dome, which was so fun.

Tuolumne River right by our campsite
Tuolumne Meadows
Top of a granite dome on the way to Glen Aulin
Overlook, almost at Glen Aulin
Waterfall right by the Glen Aulin High Sierra camp

Glen Aulin, given the High Sierra Camps and the intersection of many trails, (through hikers, day hikers, etc.) was a bit of a zoo when we got there. The campsites were quite busy and didn’t feel all that remote. We found a spot not too far from the waterfall and while setting up camp, accidentally broke one of the pole segments in one of our Big Agnes tents. Took us sometime to gather our thoughts before using the emergency splint to patch the frame so we could get the tent up. *whew*

After a dinner by the waterfalls, we hiked up the little hill past the foot bridge to the start of the Grand Canyon of Yosemite, the 30 odd miles of Tuolumne River that ends up Hetch Hetchy reservoir. We swam under the waterfalls and then were treated to a spectacular sunset.

Tuolumne River at the start of the Grand Canyon
Under the Glen Aulin waterfall

You get to meet all sort of adventurers on a trip like this! Our campsite neighbor was backpacking the 50 mile loop connecting all of the High Sierra campsites, while another one from the Bay Area (ran Quicksilver 100K the same year as me!) was venturing further north to McCabe lake. This person recognized me ‘cos I was sporting the Quicksilver beanie. 🙂

Tomorrow is a long day on this backpacking Yosemite trip. We backtrack a bit and then head up to Young Lakes at 9,800 feet with most of the elevation gain coming in the last 4 miles of the 8. I think the boys are ready and looking forward to a taste of true wilderness and remoteness.

This is a three part blog on Backpacking Yosemite: