Exploring Yosemite: May Lake, Mt. Hoffmann & McGee Lake

Maybe third time’s a charm, but I’ve been trying to get to Yosemite this year to run some of the trails (as opposed to backpacking), but with all the crazy fires and smoke, it’s really been nuts the last few months. Ridiculous how many fires we got going in California. If that can’t be attributed to Climate Change Crisis, not sure what else can be. October was kinda my last chance to get up there before they close Tioga Rd for winter and I totally lucked out. It turned to be a perfect fall day in Yosemite and no smoke on my route. Here’s my Strava activity on a 22-mile soul cleanser:

Seeking Solitude in Yosemite

With all the races canceled this year, more and more folks are doing FKT’s (Fastest Known Times) or adventure runs. Having mostly exhausted the local staple runs, I’ve been earning for a change of scenery and some solitude over an extended period of time. One of the absolute things I loved about running ultra-distance races, is that for the six-seven-ten+ hours, life boils down to absolutely basic necessities. Eat, drink, don’t trip and face plant and get to the finish line. And the camaraderie which is so huge in the trail community with folks from all walks of lives. It acts as such an equalizer right? I SO miss that. Anyways…

May Lake

Even the Sunday prior, I kept looking at the AQI levels around Tuolumne Meadows and by Monday saw that nps.gov/yose had removed smoke/fire alerts. The webcams were showing clear skies and things were looking hopeful. I had three or four different routes in mind (depending on which way the smoke was going) and ended up picking this one. Got to the Sunrise Trailhead by 6:30am, which is at the midpoint between May Lake Trailhead and Murphy Creek Trailhead (end of the loop). Not to mention proximity to Tenaya Lake as I was looking for an ice bath at the end!

May Lake was only 3.2 miles from the start and it was a gorgeous start for the day. Crisp fall air, perfectly blue skies, nice and cool – all goodness. You can see Mt. Hoffmann saddle below, which is a class 2 rock scramble up a steep segment to get to to the summit at ~11,000 feet

Mt. Hoffman in the distance

Mt. Hoffmann

I’m so glad I preloaded the entire route onto my Suunto Ambit3. Things got really sketchy from here as the trails leading up to the summit were faint and it was really hard to find cairns amidst the sea of rocks. I kept going off route as the climb began. Approaching the saddle I started following some cairns and ended up right under the saddle. Deep breath and started just working my way up. Could see smoke on my left, May Lake below me and Half Dome to the right. Absolutely stunning.

After getting over the saddle, paused for a bit to catch my breath and started to head left where my route was supposed to be. Further down I could now see the path leading up to the summit! Looks like I took the fun way up. Oh well, it was worth it. While I tried to soak the view, I did pause to think about how there was not a single soul around me. Solitude is about as good as this gets.

Peeled off some layers, snacked on a Clif Bar and started the descent (carefully) to May Lake, going off route frequently. I was only 5 miles in (and totally worth!) and had taken me 2 hours to summit. Still had some miles to cover.

McGee Lake

From May Lake, I started on the Glen Aulin trail which after about 3.8 miles intersects with Murphy Creek Trail (my trail back to the car). I was doing really well on water and didn’t have to refill at the lake. Was originally thinking of making it all the way to Glen Aulin and returning back via Tuolumne Meadows, but wasn’t quite ready for a 30+ mile jaunt on my very solo adventure run. Self supported runs through the high country requires lots of planning and this was a good distance for a first solo run.

About a mile in towards McGee Lake, briefly smelled smoke. Looking around, it was to my right and but was completely clear up ahead. Kept going to soon leave the smoke behind. This was probably the only time I smelled smoke during the whole run. Also this stretch was super runnable. High country single track FTW!

Took my time at McGee Lake to eat, douse myself with water (was starting to get a little warm) and also to filter water. The Sawyer Mini with the squeeze pouch is lightweight & awesome! Worked back to the Murphy Creek junction and headed back to the car on another very runnable single track. This was a great experience overall. Never needed more than 1.5L of water for the whole 6+ hours I was out there, though other than Mt. Hoffmann I was mostly under the canopy of trees which kept things nice and cool. And to finish off the run, totally jumped into Tenaya Lake for a snowmelt bath!

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