GETTING OUT: Clouds Rest is a must-do for avid hikers

"If you are fit enough, go. If you are not, make it a fitness goal, then go. Someday, when you're rocking on the front porch at the senior center, you'll be glad you did." - Ron Erskine

If you are an avid hiker with a to-do list, Clouds Rest above
Yosemite Valley must be on it. After walking this epic hike last
week, I suggest you shuffle your list and move Clouds Rest to the
top.
If you are an avid hiker with a to-do list, Clouds Rest above Yosemite Valley must be on it. After walking this epic hike last week, I suggest you shuffle your list and move Clouds Rest to the top.

Visitors to Yosemite Valley know some of the names of granite faces that enclose the valley itself: El Capitan, Half Dome and Glacier Point are a few. Clouds Rest is less familiar. Look beyond Half Dome toward the massive granite wall that reaches up the right side of Tenaya Canyon.

The high point atop this long stretch of glacially polished granite is Clouds Rest. At 9,928 feet, it is a full 1,100 feet higher than Half Dome.

A popular goal for Yosemite hikers is Half Dome. The round trip from the valley is either 14.2 or 16.5 miles, depending on which trail you take.

You will climb nearly 5,000 feet and will have lots of company. Waits at the bottom of the cables up the back of the dome can be more than a half hour.

While the hike to Half Dome is beautiful and a tremendous accomplishment, wouldn’t you prefer to hike a shorter distance (13.2 miles), climb less (2,450 feet) to a peak that looks down on Half Dome and do all this without the crowds? Follow me.

I parked my car at the Sunrise Lakes trailhead just south of Tenaya Lake on the Tioga Pass Road (Highway 120). In the cool morning air, I stepped across Tenaya Creek and followed its course through lodgepole pines for a level mile before climbing 1,000 feet through a forest of western white pines and northern hemlocks.

At the trail junction at the top of the ridge, I turned right and reluctantly dropped into a basin (I’ll have to gain that all back again) where the terrain rolled for several miles past small feeder streams, meadows and great wildflower displays. Water-up along here. It will be your last opportunity.

After another trail junction and another right turn, the trail started up again. Through the trees, I got my first view of the summit.

As I climbed, the forest of western white pines slowly thinned until a solid granite staircase appeared suddenly with a clear view to the summit. I walked 20 feet beyond the trail where the world seemed to drop away. I gasped. There was a stunning amount of “down” over that lip – 5,000 feet total – only one step away.

Immerse yourself in the final approach up this bare granite ridge. It is a vision that will never leave your mental scrapbook. While the spine-like ridge is wide enough to be safe for a careful hiker, there are lethal drops close by on each side. The structure of the rock here resembles a stack of pancakes of diminishing diameter that makes a convenient staircase. The higher you go, the thinner the ridge becomes, leaving you breathlessly exposed to distant horizons in every direction.

Finally, the summit. On one side, the 5,000-foot one-step drop to Tenaya Canyon; on the other, the 1,700- foot fall to Sunrise Creek. To the south, Half Dome and Yosemite Valley; to the north, Tenaya Lake, where you began, looks like a small puddle. Far beyond, the peaks of the Yosemite wilderness etch the horizon. Look around, and take a moment to pat yourself on the back.

It was a long day. By the time I returned to the car, I wanted my mommy, but it was a day that will always sit on the mantle of my memory.

If you are fit enough, go. If you are not, make it a fitness goal, then go. Someday, when you’re rocking on the front porch at the senior center, you’ll be glad you did.

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