Finishing business at Young Lakes

Young Lakes

The pastime of backpacking is a tough sell, and that is a terrible shame. I will never win over the “my-idea-of-camping-is-a-night-at-the-Four-Seasons” crowd. After all, there is a good bit of burdened walking and doing without. But many times, I have watched the evening light cast a glow over a wilderness setting of amazing grandeur and peace and thought that if I could just pick someone up and set them down here, they would dismiss the hardships as a small price to pay for such a moment.
If I set you down at Young Lakes above Tuolumne Meadows, you would know what I mean. I had not been there since I went with my son, Drew, sometime in the late ’90s. In mid-October, I decided to revisit this lovely spot and hopefully take care of some unfinished business.
I had driven to Yosemite that morning and stopped to hike up a peak I was considering for next summer’s challenge hike. By the time I shouldered my pack and began the eight-mile hike into Young Lakes, it was 3 p.m. I knew the light would be low by the time I arrived.
The trail into Young Lakes looks like a drawing of a balloon on a string. It begins at top of the balloon and one can choose which way to go around it. Either way, you will eventually reach the string, which is the last two and a half miles to the first of the three lakes.
From the parking lot near Lembert Dome, I followed the route down Tuolumne Meadows past Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge. Two miles out, I left the trail that continues down the Tuolumne River and turned right at the junction to Young Lakes. While I would gain 1,400 feet over the eight-mile walk, this route modulated the elevation gain so that I never suffered. Ideal weather, warming evening light and a beautiful changing landscape all combined to make this wilderness walking at its finest.
Each of the three Young Lakes is prettier that the one below it. Spectacular Ragged Peak makes a steep granite dive into Lower Young Lake, but lodge pole pines shroud most of the lake’s perimeter. Seeking a more open setting, I climbed the step to the middle lake. While I wanted to get to the upper lake, when I saw the last little climb it would take to get there, my weary body informed me that the middle lake was just fine.
And indeed it was. I rolled out my gear at the edge of a vast meadow above the lake. In the comfort of my camp chair, toasty warm in my sleeping bag (and sipping on my Manhattans), I watched the evening envelope an amazing scene. Perfectly reflected in the lake, Mt. Conness was aflame in red alpenglow as was the granite wall that ran up to the Sierra crest from Ragged Peak. Wrapped beneath this rough and forbidding frame, I sat by a peaceful lake and quiet meadow. I cannot imagine a greater contrast or a lovelier scene.
I mentioned some unfinished business from my last trip to these lakes. When Drew and I came here years ago, I had hoped to go to the top of Mt. Conness. I mistakenly led us to the top of nearby 12,057-foot White Mountain. On yet another Yosemite visit, the effects of the altitude turned me back. This has always left me a bit frustrated. It’s just not that high or that hard. Admirable persistence or stubborn stupidity—I’m not sure—I was determined to try again.
Feeling hopeful, I shouldered my daypack and set out early the next morning. While there is no established trail, the lay of the land and boot prints of the others who have gone before reveal the way. When I reached the top of steep stretch at 12,000 feet—within sight of the peak—I laid down on my back, fatigued and begrudgingly swallowing defeat again.
But after lunch, I was renewed, and I reached the top. I made my entry in the summit register, the only one of the day, and delighted in an amazing view and spectacular solitude.
The summit of Mt. Conness is only one of the many places on this modest backpack trip where I would like to magically plunk you down and ask, “Would you walk here?”
Next trip, I am confident I would have a lot of company.

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