Getting out: Clouds Rest Challenge is coming

Ron Erskine stops for a photo on the summit of Clouds Rest. Half Dome and Yosemite Valley are in the background. 

Last December in this column, I laid down the Clouds Rest Challenge. I invited readers to join me on a tough 13.2-mile hike from Tenaya Lake (8,150 feet) to the top of Clouds Rest (9,926 feet), an iconic Yosemite peak. Back then, the July 13, 2013 date of the Challenge was a long way off. Not anymore.
The first of our six preparatory hikes was last New Year’s morning. In recent years, I have invited people to kick off the New Year this way, and great group of fifteen or twenty people always come. Apparently, the Clouds Rest Challenge stirred things up, because last New Year’s morning, the Mendoza Ranch parking lot at Harvey Bear County Park filled with cars. At least one hundred people came to hike the Mummy Mountain Trail that morning and accept the Challenge.
Since then, we have traipsed all over the hills of south Santa Clara County. Mount Madonna County Park, Rancho Cañada del Oro, Henry Coe State Park (twice), and Harvey Bear County Park (twice) have felt the impact of our boots. Each time, as we gather and people trickle onto the trail, I hear greetings like: “We just made our reservations in Lee Vining,” or, “We reserved a camp site in Tuolumne Meadows.”
Certainly, some people have fallen by the wayside over the last six months, but even a rough estimate from emails and trailhead chatter leaves me impressed by the number of people who have hung tough and will see this challenge through.
The fashionable hiking challenge in Yosemite is Half Dome – a noble trek, but in a comparison with Clouds Rest, the choice is easy. The hike to Clouds Rest is shorter (13.2 miles versus 16 miles) and has less elevation gain (2,450 feet versus 4,800 feet). But here is the clincher. The Half Dome hike is so popular that you must enter a lottery to get a permit. At the base of the cables near the summit, you must show your permit and often wait thirty minutes for your turn to ascend. Conversely, our walk to Clouds Rest will be relatively quiet (no permit is required), and when we get to the top we will gaze 1,100 feet down toward the teeming masses on Half Dome.
If you are hearing about the Clouds Rest Challenge for the first time, and have not been at any of the prep hikes; never mind, come along. The invitation remains open. If you choose to join us, you are in for a long heart-pounding day. As you climb higher and higher into increasingly oxygen-stingy air, you may wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?” The effort will test you, but the reward will be worth it.
The part of the experience that words or numbers cannot convey is what awaits you at the top of Clouds Rest. Of course, the view is immense and heart stopping. You will look down the length of Yosemite Valley a vertical mile below. To the east, you will look across all of the Yosemite high country.
But the most powerful thing will be that you walked there. Clouds Rest is not a roadside turnout. You will have walked 6.6 miles into the Yosemite wilderness and you will stand atop the highest point on the rim of Yosemite Valley. Look back toward Tenaya Lake where you began. It will look like a puddle. Pat yourself on the back. You have earned it, and as time goes on, the memory will grow sweeter and sweeter.
9:00 am, Saturday, July 13. See you at the Sunrise Trailhead near the outlet from Tenaya Lake.