To the Top: Local hikers tackle Mount Hoffman challenge

Mount Hoffman challengers stop for a rest during the 2,135-foot climb to the summit. More than 60 people showed up for the Mount Hoffman Challenge and all of them made it to the top.

Proposition: Step away from your busy personal life for a three-day out of town trip; drive five hours to a Yosemite mountain trailhead.
Why? So you can climb two thousand heart-pounding feet to a 10,845-foot granite mountain top. Care to come along? Early Saturday morning, July 11, 63 people gathered to do just that.
They came to test themselves against Mount Hoffman in Yosemite National Park. From the May Lake trailhead (8,710 feet,) they faced a 2,135-foot climb to an impressive 10,845-foot summit. That’s a lot of “up.” To compound the challenge, the last 300 feet just below the summit require genuine hands-and-feet rock scrambling. Amazingly, every one of the 63 reached the top of Mount Hoffman.
When so many people succeed at a challenge like this, there is a temptation to think they are all members of the lycra-spandex crowd. Not so. Ages ranged from pre-teen to at least a half-dozen septuagenarians. Whole families came. One grandmother-grandson team made the climb. Mount Hoffman challengers are your neighbors … regular folks like you and me.
For the last three years in November, I have challenged readers to prepare for a difficult but alluring goal the following summer. During the intervening winter and spring, we hike in the local hills to prepare for the summer’s objective.
In 2013, we took on Clouds Rest, a 13.2-mile hike to a 9,926-foot peak looming 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 1,000 feet above Half Dome. In 2014, we turned our attention to the highest mountain on the shore of Lake Tahoe: Mount Tallac. Challengers climbed 3,300 feet to reach that 9,735-foot summit.
This year, we returned to Yosemite to tackle Mount Hoffman. Situated smack dab in the geographic center of Yosemite National Park, Mount Hoffman would be easier than past challenges in one respect, but tougher in another. At only six miles round trip, the climb up Mount Hoffman is shorter than the distance we hiked just to reach the top of Clouds Rest in 2013. But at 10,845 feet, Mount Hoffman is a thousand feet higher than previous challenges.
I went to Lee Vining early in the week to spend some extra time along the Sierra crest. A spate of unusual weather added a bit of drama and adventure to my wanderings. On each of two days hiking a high mountain trail near Tioga Pass, steady rain and marble-sized hail played the high notes while close-by thunder rumbled overhead and provided the bass notes to balance the storm symphony’s bluster. Back in my motel room, nightly Reno news showed dramatic video of flash flooding in the high desert of Carson Valley; a weather pattern that was supposed to pass by the weekend—hopefully.
On Friday, the day before Mount Hoffman, a group of challengers met under still-gray skies at the Mono Pass trailhead. On Mount Hoffman, we would be breathing air with one-third less oxygen than at sea level. The moderate walk to Mono Pass gave us a chance to see lovely terrain and acclimate a bit to the thin air.
Called Bloody Pass by early settlers, Native Americans used Mono Pass as an important trade route across the Sierra crest for centuries. A mile below Tioga Pass, the trail begins at 9,700 feet and climbs gently toward the 10,599-foot pass, 3.7 miles away.
After a couple miles in a lodgepole pine forest, we popped into a wide open valley bound on one side by the Kuna Crest and Mount Gibbs on the other. We lunched beneath the snow-dusted peaks, checked out old log mining cabins, then headed home on a cross country route. A meek rain dampened our last couple miles. What would the next day bring?
When I rose Saturday morning, I immediately stepped outside and looked skyward: blue from horizon to horizon. By 8:30, challengers were gathering at the May Lake trailhead, where cars had already spilled out onto the only available parking spots along the narrow access road. Yosemite has plenty of grandeur, but not much solitude.
May Lake is the site of one of Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps, a system of five wilderness sites where available lodging and food relieves the backcountry wanderer of the heavy load carried by a backpacker. The 1-mile trail to May Lake is moderate, wide and busy, but what a lovely setting. A truly impressive granite peak looms over the lake, but it is just a spur of Mount Hoffman, not the summit.
May Lake is at 9,329 feet. Two miles and 1,500 steep and rugged vertical feet to go. The wide and moderate trail shrank to a narrow foot path, and then not much more that a succession of rock cairns marking the way. We rose above the western white pines and hemlocks to the vastness of wide open alpine country decorated with impressive displays of mountain pride penstemon and meadow penstemon that amazingly set up housekeeping in this rocky forbidding environment.
Nowhere is the spirit of the people who took on Mount Hoffman more evident and impressive than it was over the final rise to the summit. Put your trekking poles away, grab some rock and start scrambling. It wasn’t easy, especially for those not used to it. I was truly inspired to watch people—clearly confronting doubts and fears—push through them alone, or with only the slightest helping hand. On the climb up Mount Hoffman, especially those last hundred feet, I saw it happen many times.
Under bright sunny skies, at every compass point, Yosemite National Park reached for miles and miles beneath us. Clouds Rest, 1,000 feet below. Half Dome, 2,000 feet below. Sadly, some people may never understand how standing on the top of a peak like Mount Hoffman makes my opening proposition not just worth it, but irresistible. I know 63 people who understand.
Bill Haskell
Jean Blomquist
Greg Kepferle
Steve & Hydie McDonald
Ramesh Mantri
Sruthi Mantri
Ann & Darryl Tjaden
Jean Robertson
Matt & Dawn Barreras
Paul Campos
Ursula Nevins
Joe Kochanski
Nathan Myers
Betty Doherty
Anehal Dongre
Bill Moton
Sandy Moton
Lennie Randall
Noel Calvi
Alair Davidson
Carlotta Lopez
Lita Hall
Katie Khera
Eric Thomson
Diane Scariot
Kristie Storink
Dolores Kent
Brad Aiken
Lynda Chase
Sandra Coutinho
Ray Reed
Mitsu Kumagai
Duane Holt
Don & Molly Edgar
Paul & Gale Marshall
Phil Hartley
Norma & Guillermo Prada              
Stan, Colleen, April, & Aaron Alger     
Jeff & Lorraine Ross
Dave Bonsall   
Vicki Wanken
Rich Flynn
Kathy Funke
David Funke
Vicki Burgener
Susan Space
Beth Martinez
Nancy Durham
Dan Durham
Sheri Gunderson
Kelly Palmer
Dan Brown
Ludwig Sullivan