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Sunrise High Sierra Camp

Posted Aug 19 2009 6:31pm
We spent one last night at Tuolumne Meadows with warming night and morning temperatures before switching over to backpacks for our hike to Sunrise HSC. We had decided to set up a car shuttle so we could hike in from Tenaya Lake, and hike out to the Cathedral trailhead. We broke up into different groups at different paces using walky-talkies to stay in touch. Our group would total 10 at the HSC. Tenaya Lake trailhead leads up a series of fairly steep switchbacks climbing up a rock strewn ridge with intermittent tree cover. Once you gain some altitude you begin to get fairly good views of the peaks to the northwest. Marmots, grouse, and lots of other small wildlife species are active amongst the rocks and vegetation and a few wild flowers were around. Its uphill switchbacks for 2.5 miles to the first junction before leveling out for awhile. Taking the right fork here will take you back downhill toward an eventual big uphill to Cloud’s Rest. We did a day hike to this peak during our stay at Sunrise, but that’ll be a different post. Not far beyond the junction the trail heads uphill again and brings you around to the first of the 3 Sunrise Lakes. The first lake has very calm waters with a glistening smooth surface. Not a mirror, but clear enough to dazzle with sky, cloud, and rock reflections. The broken, layered, rock cliff on the other side of the lake providing a backdrop to the majestic high sierra pines all picture framed in the waters. There’s a lot of submerged dead wood lying around, but still it looks clear and clean. Lots of brilliant blue damselflies are hovering around the surface near parts of the shore, their seasonally shed carcasses littering the grasses. Pink mountain heather and a few wild flowers add some zesty color to the dark greens and stark grayscale of the rock. I had plenty of time and was so tempted to strip off gear and jump in, but for some reason resisted, but I did spend a little quiet time here.

Continuing on and climbing a little higher the sounds of gently coursing water is heard on its way down from the third lake to the second of the Sunrise Lakes. You would have to go off trail to actually visit the second lake, and could easily miss it through the trees below as you pass. Hiking on by, soon the trail passes along side the greenish waters of the third lake. There’s lots of swampy and mossy vegetation around the lakes perimeter and quite a few mosquitoes. The waters surface looked ripped against the subtle breezes that are moving over the pass ahead, and down the length of the lake. Climbing still higher the trail eventually levels out over a dusty pass nearly reaching 10,000 feet before beginning to descend toward Sunrise at 9370 feet. Hiking down rocky switchbacks the terrain becomes much more moist and green, and after negotiating some of the interfering terrain high peaks are visible to the northeast beyond the trees. There is a backpack campground before you reach the HSC both of which are tucked quietly away situated amongst the high rocks just above Long Meadow, along which passes the John Muir Trail.

All the people we had passed along the way had spoken of mosquitoes when we mentioned that we were headed for Sunrise. This year they were really bad during the time we were there. We had packed head nets and repellant which we were to make very good use of during the entirety of our stay. The people that are up there every year told us that the mosquitoes will probably be gone in a few weeks, but at least for the time being they were pretty dreadful. We camped out in a tent cabin that was just steps away from some big rocks that provided a stunning overlook to Long Meadow below. At one end of the lush green meadow the treetops at the edge of the green grasses dip down to reveal a portal view to the Clark Range and the back side of Mt Clark. At the other end of the meadow a similar drop in the tree line opens up an outstanding view to the range that includes a partially snow covered Mt Florence; the only peak in Yosemite named after a woman. An un-named creek meanders through the meadow grasses cutting a winding pathway down the length of the meadow. It was the kind of a view that you can spend hours drinking in. In the evenings the orange glow of the sunset would illuminate Mt Florence with alpenglow. The first evening we were there we watched as the sun set from the rocks above to see a heard of deer grazing the meadow below. As we also discovered, this altitude provides excellent star gazing if you are lucky enough to get clear skies. Behind the camp is a high rolling rocky ridge that can be scrambled for better views. One morning during our visit, I turned out super early and scrambled up the ridge behind the camp and sat to watch the sunrise. From the top of this high place the Cathedral Range comes into view as well. In the morning as the sun creeps up, it first peeks out from behind Cathedral Peak. It immediately paints the back side of Mt Clark with the reddish glow of the morning before beginning to usher in daylight to the meadow area. My totally amateur photography will not do justice to it. The rocky creases in the rocks are brimming with penstemon of different hues; pinkish Mountain Pride and purplish Meadow Penstemon. There is also a little rock dome at the far side of the meadow which has a trail to the summit. We stayed here a couple of nights before packing up and heading over Cathedral pass to the trailhead on Tioga Road. I enjoyed every minute of our stay despite the mosquitoes and other small detractions that always seem to crop up. The HSC experience is one that totally harmonizes with my inner child. I wish I could spend a month here.

Click on any of the pictures on this page to enlarge.
Click here to see more pictures from this hike on flickr
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