Once, famed Yosemite ranger Carl Sharsmith was asked, “I have one day to see Yosemite, what should I do?” Sharsmith responded by saying, “I’d sit by the Merced River and cry.” I think we can all understand what he meant: Yosemite is so big and so beautiful, that one day is simply not enough. It is a crime to spend only one day in Yosemite. If one day is a felony, then a weekend must be a misdemeanor. If that’s the case, then you can consider me guilty as charged. My partner in crime? The man you already know from Run Rudy, My First Ultra Marathon!, and People In The Outdoors – August 2015, Rudy Rutemiller!
I had the pleasure of flying down to San Francisco in late July to spend a long weekend with Rudy. Upon arriving, I enjoyed exploring the trails of Golden Gate National Recreation area, soaking in views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean, and the abandoned military batteries. Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a treasure for the city of San Francisco with its friendly trails, spectacular views, and rich history. It is a joy to hang and enjoy the beach as well.
As nice at it is, I didn’t fly to California to sit on the beach. When planning for this trip with Rudy, we knew we wanted to do something epic with the time we had, possibly a short backpacking trip. The idea of the Lost Coast was thrown around. So was Big Sur. Then there was Yosemite. The minute it was brought up was the minute it was decided. Yosemite has been on my life bucket list for a long time, and while I’ve always had the intention of going I didn’t think I’d get to it any time soon, let alone on this quick weekend trip to California.
We originally wanted to pull a huge overnight, but we had a free place to stay inside the park and it’s hard to argue with that. From there, the plan formed. Drive from San Fran to Yosemite on Friday, big day hike on Saturday, cruise around and hang in Yosemite Valley on Sunday before heading back to San Francisco.
Just like death row inmate requesting his last meal, I knew one thing: I wanted it all! Or at least as much as I could get. To get in as much as we could, we knew we’d have to do a real big hike. Rudy and I settled on a distance of around 25 miles, and I set out to plan out a great one. This is what I came up with:
- Drive to John Muir Trailhead on Tioga Road. Shuttle back to Tenaya Lake.
- Set out on Cloud’s Rest Trail from Tenaya Lake on Tioga Road.
- Hike over Cloud’s Rest to the intersection of the John Muir Trail
- Hike the John Muir Trail north back to Tioga Road at Tuolumne Meadows where the car was parked.
I chose this hike for many reasons: driving from the Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows would give us the opportunity to see many sights along the way. Cloud’s Rest, sitting at 9,926 feet in elevation looked amazing, offering excellent views of Yosemite Valley from above. We could hike a section of the famed John Muir Trail. We would pass by numerous other points of interest, such as Cathedral Rock and Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Convenient start/end using the free shuttle system. Also, there were numerous water sources, if need be.
With light packs, excited minds, and tired eyes (we arrived at the park at 1:15 am on Friday night/Saturday morning) we were hiking at 10 am. A late start for a 25 miles hike, you say? I thought so too. I, conservatively, typically calculate most of my hikes out to 2 mph pace, even though I know I hike faster, closer to 3 mph. So, for this one, I wanted to alot 12 hours, meaning a 10 am start would have us ending at 10 pm; less than ideal. I wanted to start around 7 or 8 am. I honestly expected it would take around 10 hours. However, let’s not forget who I was hiking with. Rudy probably could have blown me out of the water and ran the whole thing. However, he seemed keen to stick with me all day, but asked if I’d be willing to jog out a few sections, particularly the downhill sections. I agreed…why not? It’d be fun. If nothing else, it was a compromise, and I was appreciative of the fact that he wanted to hang back with me.
Juiced up on the beautiful day and beautiful trail, we hiked/ran the first 7.25 to Cloud’s Rest in 2 hours. I’m fairly certain that’s the fastest I’d ever gone that distance. I was unsure if I’d be able to keep up that pace, but I was feeling good. We enjoyed the top for about 30 minutes, eating lunch and enjoying the absolutely massive views! Yosemite Valley is spectacular from this angle, with Half Dome proud in the center foreground. I highly recommend this as an out-and-back day hike for anyone up for the hike. As hoards of people drive their cars up to Glacier Point, you can get a grand view of the valley, along with 360 degree views of the rest of the park as far as you can see! Absolutely spectacular. We proceeded to run down the entire 3.2 mile descent from Cloud’s Rest to Yosemite Valley and the intersection with the John Muir Trail. This was definitely my favorite part of the day. The trail was soft and had great footing. There were many switchbacks, and each time we would switchback to the right, we would get smacked in the face with a view of Half Dome towering right before us. It was an absolute blast to run, jumping over rocks and dodging obstacles as we let gravity do its job.
Unfortunately, as we hit the valley, the lowest elevation of our day, Rudy hit his emotional low as well. Albeit quickly, we had already gone upwards of 10 miles, and at the time, another 14 to the car seemed like a lot. I tried to encourage him by staying positive. However, after a small stream crossing, I lost the trail and I don’t think unnecessarily spending the energy hiking in the wrong direction was particularly helpful for him in that moment. It was interesting to see Rudy hit an emotional low. I figured going 25 miles would be like chump change to Rudy, because I know he has run 100 miles! In fact, I believe the most I’ve ever hiked in one day is 26 miles. However, it goes to show we’re all human. We’re allowed to have tough moments, even in the face of things that we know we’re completely capable of. Besides, there are so many variables play, such as the fact that Rudy had just had a full and long work week, and that we may have been a bit sleep deprived heading into the day and it was catching up with us. I was surprised by this, probably because I was feeling tired but great, but I’d have my moment later on.
We hiked along, dipping our heads in a stream, which seemed to revitalize us a bit. Eventually, the grade leveled off a bit (in fact it was more of a gradual uphill), and we were hiking in an expansive burn zone. The trees were completely black from the fire, many of which were completely dead as well. The ground was baron, just burnt soil. There was no vegetation whatsoever. It truly was a denuded landscape, unlike anything I’d ever seen. Very ghostly. Certainly cool to see first hand evidence of the effects of wildfire. Wildfires are something most of us hear about on the news, but rarely see in real life. Especially being from the east coast, where they are less frequent, these past few months have really been my first experience living in serious wildfire territory.
This stretch of trail seemed to bring Rudy back to his old self, and he regained his energy, and more importantly, the fun. However, upon reaching a steep, long uphill probably around mile 14, I hit my emotional low. It was very hot and my blood sugar was low. I needed to eat, but didn’t feel like doing it. I also didn’t want to stop, concerned about distance and time. I tried to scarf down a Clif Bar while hiking uphill, but only managed a few bites. Have you ever tried eating a Clif Bar with a dry, dusty mouth while huffing uphill? Not an easy task. However, as I trudged along, Rudy found his energy stores and was putting in an impressive climb, pulling away from me for a bit. Eventually, I made my way on up, and Rudy and I proceeded to “float” downhill (the day’s synonym we created for “running”). Using the word float instead of run was fun, making the act of running seem light and airy, rather than strenuous and pounding. I like running, but using the word float made it even easier to motivate myself to do it. It’s an emotional trick, but it works, besides the fact that it just became an inside joke between us throughout the day, using sentences like, “yo, let’s float this shit,” which would make no sense to the outside listener. The post climb downhill and flat was helpful, and while I was still having a tough time and my right calf was experiencing mini-cramps, we were cruising along the trail, looking forward to a stop at Sunrise High Sierra Camp.
I was looking forward to seeing Sunrise, mostly to rest and refuel, but also to see the facilities. Yosemite has a hiking loop on which are “High Sierra Camps.” I would describe these as the Yosemite version of the AMC huts: full service backcountry facilities. They have bunks, they serve dinner, etc. We didn’t take a full look around, but it was a beautiful camp, set in a grove of trees adjacent to an expansive field with high granite slabs in the background. It was spectacular, and I would have loved to spend the night. However, we weren’t crashing there. As for my emotional low, some fresh cold water, a banana, snickers bar, and some electrolyte powder did just the trick. In an instant, I felt like a whole new person, ready to take on the 6.6 miles we had left back to the car.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep this short. Although fighting the onset of cramps in my right calf, we were both happy, hiking and floating well. We absolutely killed the last 6.6 miles, moving quickly and not stopping very much. With that being said, there was some beautiful scenery along the way, including high meadows, Cathedral Rock and Cathedral Lakes. Unfortunately we could see some environmental impact of people creating new trails, making it hard to tell which was the original trail. Remember, it’s important to hike in a single file fashion on thin single track, otherwise, you end up creating new trail surfaces unnecessarily. Upon reaching the final, long descent, we ran the entire thing, getting funny looks from people we were passing. It was fun descending back into healthy forest on good trail before reaching the road. We ran that last bit of road back to where the car was parked, evening out our hike/run to a cool 25 miles.
This hike was extraordinarily beautiful with varied environments and challenging trail, on a picture perfect day. Whether Rudy was slowing up a bit for me or I was performing better than I expected of myself (probably a mix of both), Rudy and I seemed to keep a pace that was quite compatible. In fact, Rudy even told me that he was confident that I could run a 50K race (which is around 31 miles). It was great to receive such a compliment from such an accomplished ultra-runner, and definitely gave me a big confidence boost about my own abilities. In fact, we finished the hike/run in a total of 8 hours, much faster than I expected (but as Rudy had predicted). I guess Rudy had more confidence in me then I did in myself, and it was amazing for me to push myself in a way that I had never done before, mixing running into my hike. At the end of the hike, I wanted nothing to do with any more miles, but after thinking about it for a while, if I was in a race and had to, I felt like I could complete a 50K. Maybe something to look forward to in the future…
A tentless night sleeping under the stars was the perfect ending to such an amazing day.
Here are our stats from Rudy’s fancy Suunto watch and Strava profile:
Or you can check it out here: Rudy Rutemiller’s Strava – BROSEMITE
If there is someplace easy to recover from a hard hike, it’s Yosemite Valley. With so much amazing scenery and sights to see, it’s easy to forget about achy hips and quads. We spent Sunday in the valley, cruising around, checking out lower Yosemite Falls, eating lunch in El Capitan Meadows, and hiking part of the approach trail to El Cap. We were in search of some bouldering to do, but not knowing the area, we didn’t come across any. It was amazing to be beneath the valley that just the day before we were looking at from above. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t all that crowded either. The valley walls are steep and massive, extraordinarily impressive. I have never seen so much granite in my entire life, even after spending much time in the state dubbed “The Granite State,” New Hampshire. I was particularly impressed by El Capitan, and find it unbelievable that anyone climbs the entire thing.
However, with a work day sitting on the horizon of Monday morning for Rudy, our time was up and we had to roll out, back to San Francisco. I’m sure we both could have stayed there forever. However brief, it was great to steal some time to go to Yosemite National Park. Committing crimes has never been so much fun.