Sierra Point
Glacier Point YVF
Panorama Point

Mon, Jul 15, 2013

With: Jackie Burd

Etymology
Sierra Point
Glacier Point
Panorama Point
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
Sierra Point previously climbed Wed, Jul 11, 2007

Mid-July in Yosemite is pretty much smack in the middle of the Summer tourist season, so it was no surprise to find large crowds when I brought the family to Curry Village for a short vacation. Jackie and I had been planning a roadtrip to do something together while her brother was away at camp, but her desire to do some bonding with Dad was coming up against her growing independence as a teenager and it seemed like it might not happen at all. She decided that rock climbing and some hiking might be fun, but not too much. So we settled on Yosemite Valley and brought Mom along since we weren't planning anything too uncivilized like backpacking or car camping. Mom was fine with the tent cabins, but would have preferred the Ahwahnee. Jackie and I set off in the morning for a hike up the Mist Trail to Nevada Fall, and perhaps, if she had the energy, to the top of Liberty Cap. I figured the scenic beauty of the trail would win her over, despite its popularity and her dislike for crowds. I figured wrong. Already growing aprehensive as we got off the bus at Happy Isle, I shifted gears and suggested perhaps she might like a bit of off-route scrambling on an abandoned trail to a scenic overlook, not all that long and not another soul. She liked this second plan, so we set off for Sierra Point.

The Sierra Point Trail was abandoned decades ago, sometime in the 1970s due to rockfall that wiped out several sections of trail. Finding the start of the trail requires a bit of detective work as it is highly non-obvious. The best place to start is from the sign along the JMT shortly after it starts that describes the Rock Piles and animals that live in them. Cut through the boulders and follow a trail trending up and to the right through the rock until the trail becomes more obvious where there is dirt. I had forgotten this and started us up a bit early, but it took less than 10 minutes to find the trail. We spent about half an hour climbing it, up old stairs, through the class 2-3 rockfall section, a steep climb of nearly 1,000ft in less than a mile. Jackie did not find the hike much to her liking, primarily because of the mosquitoes that pestered us the entire climb in the shade of Grizzly Peak. To be fair, there were only a handful in this dry year, she got three bites and I think I got all of one, but it was enough to annoy and bother her to the point of commenting, "I don't think I like this hiking stuff anymore." Sad for Dad who lives on this stuff, but not all that unexpected. She's becoming more cosmopolitan as she matures into her teens.

Her mood improved quickly when we reached the sunny balcony of Sierra Point where the mosquitoes gratefully took to hiding and left us in peace. Yosemite Falls to the northwest and Illilouette Fall to the southwest were starting to dry up and had lower flows, but the two falls on the Merced River, Vernal and Nevada, were flowing well and impressively. We hung out at the railing for about ten minutes, taking pictures, posing (mostly Jackie) and talking about the view. I didn't ask her if it was worth the effort fearing it would remind her of the mosquitoes, but I sensed she'd probably say "Yes." Or perhaps an ambiguous "Maybe." The descent went faster naturally, which had the benefit of making it harder for the mosquitoes to harass us. Back at the junction with the JMT I asked if she'd like to continue up the Mist Trail, but she replied that she was done with the hiking. I wanted to send her back to Happy Isle to catch the bus back to Curry Village so I could continue to Moraine Dome above Little Yosemite Valley, but she didn't like the idea of being left to fend for herself, so we went back together to the bus and Curry Village.

Once back, she was more interested in taking a shower and reading her book than doing any more adventures with Dad, so I left her there and decided to head up the Ledge Trail to Glacier Point, then over to Panorama Point and back down the JMT. It has been a few years since I last hiked this trail and it hasn't gotten any better in the interim. The trail was closed many decades ago due to rockfall and something like 14 deaths that have occurred on it over the years. There are remnants of the trail where granite stairs were built into the route when it was improved in 1928, but most of these have disappeared. Orange and yellow paint mark portions of the route but one has to climb nearly half the elevation to Glacier Point before finding these markings. I recall on earlier visits finding the paint markings lower down, so I either failed to find the correct route down low, or they have all but disappeared. There was a massive slide in the lowest gully that can be seen clearly from across the Valley. Here the rock is most unstable and makes for some difficult scrambling. After this, the ground is somewhat more stable, but still tiring as the route follows along the base of Glacier Point's immense north wall. It was warm, probably 85F and I was finding myself more tired than usual. After almost an hour and a half I turned the corner where the small dribble that becomes Staircase Falls in the Spring crosses the route. The sun beat down relentlessly on what is usually a very shady route. Early afternoon in mid-Summer is probably not the best time to climb this unless it's cold out. The left turn marks the entrance into brushier portions of the route. The paint marks point out the old trail through Fern Gully, but it is not easy to follow as it is badly overgrown. The plants are helpful to pull up on while scrambling with the exception of the ferns that simply snap off with little effort. Eventually I reached the old closure signs bolted to the granite walls of this narrow gully (there is another one at the turn point, but I missed it somehow), after which the brush and steep gradients give way to easier ground under forest cover. Rather than look for the Four Mile Trail, I traversed left to reach Glacier Point more directly, arriving at 1p - almost two and a half hours after starting out.

Phew. Emerging from my solo adventure onto Glacier Point created the usual discordance with my mood as I merged with the horde of Summer visitors to this popular viewpoint. I took a few pictures of the Valley and Tenaya Canyon, but did not want to sit around and absorb the various conversations that seemed like mere blather after the exertion of the Ledge Trail. I went into the Visitor Center with the thought of getting a bite to eat as a treat, but when I went inside and saw the cattle lined up at the trough, the whole idea of a Visitor Center focused primarily on the consumption of food had a sudden disgust to me. Bleah. I turned around and left, heading for the trailhead without even bothering to get a drink of water at the fountain. I would just pretend this place didn't really exist.

I found much of the renewed solitude I was looking for when I found the trailhead and started down the Panorama Trail. There were others using the trail to be sure, but not so many and they had the smiles of fellow enthusiasts working up a sweat, not the dour countenance of someone dissatisfied with the choice of ice cream flavors offered. The last time I had been on this trail that descends from Glacier Point to Illilouette Creek was five years earlier on a backpack trip with my son, then 11yrs, to Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. Years before that trip, a fire had burned this side of Glacier Point and left it pretty desolate. Since then, the land has recovered nicely. Though much is covered in brush, the trees are beginning to re-emerge, seeded from nearby pine trees that managed to survive the fire. The open views produced by the fire allow unobstructed views to Half Dome and the Merced River watershed to the east. Along with Nevada and Vernal Falls, the immense Panorama Cliff just to the right form the central features of the view. Above Panorama Cliff is a modest, forested dome that forms the highpoint of Panorama Point. The actual Panorama Point is a viewspot along the trail east of Illilouette Creek, but the name has been co-opted for the local highpoint some 5-600ft higher. It is plainly visible on the descent from Glacier Point, with Mt. Starr King rising behind it. I made a brief detour off the trail for a view of Illilouette Falls which isn't easily visible from anywhere along the trail.

Half an hour from Glacier Point I was down at the bridge where there were several dozen folks playing and relaxing in and around the creek one either side of the bridge. Though signs warn of the dangers of being swept over the precipice, the water level is fairly low and there is really no danger today. I refilled a water bottle at the creek and continued up the trail on the east side of the bridge. There were more hikers here, several parties making their way along to the top of Nevada Fall a few miles away. I followed the trail until it topped out on the north slope of Panorama Point, then headed uphill on sandy slopes to the ridge and followed it west back towards the summit. The ridge is fairly long and lightly forested, providing good views. There is a fire ring and good camp site in a large flat area east of the summit with a view to Starr King. The highpoint is found at the far west end of the ridge, a rocky perch some 20ft or so higher than the rest of the ridge. There was no register or cairn or other markings found here. I took a few pictures of the Valley and Half Dome before retreating back down to the trail.

The remainder of the outing was a straightforward descent on the JMT when I reached the junction about a quarter mile from Nevada Fall without actually visiting the top and overlook there. I figured the JMT would have less traffic than the Mist Trail, making for an easier descent where my jogging wouldn't bother so many people. There was a packer leading a horse and mule down the trail along the cliff portion of the route near the start, but he was kind enough to pull over and let me pass where the trail widened briefly. There was the usual crowd at the bridge below Vernal Fall when I arrived around 3:40p, and another 15 minutes are so saw me back to Happy Isle. It would be after 4p before I returned to Curry Village and the family.

My day wasn't done yet because it was now time to entertain Jackie who wasn't exactly itching to do another hike, but was bored with reading and sitting around. We rode our bikes around the west end of the valley in search of bouldering opportunities, settling on a few giant ones on the south side of the road across from Houskeeping Camp. We had played on these the day before in street shoes, but had brought the rock climbing shoes this afternoon. She was impressed that she was able to do some routes that had been too difficult the previous day, but still had some trouble trusting the shoes to grip on others. "Trust the shoes," a mantra I remember from my first rock climbing experiences, wasn't taken in so easily and felt more like a criticism to her. Teenagers. Even more fun was riding the bikes at night without headlamps around the park. Much of the loop around Happy Isle and Mirror Lake is closed to most vehicles (shuttle buses and handicap excepted), making for some open cruising, bit scary but great fun. There were places I could hardly see at all and had to make some educated guesses as to where the trail was, and fortunately we had no serious crashes (I did manage to hit a log, but it was at slow speed). Some of the things I teach my children are not found in the Good Parenting Handbook, I admit.

Continued...


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Jed comments on 07/18/13:
Bob the L. trail looked overgrown just like last time I was up it. I had many occasions were I pull back branches to see a big pile of bear scat on one of the steps. Is the slide area worst or about the same as last few years.Very active with lots of sand.
Tom Hilton comments on 07/22/13:
This brings back happy memories...I did Sierra Point with my dad and my best friend on my first-ever visit in 1975, so it's the first hike I ever did in Yosemite. We were the only ones there, and I loved that sense of solitude amid the vast crowds of tourists; also loved the view, the sense of being in the middle of everything instead of at the bottom looking up or at the top looking down.
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