Bunnell Point YVF

Tue, Oct 13, 2020

With: Robert Wu

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

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Robert and I were in Yosemite Valley to do some rock climbing, principally for our second attempt at Higher Cathedral Spire. We had spent the previous day attempting K P Pinnacle, but got spanked badly on that one. We had spent all day covering about 2mi with some pretty tough scrambling, getting within about a hundred feet of the summit, but finding the going much harder than advertised. As a way of taking a break from the arduous nature that can be Valley cross-country scrambling, we decided to take it easy today with an 18mi outing to Bunnell Point. The easy aspect was that most of the day would be spent on trail with a little over two miles of cross-country, but none of the steep, loose and sketchy stuff found in the Valley. Bunnell Point is found on my YVF list that I've been working on sporadically over the years. The summit is a massive granite dome on the south side of the Merced River above Lost Valley with steep rock walls dropping into the canyon. There are other unnamed domes along the canyon rim on both sides, making for a spectacular setting almost as good as Tenaya Canyon. Robert would get a bit more exercise with a few bonus peaks he picked up on the way back.

We'd spent the night camped in our vehicles in the Yosemite Lodge parking lot. I slept pretty well because I'd done it half a dozen times previously and never been rousted. Robert, on the other hand, was nervous all night and slept poorly, imagining rangers that weren't there and struggling to relax. We were up at 5:30a and drove to the JMT parking lot half a mile west of Happy Isle. We had a quick breakfast, packed up our daypacks and headed out by headlamp. We paused at the restroom at Happy Isle, then joined the Half Dome parties on their way up the JMT and Mist Trail. We periodically passed other parties on our way up to Nevada Falls, but then saw no one once we turned off the Half Dome Trail at Little Yosemite Valley and headed up the Merced River drainage towards Merced Lake. The eastern half of Little Yosemite Valley through which the trail runs suffered greatly in the 2014 Meadow Fire. All the trees were killed in the conflagration, leaving many hundreds of charred snags. Aspens have started to regrow and are already 10ft high, but the small pines that are also sprouting will eventually win out in 100yrs or so.

After a little under seven miles, we turned off the trail short of Lost Valley, crossed the Merced River (easy boulder hop this time of year) and began the cross-country climb, 2,000ft of brush, granite slabs, forest and more slabs. Luckily, no real bushwhacking on this one. It was tiring, however, much more so than the trail miles we'd put in. It was nearly 10a when we reached the lower southwest summit, partially buried in Manzanita. The NE summit looked lower from the SW one, but proved to be about 12ft higher when we visited it ten minutes later. We found a 5-foot boulder serving as the highpoint with some pretty good views, particularly looking east up the Merced drainage with Merced Lake just visible and Florence Peak's pointy summit dominating the far view. To the northeast were some unnamed granite features in the Echo Creek drainage that looked interesting. To the south rises Mt. Clark more than three miles distance. Near it is Quartzite Peak, a named summit I've been wanting to visit for well over a decade now. With just under 3mi as the crow flies, it was too far to consider for today. It might end up being one of those Yosemite points I'll only ever see from a distance. In almost all directions were huge granite domes and walls with acres upon acres of unclimbed lines, all made possible by unacceptably long approaches.

After our break we left a register atop the summit boulder and headed off the southeast side. It would not be the shortest way back, but it allowed us to explore some new ground as we descended slabs and forest back down to the Merced Lake Trail below. The route gave us a greater appreciation for just how massive Bunnell Point really is, with the Merced River wrapping around it on three sides for several miles, it's granite walls rising 1,800ft. Once down to the river where two foot bridges are located, Robert decided to extend his outing by paying a visit to Sugarloaf and Moraine Dome high on the north side of the canyon. I had visited both of these in 2013 and chose not join him. Instead, I found a quiet set of pools at the head of Lost Valley where I cooled off (the water was surprisingly cold, so no real swim) and then dried myself off in the sun. I had several hours with the trail to myself, making my way back down through Little Yosemite Valley. Even after passing the backpackers' camp, I saw no one until I had reached the top of Nevada Falls. The Mist Trail was temporarily closed for repairs, leaving the JMT as the only route options. There were folks milling about the bridge and granite slabs around the top of the falls and increasingly more people the further I descended on the trail. I would put on my face mask whenever I passed folks, but for the last half hour I left it on as there were simply too many parties on the trail to bother removing it.

I was back at the JMT parking lot by 3:20p, tired but happy with the outing. I found a corner of the lot in which to shower, without offending the sensibilities of my fellow park visitors. I then drove back to Curry Village where I would wait for Robert to show up a few hours later. We had a second dinner of tacos (the only food choice in the village, currently) while we discussed plans for Higher Cathedral Spire the next day. Robert seemed surprised that I was nervous and more than a bit anxious. I would have thought it more surprising if I wasn't nervous. After all, this was going to be the hardest rock climb I'd ever done...

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