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Backpacking the Yosemite Falls Loop

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

The Most Bang for Your Buck

When it comes to Yosemite backpacking trips, few offer the same “bang for you buck” as the Yosemite Falls Loop. Whichever direction you intend to travel the loop, it starts by climbing out of Yosemite Valley, which comes with significant elevation gain. You are quickly rewarded, however, by views of some of Yosemite National Park’s most iconic features. This particular 3-day guided Yosemite trekking tour, led by Southern Yosemite Mountain Guide (SYMG) guides Dahlia and Brendan, doubled as a 20-year college reunion for our guests from London.

Dahlia leading guests up the Snow Creek Trail

Will appreciating his Leki trekking poles during the Snow Creek ascent

Heat, Blasting, & Blisters

The health of our guests and guides alike is of the upmost importance. SYMG relies on our partnership with Adventure® Medical Kits to keep our guides equipped and prepared to deal with the variety of medical situations which may arise in the backcountry.

Our first day on trail brought bouts of intense heat as we moved between sparse patches of shade while ascending the Snow Creek switchbacks, followed by some uncertainty as we listened to trail crews blasting further up the trail.

Yosemite view

Jarad and Will enjoying a well-deserved break while taking in the views

This challenging day left our guests with a few blisters in need of attention but in the end rewarded them with breathtaking views of Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon and eventually a hot dinner at the cozy Snow Creek camp, topped off with a relaxing sunset viewed from the promontory.

Treating blisters on the long ascent up Snow Creek with Adventure® Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight Pro

Tea time at the Snow Creek Promontory as the sun sets on Half Dome

North Dome Summit

After a hearty breakfast and plenty of coffee, 11 miles along the North Rim of Yosemite Valley lay between us and our Upper Yosemite Falls Camp. Despite our biggest day ahead (in terms of mileage) the group still opted to include a North Dome summit along the way.


Group photo on top of North Dome

The summit of North Dome is a great add-on to the Falls Loop and provides the opportunity to drop packs just before lunch and head out to yet even more views of Half Dome.

The iconic NW face of Half Dome as seen from North Dome

After a long day, we made it to camp at the Upper Falls with plenty of time for the group to relax and swim before our final dinner together.

Ed and Simon marveling at the scale of upper falls

Dahlia went the extra mile and capped off an already five-star dinner with a dessert of peaches flambé which drew a round of applause. With fully bellies and tired feet, the guys spent the remainder of the evening laying out on the granite slabs surrounding camp enjoying the clear, starry sky.

Friendship & Beauty in Yosemite

Our final morning had us up and out of camp early in hopes of beating the crowds to the view point atop Yosemite Falls and descended the Falls Trail before the full heat of the day had a chance to set in. In good spirits, despite nearing the end of our backpacking trip, we promptly made our way down to the Valley floor with brief stops to gaze at the Falls along the way.

After adjusting to the “real world” on our bus ride to Half Dome Village, we sorted gear and said our good-byes before sending Simon, Ed, Will, and Jarad off to their respective corners of the globe and back to their families. It was a real pleasure seeing such a long-standing friendship and sharing time in the back country with such a fun group.

About the Author

Joe grew up in the suburbs of Northeast Pennsylvania and naturally gravitated towards the forests of central PA and upstate New York. Upon graduating high school, he attended college in north Philadelphia where it didn’t take long for his affinity for wild places to make it clear this may not have been the right move. He packed up and headed south to Warren Wilson College in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina where he studied Forestry and solidified his love of the mountains (and good beer). Prior to guiding, Joe worked in natural resource conservation but made the switch as he appreciates the deep connections made when spending time with new friends in the mountains.

Backcountry Lemonade: Trans-Sierra Backcountry Skiing

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Old Man Winter Strikes Again

After 9+ months of planning, our Trans-Sierra backcountry skiing trip hung in the balance. Our intention was to tackle the High Sierra route, traversing from Shepherd Pass and ending up at the Wolverton trailhead in Sequoia National Park five to six days later. Unfortunately, the report from Eastern Sierra Avalanche seemed to get worse by the day.

After a dry December, January, and most of February, it appeared that Old Man Winter wasn’t completely asleep after all, and the largest storm of the year dropped 7 feet of snow right before we were set to depart.

Backcountry Skiing packing list

Sorting and resorting our gear, which included packing the Ultralight/Watertight Pro medical kit

Adapting to the Weather

After circling the wagons, our team of 4 decided to make the most of the following week and use the hut reservations we had made for Pear Lake in an effort to salvage some decent skiing. We left the Wolverton trailhead under blue bird skies and made our way into the cirque just below Pear Lake for one night of camping before we moved into the seemingly luxurious winter hut.

dinner at camp 1

Camp 1 at Emerald Lake

Despite having to adapt our plans from the more ambitious (and coveted) traverse trip, we had a phenomenal time. The skiing wasn’t amazing, but the people were and so was the terrain.

backcountry skiing

Skiing in past many signs of recent avalanches

Skiing up from our camp and looking out over the snow laden Sierra is an experience that any backcountry skier should seek out. Venturing out into the Tablelands of Sequoia brings you into some surreal scenery that is reminiscent of the European Alps.

mountains at night in snow

Camping under the moonlight

Backcountry Skiing Safety: The Right Training & Gear

As with any backcountry skiing trip, the risks need to be respected and calculated as much as possible. The knowledge that comes from Avalanche Trainings is useful but there is also a practical experience that must also be drawn from when making decisions in the mountains. Travelling with the proper gear and equipment (beacon, shovel, probe, first-aid kit, repair kit, etc.) is also essential.

skier assessing snowpack

Assessing snowpack

After the four days in the backcountry, we returned to the trailhead sunburned, sore, hungry, and tired. We were refreshed by the beauty of the Sierra once again and were already discussing plans for the following year. There is something about getting away into the backcountry that is good for what ails all of us. With the conditions at hand we made the best of the situation and created “backcountry lemonade” from the lemons the backcountry (and Old Man Winter) through our way.

backcountry noridic skiing

Looking out to the Tablelands and the Kaweahs

About the Author

As the General Manager of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, Graham brings diverse experiences from many corners of the outdoor industry globe. With his guiding career, he has also filled operational and management roles for several leading adventure based companies in North America and South America. His love of travel and adventure is infectious and immediately evident as he assists SYMG guests in creating their perfect journey into the mountains he calls home. The backcountry skiing trip early this Spring is a popular touring option that ventures into the backcountry of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.