Yosemite – Clouds Rest and Half-Dome Backpacking Trip (Snow 2011!)

Posted: June 12, 2011 in Bucket List, Fitness and Health, Travel
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

What a year to plan a summer backpacking trip in Yosemite.  I’m originally from the Midwest, there’s not supposed to be snow in July!  We were in Yosemite last 4th of July and didn’t see any of the white stuff, but 2011 is unusual.  There is more snow than any time since 1995.  The park is reporting 178% of average snowpack this year.  In 1995 Tioga Pass Road opened on 30 June, in 1998 on 1 July.  We’re hoping to take the backpackers bus to Tenaya Lakes on 2 July, so it may just open in time.  Hopefully no more big storms, no avalanches that slow progress down, and we may still be able to do our Plan A:  Day 1 -Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest Junction – set up camp.  Day 2 – Hike Cloud’s Rest.  Day 3 – Hike  Half-Dome, pack and hike to Valley Floor, rest, relaxation, and a few well deserved beers at the Ahwahnee.

We have decided to hike Clouds Rest as as a day hike and not backpack over it.  Now there is a very real possibility that there will be snow on Clouds Rest when we are there.  As long as there is a clear trail this will be an awesome day hike.  If there is snow on some of the more hairy parts of the hike, I may not feel comfortable hiking through those areas.  We’ll keep an eye on the news out of Yosemite, and if it looks promising we’ll do the hike at least as far as we can safely navigate the trail.

The news has actually gotten a little better in the last week.  The road to Glacier point is open, they have plowed Tioga Pass Road all the way through, but it is still not open, and there is not estimated date (June 21st Update Tioga Pass Road is open!  But the permanent facilities may not open until 8 July).  It appears that the threat of avalanches is one big limiting factor in opening the road.  The hiker’s bus schedule is tentatively posted and they are estimating that the first day the bus will run, conditions permitting is 2 July. That will work for us if “conditions permit” and we get scheduled for the  bus.  Our trip is now less than 3 weeks away and there is not guaranty that we will be able to take the bus.  They won’t take reservations for the bus until they have some better idea of when weather will allow Tioga Pass Road to open. In order to have the most up to date information on conditions I’ll monitor the Yosemite Website Current Conditions page. The Sentinel Dome webcam is also a good source of visual data about the current conditions on Clouds Rest and Half-Dome.  To get the best visual look, check out the webcam from 10:00am to 2:00pm Pacific Time.  Unfortunately this view does not give a good look at the east approach to Clouds Rest.  The general trail conditions page for June 2011 states that the Clouds Rest trail is free of snow to 8200 feet and then 100% covered about that and that the top is covered with snow. So I believe to get the best view possible on the 4th of July weekend we will climb as high as we can safely go from the west, then head back down.

We will need backup plans.  Although we have a confirmed back-country permit, it is for entry at Tenaya Lakes, but we have to pick up the actual permit no earlier than the day before we enter.  If there is no way to get to the trail-head, I’m not certain we will be given our permit.  So we need to contact the park to find out what our options are.  Can we enter the park from the east?  The road may be open from the east entry to Tenaya Lake.  Can we start from the valley floor as long as we hike past Little Yosemite Valley to camp at Clouds Rest junction?  I’m still very hopeful that we will be doing our Plan A hikes this year in Yosemite.  We are training for those hikes and have been looking forward to the challenge and the beauty of Yosemite all year.  The only way I’ll truly be disappointed is if we have to cancel the whole trip.  I think that is very, very unlikely!

Update:  We cancelled our trip!  Really bummed but we’re looking at doing it later this year.  The trail from Tenaya Lake was not going to work.  There was a 40 foot crossing of chest high, ice cold water, and past that a very difficult to bypass avalanche area.  The walk up permit option was less attractive and seemed pretty shaky on a holiday weekend.  And the Ranger stated they would be checking for permits at the top of Nevada Falls, so it seemed like a really bad idea to go ahead with this plan.   Plus we were most likely not going to be able to go up Clouds Rest.  So I guess for now I’ll say delayed, not canceled.

We’ve rescheduled, but not all of us can go, and the plan has changed, due to fewer Wilderness Permits being available.  But we are on for the weekend of 20 August.  I’ll post some pictures and a description of the trip once we pull it off!

Previous post for this trip: Yosemite Clouds Rest Backpack or Not

Next post of this trip:  Yosemite (2011) – (Part 1 – Yosemite Valley and a Vernal Falls Day Hike)

  1. Tim Green says:

    We are going to clouds rest next week, Jul13. Any idea if there is still snow there?

  2. eric.rial says:

    The best way to find out up to the minute conditions for any trails is to call the park. I called the wilderness permit line and they provided the information that led to us canceling/delaying our trip. The general trails condition pages (see link in my post) states: “The trail to Clouds Rest is mostly clear of snow coming from Half Dome but the approach from the east side is still 100% snow covered.” So it will depend on the direction you are coming from and how much things have changed since they posted the conditions update. We were planning to come from the east and that was pretty much impassable on the 4th of July according to Park employees. You’ll also want to know if there are any major water crossings due to melting snow. Conditions are unusual this year. We are planning to wait until the end of August or later.

    • Ken Martin says:

      I am hiking a similar route with my 2 kids (13 & 15). We also went in July and were told the same story about the snow. We are now shooting for Tuesday Aug 16th through the 19th. I have a slightly different route which is to hike from Tuolumne meadows Cathedral lake trailhead (instead of tenaya lake) to sunrise lakes, then on to cloud’s rest and then to little yosemite valley. Then we are camping in little yosemite valley, leaving our gear and going up half dome and back down to sleep in our tents. After that we wake up and hike down to yosemite valley. i have slept on Half Dome so i know the area pretty well.

      Here are some tips that I have found. You can stash your pack near cloud’s rest to avoid having to take it up to the sidewalk sized cliff that you described earlier. Also the hike from cathedral up JMT is less harsh than Tenaya. I hope to run into you on the trip.

      Here is more info on the hike (I modified my hike a bit but this will give you an idea).

      Take care!

      Ken Martin

      • eric.rial says:

        Ken, It looks like you’ll be leaving as we get there. We’re hiking in on 20 August and out on 22 August. We have a permit for Glacier Point to Illiluette, then on the second day we’ll hike to LYV and do our day hikes up Clouds Rest and Half Dome. We will be trying to modifiy that slightly when we get to the park if there are better walk-up permits available, but wanted to have a workable plan before driving up there.

        Enjoy the hike with your kids, sounds very challenging and like a ton of fun.


  3. Carolyn says:


    Just found your blog googling…We will be hiking up to Clouds rest on Saturday the 20th..probably a group of about 50 or so I think. All staying in various locations and meeting at the trailhead in the early AM. Have you heard any updates on the conditions at the higher part of the hike up?

    • eric.rial says:

      Carolyn, We, there are two of us now, are starting our hike on the 20th and planning to do Clouds Rest on the 21st, but not sure if it will be in the morning or afternoon. With our current permits it will be the afternoon, but we’re hoping to get better permits. Then up Half Dome on the 22nd early to beat the crowd. I haven’t called up there lately, but the wilderness conditions page is saying that many trails along the Tioga Road are still 30% snow covered especially in the Tuolumne Meadows area. It says there is still more water than usual too. If you’re coming from that direction you may want to call. We’re coming in from a different direction now, we’ll try a hike from the Tioga Road area another year.


  4. Carolyn says:

    So in other words the conditions are fine for hiking up to Half Dome just not the trail out of the Tuolumne Meadows on the SW side of Tenaya Lake? I did read that there are some waters to be crossed one that trail that is knee deep, and only a week or so ago. More curious of the conditions once one reaches the last couple of miles of the hike up to Clouds Rest where those switchbacks are and is the riskiest part of the climb..would like to know if there is any snow or icy conditions at that level, etc. making it not the ideal time to try that one and possibly wait until sometime in September. Anyhow, thank you for your update, much appreciated.

  5. eric.rial says:

    The wilderness conditions page says, “The trail to Clouds Rest is mostly clear of snow coming from Half Dome but the approach from the east side is still partially snow covered.” Not sure what the impact will be on the climb from the west of partial snow cover. We are planning to come from the Half Dome direction. After the summit, we may continue over the rest of the hike but may just head back down (missing the fun, narrow ridge) if the conditions aren’t good. It will also depend on timing. We may be backpacking in that morning from Illilouette Creek unless we can get a better walk up permit. If we have to backpack in that day, we may decide on a shorter hike up and back down Clouds Rest rather than over and around. Thanks for the comments… enjoy your trip up there, maybe we’ll see you guys in Little Yosemite Valley. A group of 50 will be hard to miss!

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