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Photo Essay: Backpacking Yosemite’s North Rim

Catching Yosemite Valley in the early fall is a great time to experience an iconic part of our country’s landscape. Led by the Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, our group took a scenic 3-day tour of the Valley’s north rim. The hike begins in Camp 4 and wastes no time getting to the ascent as we jump on the Yosemite Falls trail. Within minutes we begin the switchback ascent from the valley floor, 3000 vertical feet up to the rim within only a few miles.



Drew Simmons(left) is loaded up and ready to hit the trail. Chris Van Leuven(right) keeps the pace steady up the ever-rising trail. A good set of trekking poles like those by Leki are practically a must for backpacking any significant distance, helping to reduce impact over the numerous miles. Without something like these lightweight carbon poles, my knees would probably have been way more sore.


JL_EOblog_YosemiteBackpacking-02(click here for hi-res download)

Almost immediately, we are greeted with grand views up valley towards Half Dome, our recurring icon of the trip. Working our way up the trail offers so many different framings of this famed summit with other valley views mixed in.



Meet our guides for this 3-day trip! Colby (left) and Christina (right). Colby ( is much more than their Head Guide. His knowledge of these natural environments and skills to prepare some of their famed ‘backcountry gourmet’ meals exceeded my expectations in terms of quality.



As we reach the rim of the valley, things change drastically. For the last few hours we were staring up at granite walls and the currently dry, Yosemite Falls. Now, we are in a pine forest with fun boulders scattered around the landscape. If the group took a break for more than a minute, Chris would surely find something to climb around us and others would gravitate. These breaks in the hike were great entertainment and a fine substitute for just taking a breather.



Yar, there be pirates in these woods! Amy Oberbroeckling wields a SOG knife big enough for boar hunting and she’s read to go.



The sun rewarms our group as we exit the forest and take a detour that our guides assure us is worth it. Amy takes the lead out to the point and we’re greeted with another view into the at the overlook atop Yosemite Falls.



The river above Yosemite Falls was running so low this time of year that new boulder problems opened up. Here, Chris Van Leuven climbs one of the choice crack lines along the riverbed.



There’s always lots to do in and around camp. At camp the first night, our group gravitated to the bouldering potential on the biggest freestanding rock before dinner and nightfall came. Chris flew up line after subtle line on the block while others were still setting up camp. With tent readied for the night, Editor Doug Schnitzpahn(left) has a go at one of the more balance-focused boulder problems while Chris and Amy offer encouragement(and a spot). Amy (right) makes final preparations to break camp on the second morning.



Day 2 was spend weaving through the pine forest and scenes like this. A fair distance from the rim of the valley, the forest takes on a very different feel. Our trail may have been one of the more popular and accessible ones around, but this far out from the trailhead we seldom encountered another party.


Emerging from the dense interior of the forest with little notice, we realize the true meaning of Colby’s words at the beginning of the trip, saying we were in for one of the best campsites of our lives. Doug and Drew take in the late afternoon view, a stone’s throw from our tents, tucked back in the forest.


With a good bit of daylight remaining and camp already made, we had the pleasure of taking in the incredible view before us. Honestly, it didn’t get old. There is such a presence that formation has.


A sampling of some of the renowned ‘backcountry gourmet’ meals. Delicious food made it worth each of us having to pack a huge bear canister the whole trip.


Clouds sputtered down from the high country all day, threatening to make our night a lot more wet and cold. While the cold sank in, the clouds pushed out, exposing the blanket of stars above. The midnight air chilled me with every motion, but that was far better than laying in a cold tent, imagining how it all must look under the night sky. Compared to taking in this view at night, the hike out the next morning wasn’t nearly as engaging. I had just spent a night in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.



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