Two-Day Excursions No. 2

6 minutes

Another grand two-day excursion is the same as the first of the one-day trips, as far as the head of Illilouette Fall. From there trace the beautiful stream up through the heart of its magnificent forests and gardens to the cañons between the Red and Merced Peaks, and pass the night where I camped forty-one years ago. Early next morning visit the small glacier on the north side of Merced Peak, the first of the sixty-five that I discovered in the Sierra.

Glacial phenomena in the Illilouette Basin are on the grandest scale, and in the course of my explorations I found that the cañon and moraines between the Merced and Red Mountains were the most interesting of them all. The path of the vanished glacier shone in many places as if washed with silver, and pushing up the cañon on this bright road I passed lake after lake in solid basins of granite and many a meadow along the cañon stream that links them together. The main lateral moraines that bound the view below the cañon are from a hundred to nearly two hundred feet high and wonderfully regular, like artificial embankments covered with a magnificent growth of silver fir and pine. But this garden and forest luxuriance is speedily left behind, and patches of bryanthus, cassiope and arctic willows begin to appear. The small lakes which a few miles down the Valley are so richly bordered with flowery meadows have at an elevation of 10,000 feet only small brown mats of carex, leaving bare rocks around more than half their shores. Yet, strange to say, amid all this arctic repression the mountain pine on ledges and buttresses of Red Mountain seems to find the climate best suited to it. Some specimens that I measured were over a hundred feet high and twenty-four feet in circumference, showing hardly a trace of severe storms, looking as fresh and vigorous as the giants of the lower zones. Evening came on just as I got fairly into the main cañon. It is about a mile wide and a little less than two miles long. The crumbling spurs of Red Mountain bound it on the north, the somber cliffs of Merced Mountain on the south and a deeply-serrated, splintered ridge curving around from mountain to mountain shuts it in on the east. My camp was on the brink of one of the lakes in a thicket of mountain hemlock, partly sheltered from the wind. Early next morning I set out to trace the ancient glacier to its head. Passing around the north shore of my camp lake I followed the main stream from one lakelet to another. The dwarf pines and hemlocks disappeared and the stream was bordered with icicles. The main lateral moraines that extend from the mouth of the cañon are continued in straggling masses along the walls. Tracing the streams back to the highest of its little lakes, I noticed a deposit of fine gray mud, something like the mud corn from a grindstone. This suggested its glacial origin, for the stream that was carrying it issued from a raw-looking moraine that seemed to be in process of formation. It is from sixty to over a hundred feet high in front, with a slope of about thirty-eight degrees. Climbing to the top of it, I discovered a very small but well-characterized glacier swooping down from the shadowy cliffs of the mountain to its terminal moraine. The ice appeared on all the lower portion of the glacier; farther up it was covered with snow. The uppermost crevasse or “bergeschrund” was from twelve to fourteen feet wide. The melting snow and ice formed a network of rills that ran gracefully down the surface of the glacier, merrily singing in their shining channels. After this discovery I made excursions over all the High Sierra and discovered that what at first sight looked like snowfields were in great part glaciers which were completing the sculpture of the summit peaks.

Rising early,—which will be easy, as your bed will be rather cold and you will not be able to sleep much anyhow,—after visiting the glacier, climb the Red Mountain and enjoy the magnificent views from the summit. I counted forty lakes from one standpoint an this mountain, and the views to the westward over the Illilouette Basin, the most superbly forested of all the basins whose waters rain into Yosemite, and those of the Yosemite rocks, especially the Half Dome and the upper part of the north wall, are very fine. But, of course, far the most imposing view is the vast array of snowy peaks along the axis of the Range. Then from the top of this peak, light and free and exhilarated with mountain air and mountain beauty, you should run lightly down the northern slope of the mountain, descend the cañon between Red and Gray Mountains, thence northward along the bases of Gray Mountain and Mount Clark and go down into the head of Little Yosemite, and thence down past the Nevada and Vernal Falls to the Valley, a truly glorious two-day trip!

A Three-Day Excursion

The best three-day excursion, as far as I can see, is the same as the first of the two-day trips until you reach Lake Tenaya. There instead of returning to the Valley, follow the Tioga road around the northwest side of the lake, over to the Tuolumne Meadows and up to the west base of Mount Dana. Leave the road there and make straight for the highest point on the timber line between Mounts Dana and Gibbs and camp there.

On the morning of the third day go to the top of Mount Dana in time for the glory of the dawn and the sunrise over the gray Mono Desert and the sublime forest of High Sierra peaks. When you leave the mountain go far enough down the north side for a view of the Dana Glacier, then make your way back to the Tioga road, follow it along the Tuolumne Meadows to the crossing of Budd Creek where you will find the Sunrise trail branching off up the mountain-side through the forest in a southwesterly direction past the west side of Cathedral Peak, which will lead you down to the Valley by the Vernal and Nevada Falls. If you are a good walker you can leave the trail where it begins to descend a steep slope in the silver fir woods, and bear off to the right and make straight for the top of Clouds’ Rest. The walking is good and almost level and from the west end of Clouds’ Rest take the Clouds’ Rest Trail which will lead direct to the Valley by the Nevada and Vernal Falls. To any one not desperately time-poor this trip should have four days instead of three; camping the second night at the Soda Springs; thence to Mount Dana and return to the Soda Springs, camping the third night there; thence by the Sunrise trail to Cathedral Peak, visiting the beautiful Cathedral lake which lies about a mile to the west of Cathedral Peak, eating your luncheon, and thence to Clouds’ Rest and the Valley as above. This is one of the most interesting of all the comparatively short trips that can be made in the whole Yosemite region. Not only do you see all the grandest of the Yosemite rocks and waterfalls and the High Sierra with their glaciers, glacier lakes and glacier meadows, etc., but sections of the magnificent silver fir, two-leaved pine, and dwarf pine zones; with the principal alpine flowers and shrubs, especially sods of dwarf vaccinium covered with flowers and fruit though less than an inch high, broad mats of dwarf willow scarce an inch high with catkins that rise straight from the ground, and glorious beds of blue gentians,—grandeur enough and beauty enough for a lifetime.

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