I fell off the face of the earth recently. Disconnected. In the mountains. Traipsing across the magnificent granite domes of Yosemite with a backpack that weighed in around 45 pounds, but gradually dropped to 35 pounds as my bear can emptied over a week of dehydrated meals, salumi, cheese, oats, nuts, chocolate, and dozens of Spam musubi (my go-to backpacking snack).
It was a journey that pushed me to my max, both in duration and distance hiked, and amount of weight on my back. It was also a journey that changed my life. I can’t pinpoint what exactly changed, but when you’re pushed beyond what you think you can do, something inside you is different. The world is suddenly different.
Our route was Sunrise Lakes to Cloud’s Rest to Little Yosemite Valley to Half Dome to Happy Isles — a total distance of 27 miles with 15,315 feet of elevation change from Yosemite High Country to Yosemite Valley. (Check out my custom map for a description of our route!) But before we embarked on that epic, we spent two nights at Raisin Lake to acclimatize and just enjoy some downtime before being on a constant move for the next week.
On Google Maps, Raisin Lake doesn’t even have a name. It merely shows as a tiny speck of blue east of the May Lake High Sierra Camp. It’s just a mile beyond May Lake and free of the crowds that camp there, enticed by the shorter hike and commanding views.
We started on the May Lake trail and followed it for about a mile until veering off-trail to the east. For the next two miles, we scrambled through the woods and across the granite under an impending thunderstorm.
When we climbed over the last ridge, we were greeted with a postcard lake that seemed surprisingly remote, despite being only three miles from the last point of civilization.
In comparison to the much larger May Lake, Raisin Lake is small and intimate. It felt like our own private swimming pool, out there in the wilderness surrounded by granite domes with pockets of wildflowers blooming. It was windless and warm, with a perfect glass over the lake in spite of the sky starting to sprinkle on us.
By the time we set up our tents, there was a steady drizzle and we wondered if that night’s dinner was toast. (Not toast in the literal sense, but we did need to get a fire going for our Korean barbecue! Rule number one of any backcountry outing: Make the first night’s meal memorable.)
I waited out the drizzle in my tent, napping until Will woke me up for sunset. The storm clouds made for some spectacular color in the sky — a natural ombré from purple to pink as the sun sank behind the mountains.
By the time the sky darkened, it also cleared up and we got our grill on… kalbi, rice, red cabbage kimchi and radish pod pickles (yes, we actually brought them backpacking with us!), and spicy cucumbers, all wrapped up in seaweed. (And for the next week, we kept thinking about this dinner and how we couldn’t wait to have it again at home… ahhh food, the great motivator.)
We had our best night of sleep ever, and not just because of our feast. Right as we put out the last coals and slipped into our sleeping bags, the clouds moved back in. Falling asleep to the pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent is bliss.
We had a very full day the next day… full of eating, napping, swimming, reading, napping again, and talking life… gazing out over the lake and up at Mount Hoffmann, the geographic center of Yosemite. It was a pretty perfect afternoon at a pretty perfect campsite, or as my friend Clinton liked to call it, righteous.
The sun moved in and out of the clouds all day, and we played it like a game. As soon as we saw a window of opportunity where it’d be blazing hot for at least a few minutes, we’d jump into the lake on our Thermarest pads and paddle around with the sun on our backs. Did you know those things float?! It was a revelation!
For being a High Sierra lake, Raisin was surprisingly warm. I’d never been able to swim in such a lake for more than a minute before my toes went numb, but its diminutive size meant it heated up quickly and held its warmth well. So righteous.
The next morning, we packed up and headed out, taking the trail that wound around May Lake.
We passed the High Sierra Camp, which looked like a little slice of heaven, and met a camp ranger who offered us a can of pale lager to fuel us for the rest of our hike. Rule number two of any backcountry outing: Never turn down free beer, especially good free beer in a can. (Even if it was 10 in the morning…)
Since we had stashed the majority of our food in a bear box at the trailhead, bringing only the food we needed for two days, our packs were relatively light. Aside from our last day in the backcountry, that would be the lightest our packs would feel all week!
… But not for long, as we loaded up the rest of our food in the parking lot and set out for Tenaya Lake — the real start of our journey.
Read the full “Epic Yosemite” series:
- Backpacking to Raisin Lake
- The Start at Tenaya Lake
- Sunrise Lakes to Cloud’s Rest
- Cloud’s Rest to Little Yosemite Valley
- Climbing the Half Dome Cables
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