High Sierra camping with Matthew

My brother’s visit in July afforded us the rare opportunity to go backpacking together, just the two of us. He’s not done much camping, and I’ve never been backpacking in bear country, so to ease our apprehension, I booked us three nights at Yosemite’s Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. From what I had read, it offers a “backpacking experience without the backpack”—they provide tent cabins and do all the cooking. Sounded pretty great to me.

North Dome and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
North Dome and Half Dome from the valley

We spent one night in Yosemite Valley at Curry Village, and then began our 13 mile trek to Merced Lake at 6 the next morning. We had the normally crowded Mist Trail practically to ourselves as we made our way first to Vernal Fall, and then Nevada Fall, retracing the steps that Stephanie and I had taken last September.

Matthew indicating the mileage to Merced Lake: 13.1 miles
Matthew pointing out our mileage

Matthew and Justin on a bridge crossing the Merced River with Vernal Fall in the background
On a bridge over the Merced with Vernal Fall in the distance

Looking out from the top of Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park
The view from top of Nevada Fall (at 9:30 in the morning)

Eight hours after starting our hike, we made it to Merced Lake, which was a relief, because I was worried it might have taken us 10-12 hours. Our early arrival gave us plenty of time to shower and rest our sore muscles before dinner at 6:30. And oh, what a dinner it was. We sat down to bowls of curried carrot and squash soup and a large salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese crumbles, and sliced strawberries. I could hardly believe my eyes. Then came the roasted chicken breasts, rice, and corn. There was also freshly baked bread and butter at the table. Finally, for dessert we had chocolate cupcakes with homemade frosting. And to think, all of this arrived in camp by mule train. From this moment on, I knew we were going to be just fine.

Mule train on the way to Merced Lake High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park
The mule train bringing supplies to Merced Lake

Panorama of Merced Lake in Yosemite National Park

Panorama of Merced Lake (with a storm in the background)

A tent cabin at Merced Lake High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park
Our humble tent cabin

Since we’d be there for three nights, we had two full days to fill with activity. I wasn’t quite sure what we’d be capable of following our 13 mile hike, but after a very hearty breakfast the next morning (oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, sausages, hash browns, and fruit salad!), we figured we’d better be up for a day hike just to burn it all off. We decided to take one of the two trails towards Vogelsang (another of the five High Sierra Camps), stopping around noon at Emeric Lake to eat our bag lunches. Then we turned around and headed back to camp. I think we ended up hiking nearly 12 miles that day.

Looking back towards Merced Lake from the trail to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park
Looking back towards Merced Lake from the trail

Panorama of the high meadow along Fletcher Creek in Yosemite National Park

Panorama of the high meadow along Fletcher Creek

Matthew and Justin on the way back to Merced Lake High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park
The Brothers Watt on the way back down

Of course when Matthew realized how close we had come to reaching 10,000 feet, he decided the next day he wanted to run up the other trail towards Vogelsang, and take the turn off to Bernice Lake, at an elevation of 10,206 feet (3,110 meters). I thought I’d spend the day on a more leisurely trail, but when I saw that it was “only” 6.8 miles to Bernice (and the day before we’d done 5.8), I figured I’d make a go at it myself, albeit at a slower pace. We crossed paths at 11am as he was on his way back down and I hadn’t even yet hit the turn off. Much to my own surprise, I made it to the lake around 12:15, and enjoyed my bag lunch with a spectacular view in complete solitude. And then, like the day before, I turned around and headed back towards camp. Matthew had run the 13.6 mile round trip in about 3 hours; it took me a little over 6.


Pristine Bernice Lake

Justin above 10,000 feet at Bernice Lake in Yosemite National Park
Justin above 10,000 feet!

Justin's bandaged feet in front of Bernice Lake in Yosemite National Park
My lunch view (for Stephanie)

After two incredible days at Merced Lake, it was time to head down to the valley and back home. We decided to take the Muir Trail on the way back, a slightly longer route, but a change of scenery from the hike up. Incredibly we made it down to the valley in a mere 6 hours. Yay, gravity! We were dirty, exhausted, and very happy with what we’d accomplished: hiking 55 miles (88km) with over 6,000 feet (1,828m) of elevation gain in four days. We celebrated our accomplishment on the drive home with a well-deserved burger and fries at In-N-Out.