September 2012 –
Nick, Tyler, and I (also Tyler) were headed out of the May Lake trailhead, one of the busier trailheads in the Yosemite high country. The lake itself rests a mile-and-a-half into the Yosemite wilderness under the slopes of Mount Hoffmann and is home to the May Lake High Sierra Camp, a bastion of civilization, chef-prepared meals, and flush toilets in an otherwise unkempt area. Because the camp is such a civilized place so close to the trailhead, it’s usually pretty crowded, and I thought we’d be lucky to snag an overnight permit.
“You should have the trail to yourselves,” the ranger told us. The plumbing system for the camp had failed, and they had to close shop for the rest of the season. They weren’t allowing anyone to camp near the lake. Fortunately, we weren’t planning on camping near the lake, but instead were headed off trail over the ridge that hangs above May Lake. We got our permit, thanked the ranger, and drove out to the trailhead.
The other time I’d been there, the parking lot was full, but this time, ours was one of only three or four cars. It would be a rare quiet day at May Lake. We divided up our gear, loaded it into our packs and left. The trail winds gentle switchbacks up to the lake, and we encountered only one other person on the way up. We got to the lake in less than an hour, hiked around it, and there we stepped off the trail and started climbing the granite slopes northeast of Mount Hoffmann. Sometimes, a trail is pretty well-defined, and in order to head cross-country you take a right angle to the trail into the grass and talus. Other times, the trail makes a hundred splits and peters off before you’ve realized you’re off the trail. This experience was more the latter.
We took a quick lunch break at the base of the slope, then took a direct line to the top. We emerged out of the tree cover and the views opened up to the Tuolumne Meadows, Mount Conness, and the Sierra Crest behind us. Reaching the saddle on the ridge, we could see the summit of Hoffmann and, under its thousand foot cliffs, the unnamed lake that would be our campsite for the next two nights.
It was only a few hundred feet of descent to the lake. We scouted out a site in a wide creekbed and set up camp. After we set everything up, we walked around the lake and took in the views. We were only three miles from one of the more popular trailheads in the park, yet we saw no one. Even at one of the most visited national parks in the country, you only have to hike a few miles off-trail to get away from everyone.
Pictures courtesy of the other Tyler: