An alpine start the next day was not. We woke up to the chilly sunshine of nine on a September morning. We ate breakfast and left camp. Our goal for the day was to climb Mount Hoffmann. Most peak baggers climb the use trail up the Eastern slope of the peak, but we planned to climb around the west side, a route none of us knew would work. We had no reason to take this route other than the fact that we could. You see, once you’ve gone off trail, you get the idea that any terrain before you is traversable, and it’s true.
We hiked out to the West side of the mountain, into the amphitheatre under the Southeast ridge. We walked most of the way onto the ridge above, but we did have to scramble up a few class 3 sections before we topped it. At one point we even had to climb underneath boulders in a sort of cave created by the rockfall. What looked too steep to climb from far away was merely difficult.
As we topped the ridge, direct views into Yosemite Valley opened up. We had a clear line of site to Clouds Rest, Half Dome, and Glacier Point, and every time we turned around the views got better. We slogged up from there to the summit, mostly a walk-up. We had never read a route description or a trip report for the route we took. None of us had ever done this before. All it took was a bit of inspiration and improvisation for us to scout out a new way up.
From the summit of Hoffmann you can see every corner of Yosemite National Park. The rim of Hetchy Hetchy Valley peeks out to the West. Yosemite Valley and the Clark Range jut out to the South. To the East, the view spans from the Cathedral Range, out through Tuolumne Meadows, all the way to the Sawtooths and the remote Northern Yosemite wilderness. A thousand feet below you can see into the hidden basin in which we set up our camp. Here we at our lunch.
Two or three other people made it onto the summit, and so we decided to leave. Rather than backtrack or follow the use trail back to May Lake, we descended along the Northeast Ridge, the same ridge we had bisected the day before in order to get to our campsite. Instead of going back down to camp, though, we continued along the ridge. Further on, we climbed down and found another unnamed lake. It buttressed itself against the vertical cliffs of the ridge we had just climbed. At one end, a glacial moraine spilled into the clear water, and you could see boulders strewn across the bottom of the lake. This was probably the cleanest, calmest lake I’d ever seen in the Sierra. We took our second lunch here.
We lounged around for an hour or so, then headed back to camp. We had gone the entire day seeing amazing things, and not once did we step on any sort of trail. Except for the radio tower on the summit of Mount Hoffmann, there was no evidence beyond scattered footprints that anyone had ever been there. Everything was untrammeled, untouched, unmarked, and by stepping off the trail, we became explorers. It’s amazing, the solitude you can find, when you’re willing to travel cross-country in Yosemite National Park.
The next day we hiked out early and drove home. We’d tasted the art of moving off-trail, and we wanted more.