Do you remember your first backpacking trip? For me, it was with Jared, Matt, Will, and Arnold in Yosemite National Park during my last Memorial Day weekend in California before graduate school. Of course, we didn’t have permits beforehand or even thought of how busy it would be that weekend nor really knew much about what was really necessary for backpacking. Through that weekend of floods, rain, infinite hot dogs, and plenty of Gentleman Jack, we emerged as Poopanauts, which is a story that will have to wait for another time. The main point is that it is hard to recall the feeling and mindset of getting into the wilderness for the first time. It was something I had to try my best to relate to as I lead my California friends Arnold, Joey, and Miguel and new friends Becky and Doris back to Yosemite National Park. For Becky and Doris, it was their first time into the backcountry. Since these guys were willing to take the time off work to drive me up to Yosemite – where I would start my John Muir Trail (JMT) hike – and spend several days in the backcountry with me, I hoped that I was able to share my enthusiasm of the outdoors with my friends again and for the first time.
This is part 2 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
|1 decision & planning|
|2 getting in & Yosemite National Park warm up|
|2.1 getting in – flights & Davis, CA|
|2.2 Yosemite National Park warm up – Illilouette Basin|
|2.2.2 trip report|
|220.127.116.11 day 0 – permitting & North Pine backpacker campsite|
|18.104.22.168 day 1 – Glacier Point to Clark Fork Illilouette Creek|
|22.214.171.124 day 2 – Clark Fork Illilouette Creek to Lower Merced Pass Lake|
|126.96.36.199 day 3 – Lower Merced Pass Lake to Mono Meadow Trail junction|
|188.8.131.52 day 4 – Mono Meadow/Mercer Pass Trail junction to Happy Isles|
|2.2.3 impressions – Yosemite National Park Illilouette Basin|
|3 trip report day 5-8: Lyell Canyon/Tuolumne Meadows to Red’s Meadow Resort|
|4 trip report day 9-11: Red’s Meadow Resort to Muir Trail Ranch|
|5 trip report day 11-16: Muir Trail Ranch to Onion Valley trailhead|
|6 trip report day 17-19: Onion Valley trailhead to Whitney Portal|
|7 getting out|
|8 final impressions|
My flight to California was on Southwest Airlines very early in the morning from Baltimore (BWI) via Denver (DEN) to Sacramento (SMF). I didn’t pack until the last minute, which meant driving up during the night and pretty much passing out as soon as I boarded the flight.
Southwest had notified me that there were possibly delays with my initial connection in Phoenix (PHX), which I suspect was probably due to a combination of high heat (CNBC), elevation, and physics of lift. This allowed me to change my connection through DEN, which was more direct and allowed me to grab a free breakfast with my Priority Pass as part of my credit card (details at Dr of Credit) at Timberline Steaks & Grille restaurant (review by OMAAT). Nothing like a Bloody Mary and breakfast to start a trip out right. My layover was slightly over an hour, which was plenty of time since I just grabbed a seat at the bar and they weren’t too busy since it was early in the morning.
My flights in to SMF was uneventful and Joey picked me up from the airport. We met up with Miguel in Davis to go over some of the plans for the backpacking trip, which I’ll get to below. While in Davis, my old stomping grounds, I had to get a California Burrito from Taqueria Guadalajara (yelp) with deep fried pork and smothered with red sauce, which my former co-worker use to describe as the size of a small baby when I got it for lunch. To wash it all down, Joey took me to the new brewery in town, Dunloe Brewing (yelp). It was started by our friend Brandon that use to work at our typical drinking spot back in the day, Sudwerks dock store (yelp). Brandon’s done a really nice job with the new place and I’d recommend it if I had to chose between the two.
After settling on a plan, we went shopping for any equipment we still needed and groceries for the trip. For me, it would be for 8 to 9 days worth covering my four day trip with my friends and the first leg of my JMT hike from Tuolumne Meadow to Red’s Meadow Resort. We also bought a night worth of car camping food, meaning infinite hot dogs and beer, since we’d have a night of glamping at the backpacker’s camp ground the night before the start of our permit.
Miguel, Joey, Doris, and I convened just before midnight to start our drive toward Yosemite. This was so we could get in line early to get first come first serve permits (describe in part 1). Arnold and Becky would join us the next day.
In comparison to the amount of planning I had done for the JMT, the 4-5 days of backpacking with friend probably took more time and effort. Specific to this hike was the prospect that it was a fairly large group of six with two new backpackers. Trying to figure out a good permitting plan able to accompany the larger group and the possible routing for varying hiking capabilities while trying to ensure a trip with spectacular views took time to plan.
We were able to get 3 permits starting from Glacier Point heading toward the Illilouette Basin reserved beforehand by fax (such permits are now available online, see the Yosemite Conservancy for the application and instructions), which meant we’d have to get some first come first serve permits for the rest of us. I determined on the Illilouette due to its availability and the lower popularity of the trail meant we’d have a better chance at getting first come first serve permits. I also wanted to have a start similar to the traditional JMT start in the sense of seeing Yosemite for a bit and this would give me the possible way of doing that.
The key points in planning for this trip was regarding the distance we may able to cover, so I had to figure out routing options with a few contingency. This is where I was, and usually am, too aggressive regarding the mileage. As I discussed in the intro, it’s difficult to put myself in that first time mind set and something I should have done better. Secondly, we had a hard deadline we need to finish to start my JMT hike and I needed to be at Tuolumne Meadows by the end of it. I started to play with caltopo in attempt to figure out different options.
Two aspects helped me to narrow down the routing options as the date for my trip drew closer. First, all my friends confirmed with the trip and that meant we’d have two cars making running a shuttle up to Glacier point was possible since there is very limited options of shuttling there from Yosemite Valley (Yosemite National Park). Next, my friends were also graciously enough to agree to drop me off at Tuolumne Meadows after we got out. This lead me to plan the possible loop of heading up Illilouette Basin, going over Red pass, and then looping back into Yosemite Valley (caltopo).
The loop estimated out to be 47 miles, but the hardest and most time consuming portion would be working up to Red’s Pass. Yes, this was definitely an overly ambitious plan I came up with for 4 days and the situation. Our progress toward Red’s pass on day two would also be a determining point on whether to switch it up. The contingency plan I had for the group would be to exit the Illilouette Basin on the same way we entered, but to head down to Happy Isles and Yosemite Valley instead of back to Glacier Point.
If I had known that we’d would have been first in line for the first come first serve permits, I might have been easier to do a tradition route from Happy Isles to Tuolumne or the Sunrise Lake area.
We arrived in Yosemite Valley wilderness permitting office still in the dark on the Saturday morning and took turns napping on the bench out in front. It wasn’t until 7am until the next person strolled up and we officially formed a line.
By the time the office opened around 8am, there was a formidable line. The range went over the wilderness permit regulations and then went through noting down the first come first serve permits everyone was looking to get in order. Then he told us to return at 11am to pick up the permits. There as no power in Yosemite Valley that day so the procedure might have been specific to that day. The word was that a fire started the evening before in Mariposa that knocked out power. Only the store had power since it had its own generator.
I was able to pick up my reserved permit at 8am so we could head over to the backpacker’s campground to claim a spot and get our tents set up. The backpackers campground is now located among the in North Pine campgrounds. There is a small parking area for a few cars for unloading purposes. The backpacker campground is then through a wooded area and across a stream. There were plenty of space, though you don’t have to be downwind of the toilets. There is a cash only USD$6 per person cost you pay through an envelope drop. Just make sure you keep the tag on your tent. While there seem to be campsite with tables, bear boxes, and fire pits, the boundaries get blurred as more backpackers shuffle in. It’s a good way to make friends though. The negative about the backpacker campgrounds was that you’ll have to park your car a bit further away, such as Little Yosemite.
Once our tents were set up, we headed back to Yosemite Valley to buy some firewood and returned the wilderness office to pick up permits for the other half of our group. While at the office, we also rented several bear canisters for USD$5 each, for the week. (Yosemite National Park) On our way back, we saw one of the two black bears that’s been said to mull around the campgrounds up in a tree.
We all took a long nap after that having not really slept for the night before. In the afternoon, Arnold and Becky still hadn’t arrived yet and we didn’t have reception at the campgrounds. So we drove around to get a message out, they had car issues and then ran into typically California traffic. We decided to drive around while we were at it.
But that’s also when we noticed the fire in Mariposa, west of Yosemite.
When we returned to the backpacker’s campsite, we found Arnold and Becky spelunking in the stream. Apparently they did not have air conditioning in the car.
We were all assembled and we celebrated with beer cooled in the stream and infinite hot dogs cooked by campfire. Before turning in for my first full night of sleep in 3 days.
Our first day of our backpacking trip ended up being a late start. With a larger group comes different habits and different preferences and it would be something we’d have to adjust to on the trip. The big part of the late start was setting up shuttle where we’d leave a car at the Happy Isle parking lot and the other was to stuff all of use into one car and drive up to Glacier Point.
- Glacier Point to Clark Fork Illilouette Creek
- distance: 8.1 mi
- elevation change: 1374 ft ascent & 1469 ft descent
- time: 7 hours with breaks (4:30 moving time)
Our hike started just before noon. Being at Glacier point, we had to get out for a starting view of Half Dome and to get group picture to maker our start.
The effects of the Marisopa fire was visible by making everything not so much by the time we started.
Our initial descent followed the Panorama Trail down before taking the right trail at the junction on the Buena Vista Trail. The high noon sun made a scorching affair and the heat was compounded by the smog. Our views were a bit disappointing and we were happy to reach the tree line to get out of the sun. The orange hue among the woods as part of the smog provided an unique view.
At the bottom of our 1.248 ft descent covering 3 miles, we reached our first encounter with Illilouette Creek with a nice camping area. We were happy to jump into the creek and take a relaxing lunch break. My lunch consisted of a couple tuna wraps, as I wasn’t too hungry from the infinite hot dog we had to finish in the morning. Another large group was ending their day here, but ours were just getting started.
The Buena Vista trail started to gain a little bit elevation rising over Illilouette Creek while passing across a stream and an open area a junction with the Mono Meadow and Merced Pass Trail.
We turned onto the Merced Pass Trail to continue up the Illilouette Basin. A few minutes after the junction, the trail crosses Illilouette Creek and our first forging. My Chacos allowed me cross this with ease, though it wouldn’t be great for the sandy section that came afterwards.
The heat would catch up to use here as muscle cramps after the crossing lead us to take a break to recover before pushing through the last section of the day. With information from another backpacker returning from the Illilouette Basin, we know that there was going to be pretty good camping spot a couple hours from our current location.
Once we recovered, we turned right onto the Merced Pass Trail ascending away from the creek. The trail first went through a very sanding area before further climbing on rocky plateau of sorts. We entered a forested area with views of Mount Star King before the trail became more mellow. At the trail junction that came next, we continued straight on Merced Pass Trail. The next section had us in a dream state as the orange light from the lower sun and smog made created a mystical feeling for our walk through the woods. The smog seem to extend the golden hour effect among the trees. When the trees opened up more, we saw some cool rock formations that we wondered if there allowed any bouldering.
The trail eventually started to descend back toward the creek, we got a nice view of a waterfall among the Clark Fork Illilouette Creek. We also saw the heavy smoke in the distance.
Shortly after, we had a water crossing over Clark Fork Illilouette Creek,
where we found our home for our first night just before 7pm at an amazing camp spot with plenty of space and fire pit.
We had time to set up our camp, jump into the stream, and cook our dinner before the sun went down. It was a tough first day as the heat and smog both wore on everyone.
- Clark Fork Illilouette Creek to Lower Merced Pass Lake
- distance: 8.7 mi
- elevation change: 2552 ft ascent & 699 ft descent
- time: 10:30 hours with breaks (5:25 moving time)
Next morning, it took us a little time to get out of camp leaving around 9am. My typical backpacking habits has been not eating very much for breakfast other than a Cliff bar or two and waiting for my large meal and that’s the trend I started with.
Immediately after we left our camp, we had our first water crossing over Red Creek. The trail then ascended aggressively for a short distance between flattening out through an area of old burn. The sun was pretty hot at this point already, but we were happy to see some blue skies. The next section of trail was through a forested area with only slight elevation gain. We made good time the next two miles while kicking large pine cones out of our way.
We took a short break to refill our water when the trail returned next to Illilouette Creek and it was a good thing because the elevation started to gain more aggressively at this point. Not only that, we the terrain was over rock rather than forest. This next section wore on us, but we were motivated by hikers going the other way telling us we had a really nice lunch spot up ahead.
And boy, were they right.
We found the cascading Illilouette Creek running down a large granite slab into crystal clear swimming hole about 3.5 miles into our day. The cascades is slightly off the trail toward the creek, so you have to look for it. We spend a good hour jumping into the freezing pool, sunbathing, and eating lunch. By the time we were ready to leave, the smog had started to come in once again. My lunch today consisted more wraps, I believe of the salami variety this time around.
Our afternoon continued uphills, but slightly less aggressive as the immediate section before the cascades. The trail also alternated between slabby granite areas and wooded areas. The smog and heat wore on us as we continued upwards.
The worst part of the day came as we crossed Illilouette Creek again around marking the start of mosquitos’ territory, and they had full domain over it. It was clear at this point my bug net would not do, deet was the only way. This was around the 5 mile mark on the day. The climb from this point on was in the woods crossing a few more streams.
By the time we reached the junction for Red Peak Pass Trail just under mile 7, the team morale was pretty low. The time was 4pm and we would still have 2.3 miles of uphills to reach Ottoway Lake. We would need to be there to have a shot at going over Red Peak Pass. We morale and discussing the pace we’d have to do for the next couple of days, the decision was made to find an area to camp and head back. I checked the creeks around the pass and they were all dry, so we headed back down the trail to our last water source. Around the area, we found suitable camping spots near Lower Merced Pass Lake.
A valuable lesson I learned on this second day was that wraps were not sufficient for me as a lunch, especially without a full breakfast. I was drained as well by the time we reached Red Peak Pass junction and I would have had to eat a main meal if we were to continue on.
After setting up camp and eating dinner, we explored the area around Lower Merced Lake a bit. Before we reached Lower Merced Lake, we first came upon a small pond covered in pollen, which was pretty cool. The area directly around Lower Merced Lake was very swampy, so as you would expect, the mosquitos here were relentless. Continuing along the eastern side of the lake and following what seemed to be a game trail or something and jumping over a little stream of still water, we found a large camping area one a rock slab with views out toward the lake. It might has been a nice campsite for us, but we didn’t want to move our tents and also were ok with the number of mosquitoes where we camped.
Arnold, Becky, and I continued toward the south along the banks toward a rocky boulder shores that make up the southern end of the lake. Arnold took one look at it and decided we should do some scrambling.
After chilling for a few minutes, Arnold decided it would be fun just to climb to the top of the rocks. I guess we had nothing better to do anyways but to drink whisky and kill mosquitoes. Oh yea, scrambling up this steep slab wasn’t dangerous at all.
That was sarcasm, but I have to hand it to Arnold, the view was worth it. Even if the view seems like a final scene in a post apocalypse movie where the hero and heroine look upon the ruined land with hope that they’ll make it. Also, awww such a cute couple.
After yelling strange words like “butts” at the top of our lungs for a few minutes, we decided to head back down with great care.
We turned in for the night as hiker midnight came down. Again the uphills took a bit out of everyone and we were glad to be in our tents away from mosquitoes. Even though we didn’t hit our goal for today and won’t be completing my ambitious loop I had planned, it was still an awesome day with cool cascades, cool swimming hole, and a cool finish to the day all spent with friends.
I also did learn a few things as well including figuring out that my eating habit wasn’t working and that I’d need to change it up. I decided to eat a dinner for breakfast the next morning.
Secondly, I don’t know what was about the day, maybe the post apocalyptic feel, but I definitely wished Meg was out there with me as I laid in my tent.
- Lower Merced Pass Lake to Mono Meadow/Mercer Pass Trail junction
- distance: 9.7 mi
- elevation change: 407 ft ascent & 2613 ft descent
- time: 9:15 hours with breaks (4:05 moving time)
The goal for day 3 was to return down the Illilouette Basin as far as we can without a specific goal. I think everyone was a bit more relaxed knowing we were on our way back out. With that, we didn’t head out until a quarter before 10am.
I tested out my new plan for meals by eating a large breakfast, which was a dinner.
The morning was once again pretty clear as we started back down the Merced Pass Trail, but at a much quicker pace going down. I took the opportunity to grab pictures of the crew and the streams we crossed and walked next to that I didn’t the day before while pushing upwards.
We took a break and swim once again at our favorite swimming hole when we reached it at 11:15am.
While exploring the area around swimming hole, I also found a little camping area with a fire ring. I’ll need to camp here the next time I try this loop.
While we were chilling, another group passed us and I heard them further down the creek so I explored a bit more and saw that they’d found another swimming spot between a little canyon, where the creek is running out from (their packs were here on the left). I didn’t explore further in to give them their space.
Swimming holes seemed plenty here as there was another one just below where I was at the bottom of the cascades.
We continued our way back stopping at our first night’s campground to take a long break. Our plan for the rest of our hike was to exit into Yosemite Valley at Happy Isle, so we had a decision to make at the next trail junction. The trail that branched off Merced Pass Trail was more of a direct trail toward Nevada Falls and Happy Isle, however we did not see a possible water source so we wouldn’t know how far we’d be able to make it. So instead we opted to continue down the Merced Pass Trail and camp around the water crossing at Illilouette Creek around the area where Buena Vista Trail, Mono Meadow Trail, and the Merced Pass Trail came together.
It was good that we did because a few minutes after the junction, we saw a mama bear along with her cubs going the opposite direction paralleling us. At one point the cubs stood up next to their mom trying to get a better look at us. My wide lense doesn’t do them justice.
When we reached the junction, we first set up camp on the area river left (when you are facing downstream). There were a couple of fire rings built here with some logs around it. We, along with another group, assumed this was a legal camping spot because of that. However, as we started to set up camp, a local guide from across the creek told us that the spot we are at was actually illegal since it was within 100 feet to the water and that the rings there were not official fire rings. Apparently it was a spot of heavy contention between those that keep putting up the fire rings there and the park services. The park services would break down the fire rings everytime they hike through the area and ticket everyone camped there, while people keep putting the fire rings up.
There are, however, plenty of space over the bluffs river right (facing downstream in the creek) where we ended up camping under Mount Starr King. Plus, dinner up on the bluff overlooking Illilouette Creek was much better than among the ants on the other side.
After camp was set up, I jumped in the creek to clean myself and my cloth. Then I had that peaceful dinner up upon the bluff before turning in.
While at the camp and talking with the local guide, he said that the smoke was the worst during the afternoon with it clear in the mornings and clearing up in the evening. The evening was when he was planning to take his group up Half Dome the day after. That knowledge allowed me to form a game plan for how my day might look on the JMT.
- Mono Meadow/Mercer Pass Trail junction to Happy Isles
- distance: 8.5 mi
- elevation change: 1033 ft ascent & 2293 ft descent
- time: 6:30 hours with breaks (4:25 moving time)
The morning of day 4 was another lazy morning. I spent a good amount of time on my bluff spot overlooking Illilouette Creek with clear skies making and eating breakfast. With only the finish left, we were on our way at 10:15 am.
We took the trail heading toward Happy Isle and Nevada Falls, which begin with an initial downhill. The the clearish skys, we could we could finally see Mount Starr King among several granite peaks in the distance.
Then our uphills of the day begun without much shade from the blazing sun. We pushed through the initial uphills by stopping at ever shade along the way. We then entered the forest area as we started to go around the edge of the mountain. With a final push uphills we were at the highest point of our day. It was a gap just under Panorama Point where the side trail branching off of Merced Pass Trail, that we didn’t take the day before, met us. Just after the junction, we came to a flat area with a fire ring and a nice camping area. However, we didn’t see any water sources around. It was also at this point that we could see Liberty Cap, Mount Broderick, and Half Dome make their appearance.
Though the best view of these peaks would be just after we turned right onto the Panorama Trail.
We were also greeted by a pair of Sooty Grouse who were meerping at a us continuously.
What came next was a bunch of switchbacks to the top of Nevada Falls, part of which was made in concrete. I guess it was just the start of what’s to come on our way back to Yosemite Valley. At the end of the switchbacks was the junction with the actual JMT and the loss of our solitude. We first turned right on the JMT to visit the top of Nevada Falls, where we took our lunch break.
After break, we turned back and started back down the JMT toward Happy Isle. Arnold had thought there was another way down from the other side of Nevada falls and he was correct with Mist Trail be the other way. But we ended heading down on the JMT since we knew of it for certain and were ready for beer. The views along the JMT of Nevada falls weren’t too shabby either.
The path down was muddy at points and seemed like it took a lot of blasting into the rock face to create. I can imagine the infrastructure upkeep needed for the amount of traffic it sees. The trail here was pretty gentle in its descent, though the lack of sun covered made it a scotching affair. Without any cover though, there were plenty of picture opportunities looking onto Nevada Falls.
After a couple of switchbacks, we reached the junction of Clark Point where the JMT splits with left direction being a longer, but most likely gentiler descent, and the right direction connects with the Mist Trail above Vernal Falls. Since I hadn’t seen Vernal Falls before except from a distance, I was ok sacrificing our knees collectively with the steeper downhills.
We reached the Mist Trail near the top of the Emerald Pool and Silver Apron, which were pretty cool aesthetically, but were very crowded. The crowd mentality also ignored National Park Service signs to keep out of the pool.
Another cool viewpoint here is directly over Vernal Falls, I liked for for the view of the Merced River cutting into the woods below the falls. The afternoon smoke had smothered the valley completely at this point giving everything an orange glow.
The trail from that point involved heading up a steep, ginormous granite slab to reach a narrow and steep access point cut into the walls connecting the top of the falls with the valley below. It was a huge bottleneck point for the two way traffic. At least everyone was understanding of the situation and kind to each other giving way when needed. Places like this really emphasized the need for better funding to the park services to help them maintain and improve the infrastructure so everyone these shared treasures we have.
Along the stairs to reach the bottom of the valley were some of the best places of Vernal Falls itself to capture its grandness.
The trail that covered the rest of the way to Happy Isles undulated along the Merced River, merging with the JMT and crossing the River over a crowded bridge. The smog had gotten quite unpleasant by the time we reached the parking lot.
I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be this bad on the other side of the park at Tuolumne Meadows and up the Lyell Canyon where I’d start my JMT hike. At least my knees were glad there were no downhills planned for my first day.
While we were at Yosemite Valley, I picked up my JMT permit at the wilderness permit office and the rangers went over the regulations for my hike. We also talked about the fire and they confirmed that the worst smog would be in the afternoons and that it should be better hiking in the mornings and evenings. The rest of the team were able to return the bear canisters we rented as well.
Finally, we gathered for celebratory beers and burgers. While the prices at the restaurants were overpriced, they were tasty, especially so when Arnold and Becky picked up my check. Thank guys! The beer from store, and groceries in general, were actually decently prices and competitive even against Safeways I found in Davis. After our meal, I said goodbyes and Becky, Arnold, and Joey drove me to Tuolumne Meadows for the start of my JMT, which will continue on the next part of this series.
First of all, I’d like to thank Joey, Miguel, Doris, Becky, and Arnold for the fun time we had in the backcountry in Yosemite. I hope we’ll have more adventures together soon.
Our total mileage on our trip was 35 miles over 4 days. We had a total of 5286 ft of elevation gain and 7982 ft of elevation loss. You can find our complete track at caltopo.
views: 3. Overall, the grandness of the potential views on the sections we did was diminished by the fire in Mariposa, which became the Ferguson Fire. My favorite view points aesthetically were our off trail scramble overlooking Lower Merced Pass Lake
and the grandview from Panorama Trail of Nevada Falls below Liberty Cap, Mount Broderick, and Half Dome. I also can see the appeal and popularity of the Mist Trail and would recommend everyone go see it once, though I probably wouldn’t return during the popular times.
My favorite area though were swimming holes, waterfalls, and cascades on Illilouette Creek near the steepest part of Merced Pass Trail. I can see spending an afternoon exploring the area and camping there in the future. Perhaps when I return to actually finish the loop I aggressively planned.
Relative the Mist Trail and Yosemite Valley, the Illilouette Basin was not busy at all. We would encounter between 2 to 4 groups a day. It was also less trafficked in comparison to the general JMT as well. So solitude can be found in Yosemite.
I felt bad that Doris and Becky’s first backpacking experiences happened under these circumstances, but hopefully they enjoyed the views enough to keep heading outside. Personally, the main point of this short backpacking trip was to spend some quality time with my friends from California and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. While I may not return to do this exact route we did again, I do look forward to more time in the backcountry with my friends in the future.
difficulty: 2.5. The elevation profile of our backpacking trip wasn’t too bad with are largest day of about 2500 ft with a net elevation descend. I would say the trail we did itself was moderate at about a 2 in difficulty, but the smoke from the nearby fire made it harder to breath, irritate your eyes, and hotter in general. I really hate giving out half points, but the smog at that point was just an annoyance.
technical: 1.5. Since this was a backpacking report, this score refers to technical skills beyond general backpacking and wilderness skills and knowledge. Yosemite itself is very well maintained and the junctions are all very well marked even up the less traveled Merced Pass Trail. A park map and a plan is sufficient in most cases though you’d want to walk your plan through with a ranger at the permitting office if that’s all you have or you are a novice to the backcountry.
We had a couple of water crossings almost knee deep, but the creek was calm in general. If you are there at other times like early in the season, that might get more difficult with higher water levels. Again, check with the rangers on the conditions. On our main portion of hiking, the most technical part was all in the steepness either over well worn granite rock face or narrow stairs. These aspect warned the half point rating for technicality as it isn’t scrambling, but additional attention is needed beyond just walking. This is the reason for the additional half point.
If you go off trail like we did around Lower Merced Pass Lake or out toward the cascades and swimming hole, then the technical mark goes up to 2 for the need to scramble, navigation off trail, and going over slippery and mossy granite rocks.