Clouds Rest via Yosemite Valley

The second of three posts in a series of outings in Yosemite Valley is a trip to a favorite viewpoint, Clouds Rest. At 9,926 ft, Clouds Rest is not nearly the tallest mountain in Yosemite, but its close proximity and unobstructed perch above Yosemite Valley and Tenaya Canyon provides a spectacular viewpoint. The mountain is a colossal granite formation with striking prominence and a unique vantage of both the high country around Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. In a 360 degree panorama, one can gaze over to Half Dome, the Clark Range, Tenaya Lake, and the Cathedral Range (including Mount Lyell, the highest point in Yosemite National Park). The most impressive feature of Clouds Rest is its northwest face, an immense granite slab polished by glaciers and descending 5,000 ft below to the base of Tenaya Canyon. One can gain the summit of Clouds Rest by two trail routes:

  • Via the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead (~8,160 ft) along Tioga Road: A 12+ mile roundtrip hike with ~2,500 ft of elevation gain
  • Via Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (4,105 ft): 20+ miles roundtrip; 6,000+ ft elevation gain.

While the route from Yosemite Valley entails more mileage and much more elevation gain, it is more aesthetic, including the iconic Mist Trail with close views of Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. As one ascends beyond the falls there are great views beneath the towering cliffs of Half Dome. Higher up, there are several spectacular vistas along the ridge to the summit. Clouds Rest via Yosemite Valley is a great route and worth the extra efforts in my opinion. Here are some photos from this trip to Clouds Rest from the Valley. Strava route here.

Yosemite’s North Rim

Yosemite Valley never ceases to amaze. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year to visit the Valley when the waterfalls are flowing strong, the air is clear, and snow cover remains on the peaks of the high country. This post is the first in a series of recent outings in Yosemite Valley, including the North Rim Loop (~22 miles), Clouds Rest (~20 miles), and Tenaya Rim Loop (~45 miles). Here are some photos, a short video, and description of the North Rim Loop; expect photos and descriptions from Clouds Rest and Tenaya Rim Loop to follow.

The North Rim Loop is a classic of Yosemite Valley including the following highlights: Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Point, North Dome, Indian Rock Arch, Snow Creek, and Mirror Lake. The total distance for the loop is around 22 miles with 7,000 feet of elevation gain (and the vast majority of the gain coming on the initial climb up Yosemite Falls). Half Dome is the marquee feature of the route, particularly from North Dome where its sheer North Face dominates the view and captures attention. The views of Half Dome descending the Snow Creek trail are equally inspiring with amazing relief from valley bottom to the top of the iconic granite monolith. Yosemite Falls was near peak flow; it’s remarkable to know that this roaring plume of water will become a trickle in a couple months. The Yosemite Falls trail can be hot and crowded, but know that beyond the Falls, the crowds peter out rapidly and the temperatures cool. In fact, after a short climb above Yosemite Point, the trail enters a beautiful forest of Sugar Pine and Knobcone Pine. North Dome is rarely busy, owing to its fairly long distance from the Valley, but it showcases one of the best views in the park. Beyond North Dome is Indian Rock Arch, a relatively unknown gem in the park. While the arch is the largest in Yosemite, it’s small compared to the arches in the American southwest. However, this “delicate” arch is beautiful with its position on top of a rock formation affording a commanding overlook of the surrounding mountains and Half Dome across Tenaya Canyon. Strava route for North Rim Loop here.

Big Sur Coast

The Big Sur coast is a national treasure. Mountains rise from the oceanside to heights of over 5,000 feet within a matter of miles creating a rugged seascape that inspires with spectacular beaches, picturesque rock formations, and paradisaical turquoise water on sunny afternoons.  The diversity on land is truly remarkable ranging from lush redwood-filled canyons and coastal oak woodlands to grassy meadows and chaparral. Sometimes the contrast in foliage can be found within a few foot proximity. The day after the Stone Ridge climb to Cone Peak, we toured some favorite spots along the coast:

  • Nacimiento-Fergusson Road: the only road across the Santa Lucia Range with stupendous views of the coast
  • Jade Cove: a rugged and rocky cove where you might find some jade
  • Sand Dollar Beach: a spectacular crescent-shaped beach with white sands set below the cliffs of Pacific Valley bluff with numerous rock formations 
  • Pacific Valley Bluff: One of the best short hikes in all of Big Sur with 360 degree views and great wildflowers in the spring 
  • McWay Falls at Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park: Perhaps the most photographed subject in all of Big Sur, the iconic McWay Falls is a special spot
  • Pfieffer Beach: a rugged beach with patches of purple sands and impressive rock formations near Big Sur.

There remains many spots I have yet to visit along the coast so I look forward to returning to Big Sur in the future.  Below are some of my favorite photos from the tour.

Cone Peak via Stone Ridge Direct

Cone Peak via Stone Ridge Direct is a tremendous off-trail hike and worthy of the title “Sea to Sky.”  Stone Ridge is arguably the most prominent ridge in all of the Big Sur coast rising nearly 5,000 ft from the Pacific Ocean at Limekiln canyon to the summit of Twin Peak. It’s an extremely aesthetic route remaining on the ridge crest virtually the entire route and featuring outstanding and uninterrupted scenery with a panorama that broadens with each step.  Total mileage from the Pacific Ocean to the summit of Cone Peak at 5,155 ft is only 7 miles via this route, but entails over 6,000 ft of gain (route on Strava). Fortunately, the non-stop views from the ocean at Limekiln Beach to the summit of Cone Peak distract from the difficult nature of this cross-country route.  This route  features amazing diversity of ecosystems including redwoods, grassland, oak woodland, chaparral, Coulter Pines and a rare forest of Santa Lucia Fir and Sugar Pine on the north side of Cone Peak. Wildflowers were out in force with fields of lupine and California poppy. This is a route I look forward to doing many times in the future, and especially after a winter snow event when I imagine Stone Ridge becomes even more striking.

The route begins with a touch of the ocean at Limekiln Beach. A short walk along Hwy 1 brought us to an old road which has become an overgrown single track trail. The path gradually ascends and enters Limekiln Canyon, passing through a redwood grove with a marvelous carpet of redwood sorrel.  Evidence of the 2008 fires remains on the trunks, but the forest has largely regenerated.  Beyond the cool and lush redwoods, the track ascends into the chaparral with the foot of Stone Ridge coming into view.  The first climbs pass through steep meadows up to a crossing of the Stone Ridge Trail, which travels perpendicular to the ridge crest. From this point, the remainder of the route up the ridge and over from Twin Peak to Cone Peak was fully in view. This section along the grassy ridge was spectacular with some very steep and sometimes loose “steps.” Ultimately, the meadows ended and we entered into a brushy section for the last push up Twin Peak. This portion also contained a rare and unique pine species, the Coulter Pine, which produces the largest pine cones in the world that can weigh up to 10 pounds.  After a quick stop on Twin Peak, we headed down the ridgeline connecting Twin Peak and Cone Peak.  The easiest way to connect Twin Peak to Cone Peak is to follow the crest of the ridge between the summits beyond the low point between the peaks and then up the ridge towards Cone Peak. Just before the spine of the ridge becomes cliffy, take a steep and open dirt slope on the north side of the ridge down a hundred feet or so to the Gamboa Trail. While the trail is close to the ridge further back, there are lots of down trees and festering poison oak worth avoiding.  We ascended the final half mile up to Cone Peak’s summit via the Gamboa and Cone Peak Trails and enjoyed the 360 degree panorama from the top.  We descended via the Gamboa Trail and Stone Ridge Trail to the lower portion of the Stone Ridge route. The Gamboa Trail and Stone Ridge Trail are in relatively good shape with trail work actively occurring on the Gamboa Trail.  The Gamboa Trail contains a fascinating forest of Santa Lucia Firs and Sugar Pines. The Santa Lucia Fir is the rarest fir in the United States, endemic only to mountaintops of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The firs have a distinctive conical shape and deep green color. While not rare, the Sugar Pine contains the longest pine cone of any pine tree, sometimes over a foot long!  It’s amazing to find the largest pine cones (Coulter Pines) and the longest pine cones (Sugar Pines) within close proximity high on the mountain slopes of Cones Peak. Unlike most of my posts, the following photos are in chronological order. 

Rocky Ridge & Doud Peak

Rocky Ridge is located in Garrapata State Park on the northern end of the Big Sur Coastline. The terrain of the park is characterized by a rugged and rocky coastline with steep mountain slopes rising to over 2,000 ft. The vegetation is predominantly chaparral and coastal scrub with the exception of a pocket of redwoods at the bottom of Soberanes Canyon and some grassy meadows on top of Rocky Ridge to Doud Peak. The aforesaid meadows come to life in the spring with a palette of beautiful wildflowers. Owing to its close proximity to Monterey and Carmel, the Rocky Ridge hike is very popular, especially on weekends. Two routes lead to the ridge crest allowing for a logical loop, but both are quite steep with some loose sections. The grade is so steep in spots that it’s more efficient to power hike than run. The trail heading up to the ridge from Soberanes Canyon is technically closed, although it seems as if people ignore the signs en masse. However, the more scenic route in my opinion is the sanctioned route that follows the ridge from its base and provides continuous sweeping views of the coastline below. Near the top of the ridge there are several rock outcroppings with excellent views to soak in. Once on top of Rocky Ridge, virtually all hikers either turnaround or complete the loop, but few continue on a faint path to Doud Peak. This stretch of trail is particularly pleasant with little elevation gain and wonderful meadows. The panoramic views from Doud Peak are also excellent and look into a redwood canyon and beautiful hillsides along the Malpaso Creek canyon. One can continue beyond Doud Peak on yet fainter paths to the park border where more colorful meadows and great views are found along the way. See my hike route for the day on Strava.