Sunny morning of September 29th, 2013, two trail runners we ran into in Yosemite National Park was asking where we were heading… “We started in Yosemite Valley and hit the Half Dome yesterday. Heading to Sunrise High Sierra Camp for tonight and will exit at Tuolumne Meadows the day after.” “Nice route, very beautiful scenery! We live close to the park and have been running this exact route for 16 years! Just, never in the direction you’re going…”
An hour later, we started to realize what those trail runners meant. The trail kept going higher and higher, non-stop. After hiking from 4000ft elevation Yosemite valley to 8839ft top of Half Dome and back down to 6200ft Little Yosemite Valley Campground in day one, with our 40+lb backpacks, this endless incline was not exactly what we hoped for day two. What we hope for, however, is not always what the trail has to offer. When we were less than 3 miles away from our planned campsite for the day at Sunrise High Sierra Camp, we reached a series of switchbacks which took the trail up by 1200ft within 1 mile. That’s when I realized that I’ve missed a critical factor when I was planning the itinerary. I’ve picked the section of park we’d like to go, marked all the waypoints including water falls, peaks, and campsites, calculated the distance for each day according to the team’s physical capability, and arranged transportation at the entrance and exit trailhead…but I did NOT pay attention to the elevation changes for each day. I guess those curvy lines on the topo map does mean something.
The result? By the end of day two when the team finally got ourselves above the switchbacks and into the plateau where the campsite was within our sight, our friend Frank just collapsed to the ground, face down with a satisfying smile, as if he’s worshipping the sunset glowing on the peaks, and wasn’t able to pull himself back up until an hour later when the steam of hot soup and ramen noodle rose up from our camp.
Lesson learned. Hiking up or hiking down, elevation change matters.