Yosemite National Park: Spring Backpacking

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Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides runs one of the premiere multi-day backpacking treks through Yosemite National Park, a three-night, four-day outing along the park’s north rim that hits highlights such as Yosemite Falls, Snow Creek, and views of Half Dome.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Sponsored by Columbia Sportswear, our cadre of gear testers and hikers met up with the guides and started the trek in the parking lot of Camp Four, a famed climbing spot. From there, we climbed Yosemite Falls Trail 3.5 miles to the top of the eponymous waterfall.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Thanks to heavy snowfall throughout the 2010-11 winter season, spring 2011 had some of the highest water levels that the park had seen in decades. Yosemite Falls flowed with thunderous authority.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The campsite our first night sat less than half a mile from the Yosemite Falls overlook, nearly 3,000 feet up from the valley floor. Upon arrival, the guides started prepping dinner—miso soup followed by shrimp curry—before we all returned to the overlook at sunset.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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This moss-covered tree sits near the spring that feeds the waters gushing over Yosemite Falls.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The second day, we headed deeper into the park, traversing the valley’s north rim, dipping across rivers, and climbing up to afford staggering views of the canyon…  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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…and such Yosemite icons as Half Dome.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Of course some of the park’s attractions are decidedly more subtle, such as this burst of spring wildflowers lining the trail.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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A Yosemite Mountain Guides tour leader demonstrates his bouldering skills at one of the near-countless overlooks encountered on the trail.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Higher elevations also offered more evidence of the heavy snowfall seen from November through March. Several times we had to bushwhack over fields of snow—moments that make you truly appreciate the guides’ understanding of the park trails (and the treads on your hiking shoes).  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Snow was also visible on the upper pockets of Half Dome itself. That patch of snow in the top left corner would slip the next day, after prolonged exposure to the sunlight.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Snow Creek Promontory Camp was our home for the second and third nights, a stunning spot with vertiginous views across the valley floor and the face of Half Dome. Pictured: Guides prepare the night’s feast. Later that night, we could see, in the distance, the flash of climbers’ head lamps while on a multi-pitch ascent of the iconic peak.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The next day we left Snow Creek for a quick day hike over to the next ridgeline, where more snow and wildlife were visible (alongside the now-ubiquitous presence of Half Dome).  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Rather than a clearly defined trail with distinct markings, the route was defined mostly by the bulging shoulder of the ridge itself.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Shallow pools formed by wind and water erosion were filled with rain and melted snow as we traversed closer to the overlook.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Most visitors spend their time on the floor of the seven-square-mile Yosemite Valley. But head into the backcountry (even in peak summer season), and the park feels as if it belongs solely to you and your companions.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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A detail of lichen growing on rock.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Sunset at Snow Creek Promontory camp our last night afforded a surreal, awe-inspiring array of pastels as the dying light played across the stretch of clouds over the valley.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Night unveiled a full moon that cast the entire valley in a hazy, ethereal white light. The next day, we’d descend five miles to the valley floor via Snow Creek Falls to Mirror Lake, eat lunch at the trailhead, and try to convince ourselves that it was okay to leave Yosemite behind.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
 
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