Sunday, April 27, 2008

Trail Recommendation: Indian Rock, Yosemite

Tranquil Start (Mirror Lake)
Typically, I travel alone. Although I find the solitude of nature restorative, I'm often out alone simply because the irresistible longing to be submersed in the wild comes upon me so suddenly (that, and most of my friends aren't stupid enough to join me).

My last trip to Yosemite, however, I went with one of my buddies and his whole family: a wife and three girls. It's great to get a chance to share Yosemite, to pass it on to others and encourage others to love the wilderness and creation as I do (after all, that's what Burner Photography's about). That being said, I'm a creature of solitude and reflection, so the day after a "long" hike with the whole family, (up to Vernal Falls and back) they stayed at camp and recovered and I charged headlong into the wilderness. From our campsite in lower pines campground, I could see North Dome towering high about the valley. Consulting maps, I decided to launch an assault on the dome.

The trail out to Mirror lake is, typically, a virtual highway for tourists and the "lake" is little more than a pond. On this particular trip, however, I passed mirror lake in the early morning. Only a few other hikers were out, and the whole realm of nature smelled, sounded, even tasted fresh and new. In the calm of the morning the lake's surface lived up to its name sake and everything urged me on to explore greater heights and discover new manifestations of divinity.

The Climb
The loop trail that passes by Mirror lake can be quite busy; however, as soon as you turn off onto the trail that climbs the Valley's Northern wall, your human company drops to almost none and all manner of wild company takes its place. A couple signs warn you that you are entering the wilderness.

The trail starts clim
bing steeply up the sheer wall of the Valley's north side through a series of switchbacks. After leaving the trees of the valley floor, this trail provides stunning vistas of Half Dome and Clouds Rest as it clings to the Valley wall. The trail climbs over 2200 ft. before it leaves the Valley behind and begins to level out. In the thin, mountain air, this climb is very strenuous, so take time to stop, take in the view, snap a few photos, and bask in the peace and beauty of the wilderness.
Such Great Heights
After leaving the Valley
behind, the trail runs through a young forest, then briefly skirts snow creek. At this point, you can take a right and travel twenty yards or so off the trail to reach snow creek. The bank of the creek makes the perfect picnicking spot.

In April, the snow retreats high into the mountains, but at over seven thousand feet, winter's reign remains uncontested:
Indian Rock
I had originally set out for North Dome, but my goals are often too ambitious. As the day grew waned, I realized that North Dome was out of reach. In the last mile or two to North Dome, the trail drops about a thousand feet--feet I'd have to climb back up before I could make it all the way back down into the Valley. I decided to turn back to the trail for Indian Rock.

The small trail up to Indian Rock travels straight up the ridge of the mountain. This distinct rock outcropping is jagged and worn, a testament to the years of wind and weather that have ripped and torn at its exposed surfaces.

Climbing up to the small, natural bridge on this rock, I was weighted down with my ephemeral smallness. From atop this mountain, I felt like I could see the whole world. It was massive, without any sign of habitation--only massive, razer-sharp mountains of gray rock and expansive snowfields. I was overwhelmed with awe and a feeling of loneliness and danger. Such moments force introspection, and I realize--there, upon the mountain--how completely I am at the mercy of the Creator.

The Sun Sets on a Long Day
The top of Indian Rock was just under 8,400 ft. and the Valley floor is at about 4,000 feet meaning that my day hike climbed over 4,000 ft. and covered a distance of about 16 miles. I didn't make it back to my campsite (Lower Pines Campground) till nearly seven. Of course the snow slowed me down, but if you're planning this hike, leave early and make sure you're in good shape. Otherwise, I recommend backpacking to Indian Rock. Either way, this is a great hike that will take you into the wilderness of Yosemite.


  1. Well, I was stupid enough to join you in Death Valley. Other than the 15° night, it was good times. I'd even be stupid enough to join you again.

    I really enjoy these posts, but the vicarious adventure I get from them needs to be supplemented with some real action. I'm looking forward to more details from Yosemite.

  2. Beautiful photos, as always. And I really relate to your comments about going the solo route when the moods strikes you. I had one such mood on Monday, and I had a camera for testing, so I just hit the road. Hoping to get those photos up soon.... real life gets in the way. ;-)

  3. Hi Ben, thanks again for the trail recommendation. And for posting great photos here that inspires us to take the same trail. We are heading to Yosemite on June 16. We plan to hike North Dome (and with this post maybe we'll include the Indian Rock), Vernal-Nevada Falls and Cathedral lakes, but I do not know if that is doable with a 12 year old kid. We'll take it slow though.

  4. Very nice route!
    Haven't done this one yet...
    Great shots as well.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.