Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

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Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by stephen_s » Mon Mar 18, 2019 7:14 am

Planning a trip with my parents--their first time backpacking--in Yosemite this July. I'm hoping this isn't a crazy idea and trying to do my due diligence now.
I've backpacked in Yosemite before, and in Colorado in the 9,000-12,500 ft range. My parents are early 60s. Dad is in great shape, and Mom is training enthusiastically.

Got the permits, and have my route planned as follows:
Day 1 - Rafferty Creek Trailhead to Booth Lake
Day 2 - Booth Lake to Merced Lake
Day 3 - Merced Lake to Sunrise Creek near Cloud's Rest junction
Day 4 - Over Clouds Rest to camp west of there, Sunrise Creek or LYV (Option to skip Cloud's Rest and have a low key day along Sunrise Creek)
Day 5 - Hike out to Happy Isles

TWO BIG QUESTIONS at this point.
1. Elevation. Is it unreasonable to spend the night prior to Day 1 in Yosemite Valley, and expect to be able to handle the elevation change? Or is it much wiser to stay in backpackers camp up in Tuolumne Meadows the night before?
2. Temperatures. Should I expect lows in the 30s up at Booth Lake in July?

THANKS!!!!








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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by c9h13no3 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:24 pm

Night temps will touch the upper 30's, but I still get hot in my 15 degree bag.

Yosemite Valley isn't really at high elevation, if you want to acclimatize, TM is better. Course if you're in good shape and drink enough water, you'll be alright.

Don't skip Clouds Rest, that is probably the highlight of your route.
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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by bobby49 » Mon Mar 18, 2019 3:37 pm

If your parents are backpacking for the first time, make sure that their loads are light, make sure that their boots fit well, and know what you are going to do if there are sore knee problems. As was mentioned, sleeping at Tuolumne Meadows one night will be smart.

From Booth Lake to Merced Lake is downhill, so that is where the knee problems may show up. However, there are some easy methods of mitigating that. (1) Slow down, (2) Take a much shorter stride going downhill, (3) Walk slightly bowlegged to get better balance, (4) Flex your knees more to lower your center of gravity slightly. Flexing causes the downhill stress to be absorbed in the leg muscles and not in the knee joint. [This was taught to me by an honest-to-God Sherpa in 1983.]

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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by markskor » Mon Mar 18, 2019 5:15 pm

Fairly ambitious plan for first timers Sierra. 5 days of hiking every day/all day might be a stretch. I would suggest a zero day mid trip somewhere...give the parents a day to recover. Suggest killing a day at/near Merced HSC area...Washburn would work well.
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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by LMBSGV » Mon Mar 18, 2019 7:22 pm

I concur with the other posts. As a 67 year old parent who may have 50+ years of wilderness experience, your itinerary seems ambitious, especially for first-time backpackers. Spend the night at Tuolumne. One night at altitude can do wonders for the next day of hiking. Spend the 2nd night at Washburn, not Merced Lake, and do a layover. And do Clouds Rest. The view will justify the entire trip.
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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by maiathebee » Mon Mar 18, 2019 8:01 pm

You might consider not hiking all the way down to the Valley, but instead going back out via Sunrise or Cathedral Lakes. This would save you about 3k of descent which might be pretty hard on your parents knees, especially your mom. Atrophy of thigh muscles is more common in women, especially after menopause, and not having strong quads and glutes makes descent with a pack really hard on the knees.

I wouldn't camp at Merced Lake, it won't feel like backpacking with the High Sierra Camp there.

Definitely camp at Tuolumne before your trip.
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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Mar 18, 2019 8:45 pm

Not clear on what you mean by "over Clouds Rest". I see no need to haul full packs up there if coming from Merced Lake. Establish a base camp (I would prefer the western trail junction) for two nights and day-hike up Cloud's Rest.

I would still do the drop to the Valley since it is so scenic. But it will be full of day-hikers, so if a more wilderness experience is your goal, return to Tuolumne may be better. I really like the Mist Trail vs the JMT but it does have some freaky parts for first time backpackers. If you go down the JMT, you can go back up to the top of Vernal Falls without packs.

Have both parents do specific exercises to strengthen downhill muscles (sorry I do not know exactly the name of these). Train both parents in proper use of trekking poles. REI gives a class on that too. Very important to reduce the stress on knees, as mentioned by others. Do your parent ski? If so, the same muscles come into play. So if they do, pre-ski exercises are good. IF they over-do the downhill muscles on the second day, they may not even be able to limp down the rest of the trail. Take it very easy on the second day. What younger folks fail to realize is that we older folks often find it harder to go downhill than uphill!

End of July, heat may be much more of a problem than cold nights. Keep packs light. Best to take something like Sawyer Squeeze or Life Straw so you do not have to carry much water. Given the warm conditions, and if you carry a 3-person tent, your folks could keep packs in the 20 pound range. You may have to be the Sherpa. Be sure they take some walks at home with their packs to make sure they fit properly. The first time to put on your pack should NOT be stepping on the trail! Best if they have a hike near their home that has some steep hills to train on.

Agree, camp at Tuolumne one night. Also this is a great place to day-hike and sight-see. And there is a shuttle so you can go back to Olmsted Point for the view.

On reason to avoid LYV and Merced Lake for camping, is that these are notorious for bear problems.

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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by wildhiker » Tue Mar 19, 2019 12:23 am

I'm not sure that camping is allowed at Boothe Lake - check with the park. There are undeveloped sites off-trail "around the corner" in the broad valley to the northwest.

Personally, I think your proposed trip is too strenuous for first-time older backpackers. I've been backpacking for 50 years and I would find it physically strenuous at my current age (a bit older than your parents). I would plan a trip that is easier, but shows off the beauty of the High Sierra and lets your parents explore without packs on layover days. I'd skip hiking down into Yosemite Valley - the trail between the Valley and Nevada Falls is spectacular, but best done as a day hike from the Valley. Merced Lake is also in a hole and not that scenic, in my opinion.

If I had a permit reserved already for Rafferty Creek trailhead, I would plan a trip more like this:
1) Spend first night at Tuolumne Meadows backpackers campground to acclimate. Also lets you buy burgers and beer at the store/grill!
2) Be flexible about the first night's destination. The trail up Rafferty Creek is very well made, but that first day hiking with pack at altitude could be hard. You can camp anywhere - not just at established sites - as long as you are at least 4 miles from Tuolumne Meadows. So, for example, if you are lagging, you can camp in the forest edge by the upper meadows before you get to Tuolumne Pass - the creek should still be flowing in late July as your water source. Or if you are really doing well, I would suggest skipping Boothe Lake and continuing past the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp to camp at Vogelsang Lake. There are sandy sites among scattered trees on the rise just west of the lake with great views of the whole surrounding area, including across to the Sierra crest.
3) Take a layover day in this Vogelsang area and take day hikes up to Fletcher and Townsley Lakes (there is a use trail from the east end of Fletcher Lake to Townsley) and also up to Vogelsang Pass. There is an amazing early morning reflection of Fletcher Peak in Fletcher Lake. But Fletcher Lake itself is crowded for camping. The cliffs east of Fletcher Peak with their permanent snow fields looking like glaciers rise dramatically above Townsley Lake. Vogelsang Pass has a great view down Lewis Creek of the entire Clark Range. Both times that I've been there in recent years, I have also seen ptarmigan (pheasant sized birds) right by the trail, unafraid of me.
4) On the third day, take the trail past Evelyn Lake and over to Ireland Lake. Most of this route is high open meadows with great views and that "top of the world" feeling. Evelyn has a lovely sandy beach for wading (or swimming if you are a member of the polar bear club). The trail ends at the north shore of Ireland Lake. Just walk on the open meadow to the lake outlet and then down the outlet stream a quarter mile or so to campsites among scattered whitebark pines next to little tarns (ponds).
5) Take a layover day at Ireland Lake. Walk cross-country up the big meadowy valley behind the lake. This is one of the easiest cross-country routes - I've taken young children on it. It has a marvelous open feeling. If you head for the pass south of Amelia Earhart Peak, you will get views of Mt. Lyell and its glacier. Or head more southwest and walk up the open slopes to summit Parsons Peak so your parents can feel like real mountaineers (but on an easy route).
6) On the last day, backtrack on the trail into Ireland Lake to the junction where you head downhill along Ireland Creek and meet the John Muir Trail in Lyell Canyon. Now you have an easy 5 mile stroll on the JMT along the edge of the beautiful Lyell Fork meadows back to your trailhead. On a backpacking trip with kids ages 7 to 15, we made it out from Ireland lake to Tuolumne Meadows in less than 4 hours.

Also, pay attention to the snow melt. We have over 150% of normal snow pack right now, and if the spring melt is slow, you could still have a lot of snow on the higher parts of your trip. Or if it has just melted, you could have lots of mosquitoes! Bring those lightweight mesh headnets!

-Phil

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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by markskor » Tue Mar 19, 2019 9:07 am

Another alternate "parent trip" suggestion - better and easier for their first BP trip.

As many have stated above, stay first night - one night TM backpacker...acclimate.

First trail night at Fletcher, near the HSC. If possible, try to reserve dinners for 3 at the camp itself...a little pricey but well worth it. Maybe even surprise them... have the mules at the TM stables (near Lembert Dome) haul up a little wine and single malt...with dinner.

Instead of the Emeric route and down, go over Voglesang Pass and stay second night at Bernice. BTW, you never mention if fishing was part of your itinerary?

Washburn the next two nights (includes a layover day here...lots to explore).

Forget Clouds Rest and HD - too much uphill. Instead stay Moraine Dome waterslide on the Merced...two miles above LYV.

Down the Mist to HI...5:00 PM bus back to TM.
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Re: Backpacking with parents (Rafferty Creek to Happy Isles)

Post by bobby49 » Tue Mar 19, 2019 11:59 am

markskor wrote:
Tue Mar 19, 2019 9:07 am
Washburn the next two nights (includes a layover day here...lots to explore).
Washburn Lake isn't bad if there are any fishermen.

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