Backpacking Yosemite: Lyell Canyon Day 2

What a night in the Yosemite backcountry while backpacking Lyell Canyon! The cloud cover ensured the temperatures didn’t drop too low, and I honestly slept from probably 8 pm to 7 am. And then slept again until after 8 am. But that’ll happen when you stay up the previous night and hike eight miles.

Once I was up – Austin and Adam had gotten up earlier and done a little adventuring – we boiled water for our delicious breakfast scramble freeze-dried meal and indulged. It was a slow morning for all of us, but that is understandable when the weather is in the 30s.

Backpacking Lyell Canyon

To the Mountains

Initially, I planned this hike to allow us to summit Mt. Lyell, the tallest point in Yosemite National Park. At 13,000 feet, it would have been an excellent training run before Whitney. However, as we got farther into the canyon and saw how much snow was on the route, we set that idea aside. Nevertheless, we still planned to go into the basin and see what we’d find.

My FitBit said we did 12 miles in all, which I don’t totally believe, but we easily did eight miles into the basin and up onto the ridge. And our total elevation gain was probably 2,500 feet – going from 8,500 to +/- 11,000 feet. So it was a perfect mid-day adventure while Backpacking Lyell Canyon.

We made good time going up, even with my heart issue forcing me to take periodic breaks to ensure my heart rate didn’t spike off the charts. I was pleasantly surprised I could walk 2.5 mph up the switchbacks.

The gang took a quick photo break after the first uphill before we crossed a stream and began the next set of switchbacks, getting us closer and closer to our final destination. Once the climb was behind us, we deviated from the PCT/John Muir Trail and went up a boulder field.

Then we grubbed. It was well earned, but I wasn’t too hungry other than for my M&M’s.

Into the Basin

After about 30 minutes of eating and relaxing, we headed up another boulder field, where we eventually found a lake! I knew there was a lake someplace in the basin but wasn’t sure exactly where. However, it only took two ridges to cross to find it.

From there, we walked around the lake and up to the ridge overlooking it, giving us views to the other side (which weren’t much, and I wish we could have kept exploring.)

What ensued next were various photo shoots on the ridge, down off the ridge, then at the water’s edge. When you have three photographers, everyone’s trying to get their shot or already did, and then they’re bored. It’s a big shit show, but I think everyone had a good time.


Back to the Valley

On the way back, we hustled like hell. None of us had headlamps, so we focused on getting down the mountain before the sun set behind the canyon walls around us. We made it with about 20 minutes to spare and quickly started cooking dinner and doing our chores before the light escaped us.

Once the sun went behind the towering peaks, it got dark fast. Real fast.

While we didn’t get a sunset like the previous night, it was nice to have a quiet evening in the middle of nowhere. We watched the stars come out one by one and the dozens and dozens of airplanes that flew above us. (It’s insane how many flights fly right over Yosemite.)

Catching the Milky Way

Photographing the Milky Way has been one of my 2018 endeavors, and as summer leaves us and fall/winter approaches, the northern hemisphere loses its prime milky way viewing ability. While we didn’t have a great last showing, it was still pretty cool to see it from Yosemite. I would have loved to stay out later, but it was getting frigid, and I was also the only one up in a pitch-black canyon—sort of eery.


Stay tuned for Day 3 Backpacking Lyell Canyon as we survive a chilly night and head back to civilization. 


Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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