Thursday, June 19, 2014

Glacier Point via Panorama Trail + 4-Mile Trail

Trip Report

Start Time: 7:17am
Glacier Point Time: 11:03am
4-Mile Trail Start Time: 12:00pm
End Time: 1:55pm
LYV Start Elevation: 6128 ft.
Glacier Point high Elevation: 7279 ft.
Valley End Elevation: 3979 ft.
Panorama Trail Hike Elevation: +2882 ft, -1579 ft.
Panorama Trail Hike Mileage: 6.72 mi.
4-Mile Trail Hike Elevation: -3200 ft.
4-Mile Trail Hike Mileage: 4.54 mi.

Day 4 of our full week of hiking in Yosemite was the first day we weren't making up way up to a high summit.  That is, unless you count Glacier Point at 7,279.  This would be our third day in a row of moving with our full backpacks, but also our last.  As usual we were up before 6am today, but at least it was a warmer morning than yesterday when we woke up 1000+ feet higher in the open.  

Our view of Half Dome from Little Yose
In Little Yosemite Valley we got breakfast made up and worked on tearing camp down as well as readying packs for today's hike. Today's work would be pretty straightforward along the Panorama Trail and then down the 4-Mile Trail.  No cables to deal with or narrow ridges to negotiate as we had done the last couple of days.  The views today, however, would be unmatched which would in a way make today one of the best. 

Upon leaving LYV we followed the John Muir Trail back to the intersection with the Mist Trail.  We were intrigued and somewhat displeased with the deep sandy nature of the JMT through here.  It added a bit of extra work to the hiking.  We imagined it must have been to help the mules who trek through there, but as hikers we found ourselves hiking on the edges of the trail to avoid it.  

When we reached the top of the Mist Trail our companion Ken decided to call it a day there.  He was beginning to deal with a back issue and the prospect of dragging 30+ lb. packs another 10 miles up and over Glacier Point wasn't a good thing.  He decided to head down the Mist Trail while Matt and myself proceeded on.  

Top of Nevada Falls
From that junction it wasn't far til we hit the top of Nevada Falls.  It was about a quarter mile to the Falls where we snapped a pic or two and then another quarter mile to the junction where the JMT heads down and the Panorama Trail heads up.  We almost missed it. When the Panorama Trail begins it climbs heavily through a serious of switchbacks.  We came a cross a downed tree in this area which looked like it had fallen and subsequently shattered all over the place in the last few days.

Just beautiful easy trail on the Panorama

After the switchbacks gain a hard-earned 600 feet the trail levels out for over a half mile as it contours to the west and then the south towards Panorama Point.  At this point in the hike you've climbed 750 feet already over about 3 miles.  However, the trail then begins a descent down to Illilouette Creek.  This drop in the middle works against many a hiker who gets to lose and regain much of their previous hard work.  In the midst of the descent Panorama Point is passed and great views of Half Dome and the eastern end of Yosemite Valley are had.

The grouse
In the switchbacks down to Illilouette Creek Matt and I were treated to some familiarity from our 2011 hike of the Panorama Trail.  Back then we didn't complete the entire trek because of time, but we had descended from Glacier Point to beyond Illilouette Creek and almost all the way up to Panorama Point.  We also made an interesting discovery when we rounded a corner and came upon a most interesting bird.  For the last two days we had been hearing this "whoomp-whoomp" sound along the trails. It did indeed sound as though some kind of bird was making it, but we couldn't be sure.  Well, when we saw this bird standing in the middle of the trail looking at us, sure enough, it began to make that exact sound and our mystery was solved.  It had these bright yellow patches of feathers on each side of where its neck would be and it looked a bit like a chicken.  A park ranger at White Wolf on Friday night would confirm for us that this was a grouse.  
At Illilouette Creek

Somewhat comically, Half Dome looks like a big thumb from here
At Illilouette Creek we dropped packs for the first time to grab a bite to eat and be relieved of the weight for a bit.  Being in a shaded area for awhile was a nice relief as we knew we had a lot of open sun ahead.  There is a great steel bridge over the creek which we crossed after getting our packs on once more.  From this point on the trail makes a 1300 foot climb all the way to Glacier Point.  After the Creek there is a series of switchbacks that lead into one long panoramic traverse heading southwest towards Glacier Point.  One of the neat things about hiking this section is you can literally watch Half Dome turn as you hike.  At each vantage point you get to see a slightly different perspective on the amazing dome and eventually, as you near Glacier Point, it reveals its sheer northwestern face.

Amazing views of the Merced River area
One of my favorite parts of the Panorama Trail is in the area just before Glacier Point.  You hike through a beautiful forest of trees with the wonderful red bark.  The forest isn't too dense and so you keep the views of the surrounding scenery as well as of the trees themselves.   We hit Glacier Point at almost exactly 11am which was our target.  We had also made an agreement to radio with Ken at that time to touch base which  we did.  

The beautiful forest just before Glacier Point
Panoramic views here, hard to really take it all in
A nice family whose picture we took, was kind enough to take one of us
Matt and I had resolved to take an hour at GP to enjoy some real food and relaxation.  Upon arriving we headed into the gift shop and cafe and grabbed ourselves a cold drink and a juicy hot dog.  They tasted and appeared to be just like the Hebrew national hot dogs that the Durango/Silverton train also serves, and they are the best.  After our first round of food we also grabbed some ice cream and more gatorade for the hike down.  We then found some partly-shaded rocks to grab a seat and dry out our feet.  Both of us had noticed some hot spots starting in the shoes and so we wanted to freshen up before the long hike down.

After having hiked the Mist Trail, John Muir Trail, Yosemite Falls Trail, Snow Creek Falls Trail and the beginning of the Pohono Trail in 2011, there was one major trail heading out of Yosemite Valley that we hadn't enjoyed: the 4-Mile Trail.  This trail when created in the early 1900s was originally 4 miles and so aptly named.  However, the trail was revamped and lengthened, likely to add switchbacks, sometime in the 20s or 30s and now it is more like 4.7 miles in length.

The 4-Mile Trail: it gets a bit cliffy
The good news on this hike is that no portion of the trail ever gets very steep.  The bad news is that you're dropping about 3200 feet and are hiking on a very steep slope for most of the time.  This means there are moments of decent exposure off the edges of the trail and some care should be taken while rounding a few of the corners.  A sign near the top suggests against running down the trail and it would seem common sense would agree.

Just have to love Yosemite Falls

The highlight of the 4-Mile trail is undoubtedly the open views of Yosemite Falls and the Valley.  This is probably one of the few vantage points in the Park where you can see Lower, Middle, and Upper parts of Yosemite Falls, the whole thing.  Matt and I made a pretty good pace as it was in our descent and likely would have been even faster were it not for our mutually many photo stops.  We saw signage near half-way down for Union Point being about 200 feet away so we decided to give it a look.  It wasn't much, and the potentially great views were mostly obscured.  

During the last 2 miles, being about our 10th and 11th of the day with heavy packs our feet really began to feel the wear and tear.  What didn't help us was the occasionally paved nature of the trail.  From the looks of it this trail used to be a paved blacktop trail which time and weather has mostly worn away.  The walking on this occasionally firm surface however took its toll.

Slowly but surely, the valley draws nearer

We finally made it to the trailhead just before 2pm which put us at an hour and 55 minutes from Glacier Point.  Ken was there to greet us and welcome us back to the car.  A very successful day on the trails with many a great picture to bring home to remember.


I have Tracks and waypoints from our hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk):

My Track


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