Backpacking Yosemite

I stumbled out of our tent into the cold brisk air, initially grumbling about the inconvenience that is having to pee while camping. I had JUST gotten all warm and cozy in my down sleeping bag. A few hours earlier, I had been teeth-chattering cold after a freak hailstorm caught us on the homestretch to our campsite for the night.

My sister had pointed out the ominous black clouds that afternoon only a few miles into our 8 mile uphill trek to Young Lakes (at 9,900 feet). Surely only a sprinkle’s worth I thought given the current drought. But alas, the clouds burst open, the rain came, and then the hail pelted down on us on that final mile. It was quick and it was cold. The timing was perfect however, as it stopped just as we reached the lake and I don’t think I’ve ever set up my tent as fast as I did just then, desperate for warmth and shelter.


The storm rolls in

My sister and I had a laugh later that night as we watched the clouds clear and the sun reflect off the high-elevation lake and illuminate surrounding mountain tops. Here we are in Yosemite High Country. We made it. Together. Hell yeah. And it even hailed on us!


The BEFORE picture, at the trailhead


First view of Lower Young Lake – our home for the next two nights

Later on that night, eager to return to the warmth of my sleeping bag after the inconvenient pee interruption, something in me steered me towards the open clearing of the nearby meadow. And then I glanced up and knew why.

The starry sky was spectacular! Words and pictures can’t even describe. Living on the well-populated California coast, nearly all my night skies are blurred by fog and/or city lights, but being out there in the Yosemite Wilderness, the night sky dazzled me into child-like wonder. All those natural twinkling lights. I felt like a tiny speck against the magnitude of the night sky, but yet all that existed right then was that moment. Time stood still.

My sister had also gotten up to pee so I called her over and together we shared in the experience, grateful to have each other, and also relieved to see that the earlier clouds of hailstorm quality had passed.

It was the next day that the challenges of going on our first backpacking trip together (this being my sister’s first backpacking trip ever!) would present themselves. But not for the reasons one might assume. Yeah she’s the girly girl of the family while I’m the tomboy, but she wasn’t afraid to get dirty and she was well up for the physical challenges. This we knew, but what we learned about each other was our characteristically different styles of enjoying life’s adventures.

For her, it’s about staying active, quickly covering the miles between Point A and Point B, and trying to fit as much activity into one day as possible. Nothing wrong with that. For me though, it’s about enjoying a leisurely pace, taking pictures, and simply BEING in the wilderness. Grounding myself in the moment.

I used to be always on the move, like my sister, especially when traveling. I get it. I tried to fit in as much as humanly possible, afraid of missing out on something if I moved too slow. Always planning and looking towards the next thing. But that often set me up for disappointment and burn out.

Only in the last 6 months have I begun truly practicing these “grounding moments”. Taking time to be fully present here and now. Mindfully breathing. Feeling my feet touch the earth.

Practicing presence within myself and then within my physical environment has become such an important part of my life, a key to feeling happy and content. To feeling filled up from the inside.

Back on the trail with my sister, our differences made for a few tense moments as we tried to “plan” our second day of exploring in the backcountry, but it was the stunning beauty surrounding us that stole the show.


Morning view on the lake while filtering water


Our day hike first takes us to the other side of Lower Young Lake


My lovely sister!


The Middle Young Lake


Climbing higher – looking down on Middle Lake


Taking in the view – or waiting for me to catch up!


Trailside wildflowers!

Classic High Sierra

IMG_1115Upper Young Lake – our highest point


Meadows of lupine


Lower Young Lake once again – it’s just so photogenic!

Back at camp, I relished in a lakeside meditation as I filtered water for the evening (the zen of water filtering – yes!), and then my sister and I talked it out. Talked about our differences, talked about the hard stuff, the deep stuff, and the fun stuff. No holding back as we watched the daylight fade, layered up, and prepared dinner. At one point, I noticed a brilliant light reflecting off the lake.

We arrived just in time to witness the alpenglow. Once again, time stood still as we both took in the moment, full of joy at simply being there. Just like discovering the mesmerizing starry sky on the first night, I was filled with gratitude for that very moment. And for having my sister by my side.


The hike back down to Tuolumne Meadows the next day was gorgeous and quick. We were thrilled that we took the route that we did as it afforded us the downhill version of this amazing view.


Yet another grounding moment, these are the moments that I live for.

And my sister’s first ever backpacking trip? A success!

Til next time beautiful Yosemite!

One comment

  1. Oma Less · · Reply

    Sam: Another lovely blog. Especially sweet about sisters. I know the feeling. Trust your sensations. Much love, Oma

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