Liberty Cap and the Rockslides: a Weekend in Yosemite Valley

Half Dome, April 12, 2013
Half Dome, April 12, 2013

April is a somewhat unpredictable time of year in terms of weather in Yosemite, so when I made campground reservations a few months ago I had no idea if I’d be snowshoeing or hiking. April is about the latest I’ll go to the Valley since I prefer to avoid it during the busy summer season, and this year it ended up being perfect timing. It has turned out to be a dry winter and with clear skies and forecasted highs around 70, I planned a couple of great Yosemite Valley hikes that would get us to some classic sights as well as away from the crowds. On Saturday we hiked the northeast gully of Liberty Cap to the summit, and on Sunday we hiked the Rockslides, the Old Big Oak Flat road that used to be the only road into the Valley.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls
Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls

Liberty Cap

Part of the fun of the Liberty Cap climb is the approach, which follows one of the most popular and beautiful trails in Yosemite Valley. The Mist Trail climbs to the top of Vernal Falls and with the peaking snowmelt-fed water flow we got soaked while giggling our way to the top. We had started early enough that crowds were relatively thin, and after enjoying a break at the top of the falls we continued on to the top of Nevada Falls.

Hiking up the Mist Trail
Hiking up the Mist Trail
Rainbow, Merced, and Vernal Falls
Rainbow, Merced, and Vernal Falls

Once we reached Little Yosemite Valley we turned off-trail and headed up the east ridge of Liberty Cap, which also separates Little Yosemite Valley from Lost Lake Valley. The ridge is easy walking with a use trail. Soon we spied the northeast gully and followed use trails up to the foot of the gully. For the most part the terrain was easy to navigate, and the crux of the class 2 chute was a boulder blockage that merely required a moment of thought to figure out how to stem my way around it.

The backside of Liberty Cap and our gully route
The backside of Liberty Cap and our gully route

The broad dome summit of Liberty Cap is dwarfed by its next door neighbor, Half Dome, but the views are a lot of fun. It offers a perspective on Half Dome that is different, and we were able to pick out the Mt Lyell area, Mt Clark, and Mt Starr King among the nearby visible peaks.

Tree on the summit of Liberty Cap, Half Dome behind
Tree on the summit of Liberty Cap, Half Dome behind

It was nice to get off of the trail and enjoy some solitude before heading back down. The crowds had come during our time on Liberty Cap and we decided to take the ‘closed’ John Muir Trail on our descent. This stretch of the trail closes in the winter due to snow, ice, and rockfall but the dangerous section isn’t far from the junction so we decided to at least check out the conditions. It was mostly clear, with only a small patch of snow. We quickly descended, avoiding the much more crowded Mist Trail and collapsed back at our camp after the 15 mile round trip, ~3400 ft gain hike.

Looking down the ~600 ft drop of Nevada Falls
Looking down the ~600 ft drop of Nevada Falls

Old Big Oak Flat Road to Rainbow View (“The Rockslides”)

Since Saturday was a big day we chose something a little more tame, but not without a little challenge for Sunday. Ever since I visited the Old Big Oak Flat Road and been turned around due to the weather, I’ve wanted to return and get to the old Rainbow View. For details about the history of this old road, check out my last trip report. The old road is crumbled and taken out by rockfalls in several locations, but that means it’s a fun combination of easy walking and talus hopping.

The Old Big Oak Flat Road and one of the many Rockslides
The Old Big Oak Flat Road and one of the many Rockslides

The old road isn’t on maps and it’s not a popular tourist destination so we enjoyed having the road to ourselves. The walk up the old road from the Valley offers a different perspective of the classic sights, and many, many photos were taken!

Postcard view from the Old Bog Oak Flat Road
Postcard view of Bridalveil Falls from the Old Bog Oak Flat Road
Ribbon Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome
Ribbon Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome

For more details of both of these hikes, check out the full photo album.

Photos of Liberty Cap and Old Big Oak Flat Road

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Free range human. Mountain sports addict. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Team OmniTen and Evernote Ambassador. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +

  • http://twitter.com/rockgrrl Eileen / Rockgrrl

    Looks like a great weekend!

    My last Yosemite April trip had a lot of rain, and I did do a little bit of snowshoeing (just in Mariposa Grove) you’re right about it being an unpredictable time :)

    • calipidder

      When we booked this trip back in February it was right after a big winter storm. No one wanted to book a campsite with me, they were convinced the Valley would be under snow until July. :)

  • Chris @ Outdorky.com

    We attempted the Liberty Cap a few years ago but had trouble with heavy snow about 3/4ths of the way to the top. Looks like a nice view, we’ll have to go back and nab it.

  • Jeffrey Trust

    Glad you had such a good time! You should check out the base of Ribbon Fall, it’s a fun little hike/scramble (mostly hiking, as I recall) and a cool spot.

    (As for that drinking fountain at Vernal Fall footbridge, there’s always been one there, but sometime in the last few years it got a little upgrade)

  • http://www.facebook.com/fedak John Fedak

    That closed section of the JMT is the closest I’ve ever come to getting myself killed on the trail. Its a bit dicier earlier in the season: http://ww2.fedak.net:443/photos/NevadaFallsSnowshoe2/03030014_G-standard.html

    • calipidder

      Yeah, I was fairly confident it was clear (no ice on the rock above and the snow was likely to be melted out), but we were coming from the top so we only had to go a small distance out of our way to take a peek at its passability. In a normal year it certainly wouldn’t have been clear, but it’s a lot more like june up there than April!