Everyone talks about Half Dome. You can’t have a conversation about Yosemite without someone asking, “Have you done Half Dome?” But people should really ask, “Have you done Clouds Rest?”
Clouds Rest from Sunrise is what Yosemite means to me wrapped up in a nice little bow. A fun rocky summit, hiking through terrain that only means Yosemite, incredible views of the Valley, and yes, crowds of inexperienced but eager tourists. It was the site of my first backpacking trip in the park, and having very few memories of the trail I decided it was time to go back, but for a dayhike this time.
Approximately 14 miles round trip with around 3000 ft of gain, it’s not exactly an easy hike for most people. I’ve been doing so much off-trail travel that I was a bit complacent in my mindset, assuming it would be a quickie since it is all trail to the peak. Well, it still took all day. I do appreciate saving the time on route-finding, however.
Just want the hike details? Get logistic information, map, and GPS track here.
The trail wanders through pine forest and granite hillsides, the sights and smells unmistakably Yosemite. The trail attracts a large number of users, especially now that the Half Dome permit system is in place. I think a lot of people use this as their backup hike, and with good cause. A similar (better?) view without the cables! The crowd ranges from experienced climbers to first-time hikers, and despite the range of skills and abilities everyone seemed to be having a great time on a beautiful July day.
Having not hiked around crowds like this for a strenuous hike in a while it was kind of fun to chat with others. It’s inspiring to see people out of their comfort zone but still stoked to be in such an amazing place. Everyone seemed excited and happy to be out on this beautiful Yosemite day. But the biggest observation I had is that no one seemed prepared to make navigation decisions. No maps, lots of questions at each trail intersection, and one temporarily lost high schooler who took a wrong turn at a trail junction. Everyone assumed that the trail would just point them to their destination. No wonder people get lost! And here is a PSA for anyone who visits Yosemite: never trust those trail signs. I can cite more times they were wrong than right. Bring a map and know how to use it!
Anyways, after several miles of hiking through the beautiful meadows and forest, you finally spy the ridge of Clouds Rest. This is where the fun begins! It starts off wide, with tiers of granite functioning much like a wide staircase. In the final few hundred feet to the summit it narrows, and although there is plenty of space to walk the ‘catwalk’, it unnerves a large number of hikers. The dropoff on either side is airy and extends thousands of feet. It’s not a peak for someone with a fear of heights!
Some people stop and enjoy the view from below this final catwalk. Others pick their way along slowly and deliberately. Others run and skip (I may or may not have done this). It all depends on comfort level – I definitely didn’t skip on my first visit! But when you get to the high point it is a wide open space with room for everyone. Everyone looks across at Half Dome and laughs at the people in line for the cables. We relax and enjoy a similar view into the Yosemite high country, the Valley, and surrounding ranges while munching on snickers bars and beef jerky.
After the obligatory summit shots we retraced our steps back to the Sunrise Lakes trailhead. It was a full day of hiking and a spectacular summit. If you are looking for a worthy alternate to Half Dome, I can’t recommend this hike enough. Do it!