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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Useful Guides and Gear:
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 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!