My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Four and Five

If you missed them, see my posts on day one and days two and three here: My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One, My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Two and Three.

When I poked my head out of my sleeping bag the morning of day four, I looked beside me to see that my daughter, ever the early-riser, had already packed up her sleeping bag and pad and was finishing up filling her backpack. Bella and Savannah were working on making breakfast and coffee or tea for everyone.

The local bear had not visited our campsite that night, much to my relief. Several girls were saying they had wished they could have seen the bear, albeit from a distance. Having seen bears multiple times at Great Smoky Mountains National Park the previous summer, I personally had my fill of bears and was glad we hadn’t seen any at Yosemite, at least so far.

We were all highly encouraged to make an effort to poop in the woods that morning before we headed out because the trail we were going to be on had little to no places to privately use the bathroom. Some of the girls resisted but ultimately we all shared the experience of pooping in the woods for the first time, or at least doing it properly the first time (see my previous post for the details on that).

As we were packing up, we noticed a large male deer with a good-sized rack curiously watching us. One of the girls named him Prince Cornelius, which seemed fitting because he was prince-like in his appearance and demeanor. Prince Cornelius was smart enough to keep a healthy distance from us, yet he was clearly watching us as much as we were all watching him. We joked that we were his morning entertainment. He ended up circling all around us in the expanse of maybe half an hour, watching us, taking a bite of greenery, moving over a bit, then, watching us again.

Prince Cornelius

Unfortunately for me, I felt a migraine come on as I was packing up my things. I have a history of them and since I had been experiencing them regularly in the weeks prior, I pretty much expected one to happen at one point or another on this trip. Still, the thought of carrying a heavy backpack down a trail in the sun while dealing with a migraine was about the last thing in the world I wanted. Still, I couldn’t exactly crawl back in my sleeping bag and sleep away the pain. I popped my medicine for migraines, which only really semi-helps, and packed up with the help of my daughter.

Bella was busy checking everyone’s feet for blisters, of which there were many. She was an expert at this and worked quickly and efficiently. After we all were bandaged and wrapped we finished packing everything up and set out for the trail. Although the trail wasn’t going to be quite as long as the day before, it was downhill and exposed to the sun. I’ve always preferred hiking up rather than down even though I get much more out of breath when going up but I find it harder on my knees and feet to hike downhill. With that on top of my migraine and the impending pounding headache, I wasn’t looking forward to the hours ahead.

We only had one goal for the day, to get to Backpacker’s Camp, where we had spent the first night. Bella and Savannah told us we could take as much time as we needed as long as we reached the camp before it got dark, which seemed perfectly reasonable given the distance we needed to hike.

As is the case when you hike from a higher elevation to a lower one, the temperature that day creeped up higher the further we hiked down. The sun also shone brightly and there was little shade along the trail. After hardly seeing any other hikers for days it was a bit strange seeing other hikers on the trail.

We stopped for water and to take breaks several times. As we had done before on other trails, we ended up splitting up into two unofficial groups, one with the faster hikers and the other with the slower hikers; Bella and Savannah would take turns taking the lead while the other was the last person behind our group.

I felt like the person in the back had the hardest job since they had to offer encouragement and support to those struggling. I later found out Savannah had even carried the pack of one of our girls during part of the trail on a previous day, with the girl’s pack on her front and her even heavier pack on her back. I can’t even imagine the strength that required.

Our short-term goal was to reach the point of the trail where it leveled off and was shaded by lunch time but two of our girls struggled even more on this day than the others. One even broke down in tears, saying how hard it was and how hot it was. She had reached her breaking point. Bella managed to give her a pep talk and get her going again after a rest and encouragement to drink water with electrolytes.

We finally reached the bottom of the trail where it leveled off and was near a forested area. Out of the sun and off the somewhat narrow trail with some room to spread out and enjoy our lunch, we all relished in our accomplishments. I noticed a sign for May Lake that said it was 10.1 miles away. Although we hadn’t hiked that distance in one day, we had still hiked it, carrying everything we needed to survive for a few days on our backs.

I started thinking back to all of the backpackers I had seen on trails when I had been hiking all over the world. I had never fully understood what it meant to be a backpacker but now I had a glimpse into that world. By no means did I feel like an expert backpacker but at least now I could call myself a backpacker. Carrying everything you need for days on your back is an empowering thing.

I hoped the girls from our troop would remember this experience in a positive light and not just focus on the negatives, like how hard it was at times. I’ve always felt like embracing the pain is what makes you resilient. There are people that get scared and run away when things get difficult and others that face the difficulties full-on; those that can do the latter are the ones that become resilient and strong, while the former group just bumbles along in life, never truly growing and developing as a person.

We finally reached Backpacker’s Camp, a bit later than expected, but we made it nonetheless and set up our sleeping areas as we had the first time we were here. After changing out of our hiking shoes we walked over to the Merced River and watched as the dirt flowed off our bodies. I took in the views, with a stone bridge and mountains on one side and mountains on the other. Some people were floating down the river on inner tubes and others were splashing and wading in the river further upstream and downstream of us. It was another beautiful sunny day in paradise a.k.a. Yosemite National Park.

After a delicious and filling dinner of dehydrated noodles and vegetables we went around the table taking turns playing the game Rose, Bud, and Thorn. If you’re not familiar with the game, you first say something that was a highlight (rose), then something that was negative or challenging (thorn), and finally something you’re looking forward to (bud). My bud was having a shower when we got back to the hotel in Fresno since I hadn’t showered since the morning we arrived in Yosemite.

We also went around and took turns saying something we admired about each person during this trip. I couldn’t have said enough good things about Bella and Savannah. If I could have somehow conjured up the perfect backpacking guides for our troop on this backpacking adventure, I would have made them exactly like these two amazing women. I don’t think there’s anything these ladies couldn’t do and if there was something they couldn’t do, I feel sure they could figure out how to do it.

Our fearless leaders Bella and Savannah goofing around

After playing another fun and engaging game as a group, we all got ready for bed and our last night sleeping under the stars in Yosemite. It was noticeably warmer and I immediately regretted putting on my long-sleeve wool shirt that I had been sleeping in every other night as I was sliding into my sleeping bag, but I was too tired to go back to the bathroom to change. At least I hadn’t also put on the wool pants. Figuring it would cool off soon enough, I just unzipped my sleeping bag a bit and watched the stars as I drifted asleep.

As I mentioned before, I had been nervous about not sleeping in the comfort of a tent but decided it wasn’t worth carrying the extra weight of it. After debating it with the other adult going with me, I had told told the people organizing our trip before we flew out that she and I had decided if the girls could sleep without tents, so could we! If I hadn’t mentioned before, Lasting Adventures has all of the kids on their youth overnight trips sleep without tents, and tents are optional for adults on those trips. It had been a good choice and I can now say I’ve truly slept under the stars.

On our fifth and final day, we were told we would be hiking without our backpacks- hurray! After we unpacked the backpacks we had borrowed from Lasting Adventures and re-packed our suitcases (our luggage had been left in Bella’s car while we were backpacking), we took off for some highlights we had missed before in Yosemite. I felt so light without my pack and when I saw a person with a heavy backpack on, I had a sort of newfound admiration for them, knowing what it takes to lug a heavy pack around.

Bella and Savannah listed off the names of birds and plants we came across, as they had been doing all along, and as we strolled past Tuolumne Meadows, they pointed out some of the flowers and plants there. We saw houses where some lucky few park employees get to live within Yosemite; many other park employees drive an hour or more to get to work every day because of the lack of affordable housing nearby.

We walked past the currently dried-up Mirror Lake, normally a popular tourist attraction in Yosemite but given the drought you’d never even know there was once water there. Then we came to what appeared to be an ordinary-looking granite boulder. Upon closer look, we could see indentations in the top of the rock where we were told the native people used to grind acorns into flour. Some indentations were bigger than others, meaning they had been used for probably hundreds of years. It was hard to imagine what the land was once like before it became a national park.

After we all climbed onto the top of the boulder and had taken some photos and admired the view, we were divided into two groups for a debate. One side was to talk about the pros of social media on the outdoors, not just Yosemite but outdoor space in general and the other side was to talk about the cons. After a couple of minutes of discussions among the groups, we presented our ideas to the group as a whole.

Both sides had some well-founded thoughts, and we all agreed that social media can be used in a positive way if the person presents their posts in a thoughtful way. We also agreed it’s best to keep a Geotag or location tag as vague as possible, such as Yosemite National Park rather than Mirror Lake for example, to help keep crowds down in one specific area. Ultimately, nature is for all of us to enjoy and by encouraging others to get outside, we can all benefit as long as we do it in a responsible way so that an area doesn’t get flooded with tourists (by using a permit system for example) or with proper trash disposal.

Next, we had a brief tour of The Ahwahnee,, a very expensive hotel with views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls and less than 2 miles from Yosemite Village. The hotel was referenced in Stanley Kubrick’s thriller “The Shining” and was also featured in “The Caine Mutiny” and “Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day.” It is a uniquely-beautiful hotel and I loved all of the Native American art work and pieces incorporated throughout. When we were there, there just happened to be a display showcasing women who helped make history at Yosemite, from park rangers to explorers and many others. As a group of Girl Scouts, this was exciting to see, as we’re always encouraging our girls to be leaders and make history, which is exactly what these women in the display did over the years.

After lunch in Yosemite Village, we said our goodbyes to Bella and Savannah and I tried to express my gratitude (once again) to these incredibly strong women who I admired deeply. With a couple of hours to kill before our YARTS shuttle back to Fresno was due to arrive, we checked out the gift shop and Ansel Adams Gallery. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ansel Adams who is known for his black and white photographs of not only Yosemite National Park but nature in general so while this wasn’t my first time seeing his art, it’s always a pleasure to view his photographs.

When we reached our hotel rooms in Fresno and I was able to take my first shower in days, it felt every bit as refreshing as I had thought it would. It’s funny how going for days without things like soap, shampoo, deodorant, and even clean clothes hadn’t mattered one bit when I was backpacking but I think that’s because I knew they would be waiting for me when we reached our hotel room again. Feeling revitalized and clean once again, I slept well that night and woke up ready for the long flight back home.

Sure, I would miss Yosemite and the beauty of the area but I had some special memories of my once-in-a-lifetime backpacking experience with Bella, Savannah, and the rest of our troop. I hope to go backpacking again someday but just as this backpacking trek was nothing like the one I had in Peru, I’m sure nothing will ever compare to this trek.

Have you ever gone backpacking, whether in Yosemite or elsewhere? If so, tell me all about it! If you’ve never been backpacking but you’re curious and perhaps even a bit nervous about it, feel free to reach out to me with your questions. I’d love to share more about my experience with anyone who is interested.

Happy travels!


Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

11 thoughts on “My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Four and Five”

  1. backpacking is one of the greatest things in life – I LOVE it so much. I did backpack part of the John Muir trail and also up to Half Dome – we actually got to climb that rock at the last minute. The whole experience there was spectacular. Except – there were tons of bugs when we were there in July. Glad you are enjoying the sport also 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We did it about 10 years ago?? And got a last minute permit as we were driving out of town. It was one of those magical days in life. I have a fear of heights too, so the climbing itself was a thrill to say the least.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, amazing!! But you mustn’t mention bears to James, 🤣 . Yosemite seems like quite the memorable experience! You’ve been to some really incredible places! (But I think I would have to opt for the tent, lol 😜)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually glad I went without the tent and would do it again on the west coast given the right weather conditions. I was talking to friends here on the east coast about it and we all agreed there are far too many bugs to do that here, regardless of the weather. It seems like James has become quite the hiker and backpacker. I’m sure he’s got plenty of stories of his own he could tell!

      Liked by 1 person

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