On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Tonight we have llamas, lovely stories and beautiful photos. This should be fun! ~WaterGirl
Yosemite National Park covers over 1100 square miles. In a normal year over 4 million people visit, but the vast majority see only a few square miles – the valley floor, the south rim out to Glacier Point, and along Tioga road through Tuolumne Meadows. Less than 60,000 thousand people get permits to overnight hike in its wilderness, and many of those are weekenders.
For those who have more time, there is a 50 mile loop that goes through spectacular scenery called Matterhorn Canyon. Most hikers doing that loop actually start at a trailhead east of Yosemite near Bridgeport, entering through the Hoover Wilderness, and then crossing the Yosemite Park boundary after a day’s hike. We had tried that a few years before this trip but had to abandon the attempt (long story).
This return visit to the loop was part of a larger 16 day trip throughout the northeastern portion of Yosemite. We were three people with 5 llamas (2 rented) and carried enough provisions to do the entire trip without resupply. Our start was from another trailhead a little further south of the one most people use to do the loop.
On the second day out we were caught in a big rainstorm. Summer storms in the Sierra Nevadas usually start in the afternoon and are over after an hour or two. We tried to wait out the storm, but it showed no signs of letting up. We pressed ahead through the rain and very wet trail for a few hours, hoping to get to our next planned camping location.
Part of staying safe in the wilderness is knowing when to reevaluate your plans. Cold, wet, and with little daylight left, we then decided to set up camp wherever we could. We saw a meadow off the trail to our left and went to explore. It turned out most of the meadow was filled with water – above our knees in places! After a frustrating search we found a spot at the edge of the meadow that didn’t have standing water. Still raining, we set up our rain tarp, unloaded all the gear underneath, changed out of our wet clothes, and started to cook something hot to eat. In the middle of the night, after the rain had stopped, one of the rented llamas developed symptoms suggesting it had eaten a poisonous plant. I helped our friend force an activated charcoal solution down the throat of the uncooperative llama.
The next morning the skies had cleared. All the llamas were fine. The meadow had drained. We decided to stay another day to let our clothes and gear dry out. We discovered a peaceful unnamed lake that was through the trees on the far side of the meadow. Had we made it to our planned camping location (about a mile further) we would never have seen it from the trail even in clear weather. We all hoped it was a sign that the rest of the trip would not be so difficult.
This picture was taken at our next campsite at the beginning of Matterhorn Canyon. Pack llamas have very thick coats and get a haircut in the spring. Unlike show llamas, the haircut is purely functional. The neck and torso are trimmed to avoid heat stress while packing in the summer. The animals don’t like it so it is done as quickly as possible with electric shears, not bothering with the front and hind quarters. This one didn’t get a particularly attractive haircut, but it did the job.
The next day we continued hiking through the canyon. As you walk gradually upward you can see Sawtooth Ridge in the distance beyond where the vegetation thins out. You then reach a tougher switch back section up a rocky trail to Burro Pass.
This is at the top of Burro Pass (elevation 11,100 feet). We then descended to where we found a place to camp below Sawtooth Ridge.
This picture was taken from our great campsite below the ridge and away from the trail. A mix of forest, grass, and shrub that was perfect for us and the llamas.
John Muir called the Sierra Nevada mountains the “Range of Light.” Sunrise and sunset really demonstrate that.
Llamas are ruminants. After they browse they often settle down to digest their food. This photo is showing the ridge opposite Sawtooth as the sun was going down.
The next day we hiked up and out of the canyon. This photo was taken looking back toward where we had camped – the trees in the center-left. Burro Pass is in the distance in the upper right. The payoff from getting here was worth the difficult start to the trip. If you are ever driving on Highway 395 near Bridgeport look to the west. You can see the tops of Sawtooth Ridge (opposite side as seen from here). Not as good as being there, but a lot less effort – even with llamas to carry your stuff.