We recently set out on a running adventure that we’d been planning for almost a year. Although all of us have done a fair amount of mountain and distance running, we’d never done anything like this before. The plan was simple: circumnavigate the Yosemite high country via the High Sierra Camp loop. The whole loop is almost 50 miles long, so to make the experience more “relaxing”, we would split it up into 3 days, spending 2 nights on the loop, one each at Merced Lake HSC and May Lake HSC. The High Sierra Camps are awesome because you get a bed in a tent cabin and they feed you a delicious dinner and breakfast, plus the camps we stayed at also had hot showers! Although this brought the daily mileage down to more reasonable amounts (16mi, 18mi, 14mi), there was no denying it was going to be difficult and tiring to run mountain trails three days in a row.
Well, we did it. It was beautiful, incredible, challenging, and exhausting. The staff at the Merced and May Lakes were awesome. I had some unusually bad blister issues (especially by the end of day 3), probably related to the fact that my left knee hadn’t quite recovered from our Tahoe 50k (and I therefore had a messed up stride). Rather than trying to describe the experience in any more words (and failing hopelessly), we put together a video of our adventure, with serious props to Luke for taking so much video. Julie and I will have to work on that skill… Check it out:
If you’re curious about the logistical info, you can apply for space in the camps via a lottery – applications are available September 1 – November 1. We actually missed the lottery and managed to get in off cancellations, but we had to be flexible, staying Saturday and Sunday nights and having our last running day on a Monday. Merced Lake is the largest High Sierra Camp and hence the easiest to get a place at. Some camps don’t have hot showers for guests. It would probably work just as well to run the loop in the opposite direction – you’ll have a long middle day and a hard climb out of Merced Lake either way. It seems like most hikers were doing the loop counter-clockwise (we went clockwise) so as to have the elevation high point (Vogelsang) on the last day, but at the same time, it was nice to get that over with early for us relatively fit and acclimatized runner types. We did spend the day before we started acclimatizing by climbing Cathedral Peak, which is 10,912ft tall and has ~5 total miles of hiking for the approach and descent.
Here are the Garmin GPS tracks from our three days of running:
Toulumne to Merced Lake
Merced Lake to May Lake
May Lake back to Toulumne
Finally, a little PSA:
If you are inspired to run this loop yourself (spending the night and eating delicious dinners at Merced and May Lake HSCs), YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO NEXT YEAR!!! 4 out of 5 options for the Merced River Plan would either eliminate or drastically reduce the Merced Lake HSC, and Glen Aulin HSC is affected by the Tuolumne River Plan. Based on our recent experience, the High Sierra Camps provide an amazing opportunity for people to get out and enjoy the high country of Yosemite, and are by far a benefit to the environment by creating more appreciation of this beautiful area. If you want to make a difference, please check out: