Day 3 was an unplanned, high mileage day to make up miles and get closer to Half Dome. We stopped off at Tuolumne Meadows for some food and headed towards Sunrise High Sierra Camp (HSC).
The Quick and Dirty:
Location: Lyell Canyon to Sunrise High Sierra Camp
Distance: 22 miles
E and I woke up early and started packing. We wanted to get to Tuolumne Meadows early because A really wanted to get Half Dome permits. We started hiking around 7:30 AM to take advantaged of the cool morning which turned out to be a great idea. The cooler temperature really helped us gain mileage for the first half of the day. Views were great and with the flat terrain, A and E were able to keep up with my pace. We took a short break about 5.6 miles outside of Tuolumne Meadows to discuss strategy. We needed to get to Tuolemne before 11 AM to get in line for Half Dome day hike permits.
After lunch, I continued hiking on, stopping a stretches of the trail that once were part of the JMT. The National Park service has been shifting the trail off habitat sensitive areas, and shifting hikers onto more durable surfaces.
Lyell Canyon shifted from flat grassy landscapes, to mix rock and boulder. The closer I got to Tuolumne Meadows, the busier the trail got. I ran into a couple adventure groups before hitting the JMT Toulumne Meadows junction around 10:40 AM. I waited for the group and met up with A around 11:00 AM. She headed towards the ranger station while I waited for E. Once E caught up, we both headed towards Toulumne and met up with A at the ranger station, where she promptly told us we got Half Dome permits- it was the last set issued for the day. Lucky us! We grabbed the permits and headed to the cafe for our first real meal. I splurged and got myself a cheese burger, fries, ice cream, and a small serving of coke. During lunch we discussed strategy, noting that in order to make it to Half Dome before the crowds, we needed to be there around 8-9 AM the next day. This meant we needed to cover an additional 10+ miles to get closer to the Half Dome junction. E decided that he would slow us down, and decided to skip the Half Dome hike and stay in Tuolumne for the night and meet A and I at Happy Isle the next day.
A and I hopped on the road and headed towards upper Columbine Lakes trail head. The climb to the lake was a tough and steady uphill for most of the 4.5 miles. We intended to camp at Columbine Lakes that night, but decided it was best to keep hiking closer to the Half Dome trail head. Several hikers mentioned lower Columbine being a better camp, given it was off the main trail and provided more solitude.
We made good time and continued forward, climbing over Columbine Pass. The pass flattened out and it allowed us to hike much faster. Around 6:30 PM, we arrived to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. We filled up our water bottles and decided to keep hiking to find a more secluded camp site. The map had several small camp sites just off the trail about a mile from Sunrise. We found a nice well protected dry camp with amazing views. We pitched our tents, cooked up some hot meals, and watched the sunset.