Earning the 50-Miler Award in Yosemite NP

The following is a Guest Article by Mike Dubrall. Mike “Uncle Dub Zero” Blogs and writes informative articles on backpacking at 50Miler.com. 

Earning the 50-Miler Award

There is no place in the world like Yosemite National Park! Scouts can wander through the Mariposa Grove, climb Half Dome, look out from Glacier Point, swim in Tenaya Lake, hike along the Tuolumne River, or backpack through hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness . That’s why, for over 50 years, it’s been a popular place for Scouts to try and earn the BSA 50-Miler Award.

To receive this award, a unit must cover a distance of 50 miles over at least five days without the aid of motorized vehicles, so the distance can be covered by foot, boat, cycle, or horse. There must also be adequate planning, potential advancement opportunities, and a ten-hour service project along the way (or back at home). The reward is a nice patch and bragging rights in your local District.

Troop 60 of Danville, CA had completed the required planning and was ready for their 50 mile hike in Yosemite. When we picked up our wilderness permits in White Wolf, however, the Ranger told us that our route through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne was closed because of a fire in the area. So the group decided to hike around to Glen Aulin instead (around 25 miles) and try to enter the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne from the other direction.

Our first night was typical for a public campground in Yosemite during the summer: crowded, noisy and frequented by bears. After dark we crawled into our sleeping bags; but, every 30 minutes the food boxes started rattling and someone would start yelling, “Go Away Bear” while banging their pots and pans. With all the rattling, yelling, grunting, and banging, we didn’t get much sleep.

Overlook Hiking Out of Ten Lakes - Yosemite NP

The next morning, after a quick breakfast of cinnamon rolls and cereal, everyone was glad to hit the trail. The destination was Ten Lakes, but without revised trail profiles and detailed maps, we were caught off guard by the steep climb at the end of the day. The last two miles (at 9,000 feet elevation) were slow going.

The hike out of Ten Lakes was challenging but the mountain views were stunning. After a long lunch near a creek (perfect for splashing around) we worked our way up and over Tuolumne Peak, noticing the snow patches (in August) and beautiful little ponds. Then it was down, down, down past May Lake, until we finally came to a trail junction and found a suitable place for a wilderness camp, 200 feet off the trail. Tents were pitched in the deepening twilight. Twelve miles with a full backpack makes for a long day.

We allowed ourselves a small campfire, ate a cold dinner and went to sleep. Just before dawn, however, we awoke to the smell of smoke, and crawled out to take a look, worried that the forest fire that diverted us had changed direction. But, the source of this smoke was much closer!

Our “fire man” had built the campfire three feet from a rotting tree that had been shredded by bears looking for insects. So, even though he dug a hole and lined it with rocks, the not-quite-extinguished fire had lingered in the sawdust, eventually breaking into flames again – and these flames were rapidly spreading towards our tents. We had to move fast to put out the fire with water from the creek. (Lesson learned. There are reasons to follow fire safety rules.)

Glen Aulin - Yosemite NP

We broke camp and set off for Glen Aulin, one of the best trail camps in the Sierras. It was an easy day and we got to our destination before lunch. A major attraction at Glen Aulin are the Tuolumne Falls, which is a perfect place for swimming. (The water is cold, but real backpackers have no problem with it.) Nearby, a few minutes of hard climbing gets you to a vantage spot with impressive views down the entire Valley.

Our plan was to hike down to Waterwheel Falls from Glen Aulin, but the forest fire was still burning and Rangers had closed that trail the day before we arrived. So we turned around to find our way towards Tuolumne Meadows along the Pacific Crest Trail. The miles melted away as we followed the Tuolumne River east, working our way around several waterfalls then marching into spectacular Tuolumne Meadows. The last few miles were marked by a sudden snow storm, freezing rain, hail, and sleet. We hiked with a cold wind in our faces, our hands in front of us trying to our faces from the hailstones. It was a memorable ending to our adventure – but at least everyone on the trek earned the 50 Miler Award.

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At 50miler.com Mike has many more tales and advise about hiking in Yosemite.

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