Discovering The Undisturbed Views of Yosemite Valley
Basket Dome sits between Half Dome and North Dome, with no existing trail — topo map required. It is a long hike from the valley with over 140 switchbacks and 4,200+ elevation gain. So why did we decide to take three friends on a backpacking journey to it? Simply because we heard the dome offers the best views of the park and our beloved Half Dome.
REI Co-Op 65 mL Pack
Nemo Dagger 3-Person Tent
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad
0 Degree Sleeping Bag
Eno Double Nest Hammock
luminAID Shark Tank Bundle (highly recommend over the Luci Light!)
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus watch
Gaia GPS app
After picking up our permit from the reservation office in the valley, we began our hike in via Snow Creek trail which starts by Mirror Lake. Once past Mirror Lake, the trail climbs steeply (2,700-feet) out of Tenaya Canyon, one switchback after another.
To keep spirits high, our team decided it would be fun to count the switchbacks as we went up. At the end of each switchback we'd yell out the number, "Switchback number 23! Nailed it." We took a break at #23 and enjoyed a small waterfall running off the mountain. We joked lightly that we maybe only had about 23 more. We were unfamiliar with the trial and we were absolutely, 100% wrong.
At switchback #50 we stopped again to enjoy an amazing view of Half Dome. By switchback #99, my HydroFlask was running low and so was my attitude. We let the boys go on ahead and my friend Rachel and I enjoyed some shade and a little snack. Seven switchbacks later and we were at the Snow Creek foot bridge. We counted a total of 106 switchbacks, though reviews online state that there are 140.
It was at this point that the topo map became necessary as the next part of our journey was not marked by trail and was under 6 to 10 feet of snow. Post holing was frequent and incredibly annoying, especially as we began to lose daylight and the physical and mental energy to stay focused and keep moving.
Around mile 10 and with 4,200 feet of elevation gain, one member of team began experiencing some mild affects of altitude. Luckily, it was around the same time we arrived at a view point of North Dome (Basket Dome's neighbor), a marker we desperately needed to boost our moods and encourage us to finish the last 2 miles to camp (and by camp, I mean one spot we saw on Google Earth that looked relatively flat and possibly not covered in snow).
After an uneasy creek crossing that required a jimmy-rigged bridge of sticks and stones, we finally arrived and began setting up our tents before the sun went down. We were exhausted and our feet completely soaked from hiking in the deep snow. The best we could do was build a small (seriously no longer than 8 inches) fire ring and hold our shoes and socks over it like roasted marshmallows. We called it a 'good old fashioned Yosemite cook out.'
The next day we decided to keep things easy and not move camp over to North Dome as we had originally planned. Instead we day hiked over to the top of Basket Dome and enjoyed some of the most incredible, undisturbed views of the Valley I've ever seen. We spent a decent amount of time at the top of the dome, enjoying the warm sun on our skin and the company of close friends. Rachel and I built a small snowman we named Chonk after Abby, our favorite Internetism.
We returned to camp later in the day and found a perfectly protected overlook spot where we built a much larger fire than the night before and enjoyed dinner. When the rest of our team was ready for bed, Tay and I decided to stay out and wait for the stars. Around 12:00 am, the milkway was directly over Half Dome. The view was incredible and manageable in the cold evening next to the fire.
The hike out was a journey in and of itself. Still using topo map to get to North Dome, we then took the Lower Yosemite Falls trail back into the valley. The hike out was long and took us through a recovering burn area from the 2017 fire. It was intense to see the damage from the fire - burned and fallen trees blocking the trail, black sludgy snow from the ash - but still deeply beautiful in it's own way.
The whole trip totaled over 25 miles with 5,200 feet of elevation gain. We would only recommend this loop to very experienced hikers who are comfortable using a topo map and being off trail. That said, the views are unparalleled and though the trip was a rough one, I look back and feel nothing but gratitude.
All images were taken by Taylor Hemming and require permission for reuse. Please feel free to contact me for more information.