As we gaze out over snow dusted Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome and numerous other Yosemite landmarks, we catch our breath – both from the exertion of our snowshoe journey and from the stupendous views before us. It’s hard to believe there’s a place on earth this beautiful. We are standing at Dewey Point, a vertigo-inspiring cliff with a bird’s-eye view of one of America’s best-loved national parks. Today, on this sunny winter day, we share Dewey Point with half a dozen other snowshoers and a few cross-country skiers. We are close to, but seemingly a world apart from the crowds in Yosemite Valley and at the Badger Pass trailhead.
Badger Pass, which is on the south rim of Yosemite Valley, offers almost unlimited opportunity for snowshoers of all levels. Those with the requisite skills can explore its vast backcountry, or one can take advantage of several miles of developed trails. At an elevation of approximately 7000 feet, Badger Pass boasts consistent snow cover for a variety of winter activities. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing top the list. Armed with Michael C. White’s comprehensive book “Snowshoe Trails of Yosemite”, we have set out to explore Badger Pass on a February weekend during the Sierra’s big-snow winter of 2005.
The 7-mile loop trail to Dewey Point is interesting in all respects. We choose to approach via the Dewey Point Ridge Trail, which the Park brochure rates as “most difficult”. Initially the trail winds through heavily snow-laden red fir and lodge pole trees. We continually knock cold showers of snow off the branches and down our necks. In spite of the rugged up-and-down course, we find the energy to break into a sprint as Dewey Point and the grand vista of Yosemite Valley come into view.
After enjoying our lunch and lingering over the view, we are still reluctant to tear ourselves away from this idyllic spot. As we start to feel a chill in the air, we decide to go off trail, following a westerly course along the rim of the cliff. We soon encounter a couple of tents nestled into the snow – clearly inhabited by hardier souls than us. Since the appeal of watching the sun rise and set in such magnificent surroundings has not yet persuaded us to take up winter camping, we angle back towards the trailhead. As the sun fades in the late afternoon sky, we select the gentler Meadows Trail to finish the day.
We are hooked. Badger Pass is so perfect on this bright snowy weekend that we arrive early the next morning, eager to get farther into Yosemite’s backcountry. We decide that the Merced Crest Trail, starting at the top of the Badger Pass Ski Hill will pose a worthy adventure. In his book, Michael White firmly states that one must snowshoe up the ski hill, and that taking the lift “should be considered less than sporting”. Guiltily we purchase passes for a one-time ride on the chair lift and, fully outfitted with snowshoes, packs and trekking poles, maneuver ourselves onto the chair. Disembarking proves to be a challenge as we awkwardly hop off the chair and scramble to avoid being overtaken by the skiers behind us.
Just a few steps further and we’re in pristine backcountry, guided by faint trails and regular markers. We enjoy complete solitude, accompanied only by the crunch of our snowshoes and clear mountain views of the Clark Range and beyond. Our undulating route roughly follows the crest of a ridge, topping out on Tempo Dome at an elevation of 7845 feet. As we gradually descend, panoramic views are replaced by the more intimate feel of the forest. We become aware of the bright green mosses on the trees and the scattering of animal tracks at our feet that make us wonder if we are being watched. We dip further into the trees to join the Limit Trail and a gentle return hike through beautiful Westfall Meadows and along the Old Glacier Point Road Trail.
Circling back towards our trailhead, we feel truly privileged to be enjoying Yosemite in such pristine and inspiring conditions. Badger Pass has emerged for us as a true paradise for snowshoe enthusiasts, an unequalled opportunity to relish the pleasures of Yosemite National Park in the quiet beauty of winter.
Detailed information on Yosemite, including lodging options, can be found on the park’s website http://www.nps.gov/yose/. We enjoy staying at Yosemite View Lodge which is a 30 to 40 minute drive from Badger Pass depending on weather conditions http://www.yosemite-motels.com/yosemiteviewlodge/. Be aware that tire chains must always be carried when traveling the Glacier Point Road to Badger Pass. In snowy conditions, signage and patrolling park rangers will indicate when they must be used. For information on snowshoeing at Badger Pass, including a calendar of ranger-led snowshoe walks, see http://www.nps.gov/yose/trip/snowshoeing.htm.