Caltech Y Annual Yosemite Hike: An Odyssey

In the mystical realm of Yosemite National Park, where towering sequoias whisper tales of centuries past and granite giants stand as stoic sentinels to the whims of time, a brave band of Caltech students - prefrosh, returning undergrads, and grad students - embarked on a four-day backpacking and camping odyssey as a part of the annual Caltech Y hiking trip. Armed with nothing but enthusiasm, a handful of granola bars, miscellaneous decks of cards, and the spirit of adventure - they set out to conquer the wild wonders of Yosemite.

On Day 1, the group met at the Y and set forth on a several hour journey to the Eastern Sierras in our positively luxurious bus. Once at the park, a group of backpackers split off from the camping group to explore Ten Lakes and Porcupine Creek at around ~9000 ft elevation for an overnight escapade. Meanwhile, the rest of the hikers continued to the campsite in the Upper Pines Yosemite Valley area to set up tents and an array of exquisite culinary delights (lentils and couscous). On Day 2, the camping group hiked outside of the valley to the Lower Cathedral Lakes, a seven-mile, round-trip hike with 1300 ft gain to 9500 ft elevation through granite formations and forest. After enjoying some PB&Js and picturesque views, some edgy Techers decided to take a “polar plunge” in the serene lake - almost like a reward. 

“My favorite part of the trip had to have been the hike to Cathedral Lakes,” recounted first-year undergrad Arabella Camunez. “It was really high elevation so it was difficult on the way there, but when we emerged from the trees and saw the lake it was absolutely worth it. The mountains, lake, peace, and tranquility were unforgettable.”

Once reunited with the backpackers after the Cathedral Lake hike, the group was ready to take on our Day 3 hike through the Vernal Falls Mist Trail to Nevada Falls in the Yosemite Valley. The strenuous ~7 mile round trip and 2000 ft elevation gain was well worth the view. Personally, I was shocked that I was able to make it all the way up in one piece (however, my hiking boots did not).  

“My favorite memory had to have been [when all the eager first years] were using a fellow camper’s hotspot to check their schedules at the top of Nevada falls”, said first-year undergrad Claire Ellison. Prefrosh amiright!

Day 4 included a slow stroll through the Mariposa Grove and a quick group photo at the Tunnel View Valley overlook. At the grove, home to Yosemite’s very own Sequoias, the group looped around the fields of shrubs, grass, and willows ornamented with Redwoods.

Overall, the four days of hiking was to be unanimously considered a “phenomenal experience” said first-year undergrad Justin Lee. “I appreciated how much we all looked out for one another, which is a value that is shared by Caltech at large. We took the hikes at our own pace, yet we made sure to stay together, even if it entailed curtailing our ambitions at times.” Lee reflected on his stargazing and camping experience in the valley, “I had opportunity to gaze at the stars without the blinding lights of streetside lamps and buildings polluting the sky; at Yosemite, the night sky appeared brighter and clearer than it ever had ever seemed in my recent memory."