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Elizabeth Lake

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park Links:

August 13th, 1998

5.0 miles
1000 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:19

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map



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Jean, Jennie, Reza, and I hiked to Elizabeth Lake from Tuolumne Meadows Campground.

As we started our hike a light rain started to fall. My lightweight poncho came in handy. That was all I needed, as the temperature was still mild, in the 70's.

Taking a break near the beginning of the trail

We'd just driven up from sea level to 8600 feet. The trail immediately starts climbing, perhaps an 8% grade, and we immediately felt the lack of oxygen. We stopped often along this first section. The trail went through a forest with mostly bare dirt and rocks. Off in the distance we could hear thunder and lightning. I'd never hiked to the sound of thunder before, but it sounded far off so it didn't seem like too much of a threat.

On the other hand, we did pass many trees along the trail which looked as if they'd been hit by lightning. We kind of inched our way along the trail as many hikers passed us going in the opposite direction. That's not a very encouraging sign. Eventually, however, the lightning and thunder stopped, and the rain subsided to a great degree.

Creek snaking past the trees

After some steep climbing at the beginning, the trail levels off and eventually meanders through rich green vegetation next to Unicorn Creek. After this the trail follows the creek, out into the open. Once we left the tree cover, we had gorgeous views of the creek, the meadow, and Unicorn Peak.

Reza next to Unicorn Creek

Jean bundled up next to Unicorn Creek. Notice how clear the water is.

One of the only bad things about this hike was the continuous onslaught of mosquitoes. The light rainfall didn't deter them. They pretty much followed us throughout the trail; it was worse whenever we stopped.

Shortly after emerging from the forest, we had our first glimpse of Elizabeth Lake. After some fancy footwork to cross the incredibly clear creek, we had a clear view of the lake, framed in the back by Unicorn Peak, a patch of snow on the side, melting into the lake. It was at this time that I made the unfortunate discovery that my camera battery had run out. I didn't have a spare. The sad thing is, I have "extra camera battery" on my camping checklist. And, in fact, I'd seen Weihaw's battery run out on the Zion trip. But I still didn't bring a spare. Luckily, Jennie's camera had the same type of battery, and she was nice enough to let me use it for the rest of the hike.

Elizabeth Lake, looking south

We decided to try to circle the lake before returning to the campground. The trail was muddy in places, and I made the mistake of putting my right foot directly in a big patch of soft mud; it promptly enveloped my foot up to the top of my boot.

Elizabeth Lake. Notice the August snow, melting into the lake. The reflection is of Unicorn Peak.

The shore of Elizabeth Lake, Unicorn peak in the background

As we went a little further, Jennie realized she'd left her water bottle behind. Since we wouldn't be going the same way, she went back to get it. After a while, she didn't come back, so Reza went off to find her, equipped with a Motorola TalkAbout (I had the other one). This would be our first chance to use the radios, which would prove extremely useful on the trip -- both on hikes and in following each other in cars.

Meanwhile, Jean and I continued around the right side of the lake. But eventually we had to stop. We could see the patch of snow which was melting. This meant there was a lot of mud coming up in front of us. Also, there was a large swath of trees completely obliterated. I don't know what happened here, but dozens and dozens of trees were all knocked down to the ground here.

We decided it would be difficult to get across without sinking into the mud, so we turned around and headed back to camp. Along the way we contended with the mosquitoes, but didn't run into another soul on the trail. No animals, no people, for the last three-fourths of the hike.

By the time we got back, the altitude wasn't affecting us as much. The rain had stopped. It was a fairly easy hike, and a beautiful one -- green meadow, crystal clear water in the creek and lake, and great views of Unicorn Peak. Definitely a worthwhile hike.

Return to Tuolumne Meadows trip report.


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