For several years my High Sierra guided trips have been in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park in September, when conditions are predictably comfortable (mild days, crisp nights, little precipitation, and no bugs or wildfire smoke) and when there is less backcountry traffic. But for a change in scenery, this year I scheduled them in Yosemite in early-summer, July 12-26.
The 3-day Fundamentals courses will play outside of Tuolumne Meadows, while the 5- and 7-day Adventure trips will undertake sections of the Yosemite High Route. All the itineraries utilize the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, which are thoroughfares in this area.
For these trails and routes at this time of year, what clothing and equipment do I use and recommend? Here is my gear list:
Environmental & route conditions
My gear reflects the likely conditions, and I make tweaks to it throughout the season. If you compare this gear list to my Yosemite High Route gear list for late-summer, you will notice major differences in my clothing, for example.
Temperatures & precipitation. Recently the NCEI website has not been fully operational, so I can’t link to exact historical weather data. At a later date, try Hetch Hetchy, Ellery Lake, and Gem Lake for relevant sources. Based on personal experience, I’m expecting daytime highs in the 60’s/70’s and nighttime lows in the 30’s. July is a dry month, with less than an inch of precipitation, usually during predictable and short-lived afternoon thunderstorms.
Daylight. Since we’re just three to five weeks beyond the summer solstice, the days will be long and the nights will be short. On July 12 in the nearby town of Bridgeport, civil twilight starts at 5:13 AM and ends at 8:52 PM, amounting to 15.5 hours of usable light; on July 26, there is still over 15 hours of daylight. In reality, we’ll have a little bit less due to the mountainous topography and occasional cloud cover. The full moon is July 16.
Footing. After a normal winter, the snowpack has mostly melted off by the solstice. The trails are on mineral sand (and not yet dusty) or granite slabs, and sometimes have extensive rock work. Off-trail travel is blissful: open forest, firm tundra and meadows (possibly water-logged), granite slabs, and sometimes talus. After an exceptionally wet winter like 2018-19, we’re expecting June-like conditions, with standing water, snow-covered passes, and perhaps lingering snowpack in high, shady, and leeward areas.
Vegetation. The subalpine forest consists of open lodgepole pine and hemlock, and transitions to alpine at about 10,000 feet. Knee-high willow may be found in wet alpine areas; usually, it’s easily penetrable.
Navigational aids. The trails are not blazed, but they are easy to follow; all junctions are marked. Clear skies, open views, and distinct topography are the norm in Yosemite, so terrain association is easy.
Sun exposure. We expect intense sunlight. The sun is high in the sky; we’re at high altitudes (8,000+ feet); clear skies are common; and lingering snowpack will reflect the sun from below, too.
Water availability. All mapped creeks and lakes will have ample high quality water. Many unmapped seasonal sources will probably be wet, too.
Problematic wildlife. Black bears are notoriously skilled food thieves. Per NPS regulations, all backcountry campers must carry a portable bear-resistant hard-sided canister.
Biting insects. Mosquito pressure will be heavy in the mornings and evenings, and lighter or non-existent during the day. In addition to proper clothing and shelter, this factor can be mitigated by deliberate campsite selection and by selecting routes that are relatively dry and breezy.
Remoteness. The Yosemite high country is vast, and it’s easy to get 20 to 30 miles away from the closest trailhead. In these remote pockets, traffic is light, especially when off-trail. Cell service is rare and unreliable.
Hazards. The spring runoff normally peaks in late-May and early-June, but will still be high in July after wet winters. Many creek crossings in the Yosemite backcountry are not bridged. Monsoon storms pose another hazard, specifically in the form of lightning, short-lived but torrential precipitation, and rapid decrease in ambient temperature.
Gear List: Yosemite High Route, Pacific Crest + John Muir Trails in July
Conditions along the Yosemite High Route and the PCT/JMT are mostly identical, so my gear list is mostly the same, too. On the Yosemite High Route, I might be more conservative with a marginal forecast, because the route is generally higher and more exposed.
When I was on the Yosemite High Route last August, my based weight was 14.7 pounds, or 2.6 pounds less. The difference is explained by one addition (ice axe, +14 oz) and several swaps (ULA Catalyst +10 oz, BV500 +8 oz, SD High Route +8 oz) since I’m in a guide capacity this time around.
The total cost is still completely inflated. Shop the holiday sales (usually 20 percent off a full-price item) and clearance; find less expensive substitutes; and eliminate pricey and extraneous items.
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If you like the look and organization of my gear list, consider using my 3-season gear list template.
Questions about my selections, or what you should bring? Leave a comment.
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