Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hike past granite boulders on trail segment

Families can hike a forested mountainside past giant granite boulders on a segment of the Smith Peak Trail at Yosemite National Park.

Located in the park’s Hetch Hetchy section, the 2.32-miles round trip trail is one of two routes to Smith Peak (The other is described in the Lookout Trail description.). This option makes a nice alternate route as the more popular trail that leaves from the ranger station can be soggy in springtime.

To reach the trailhead, from Yosemite Valley drive Big Oak Flat road north to Calif. Hwy. 120. Turn left onto Hwy. 120. Past Hodgdon Meadow Campground, turn right onto Evergreen Road. In about eight miles is a T-intersection at Camp Mather; turn right at this intersection onto Hetch Hetchy Road. After passing the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station, in six miles you’ll see a pullout on the road’s north side. The trailhead is east of the pullout on the road’s south side.

The trail crosses through forest with a number of boulders around you. Among the dominant trees are California black oak, gray pine and incense cedar. Spring and early summer offer a variety of wildflowers along the way, including buttercup, lupine, monkey flower and wallflower.

Virtually all of the rocks you’ll see are granite, which sparkle in the sunlight. Millions of years ago, magma several thousand feet beneath the surface crystalized and hardened as it cooled. Since that time, erosion from rain, streams, wind and glaciers have eroded the topsoil as tectonic action thrust the mountain higher.

Smith Peak, the highest point on the horizon, sits east of the trail. Named after a sheep farmer who used the Hetch Hetchy Valley as a summer pasture, the peak tops out at 7751 feet and offers views of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to the north.

In 1.16 miles, the trail comes to a junction, which marks a good turnaround point. If going left/east, you’re on your way to Smith Peak, which is 5.48 miles away; if going straight/south, you’re heading back to the Mather Ranger Station, which is about 6 miles away.

There are some open spots on this segment, so don sunscreen before setting out.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.