Perched on the rocky flank of 9,980-foot Sunrise Peak, and overlooking a sprawling alpine meadow, Sunrise High Sierra Camp (HSC) is one of Yosemite’s five high country camp areas, and renowned for its spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Situated at an elevation of 9,350 feet, and surrounded by polished granite, the camp lies near a busy junction on the acclaimed John Muir Trail (JMT). There are two main routes for accessing the Sunrise camp area. The most commonly used approach is hiking the JMT south from the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead for 7.3 miles. From the western Tuolumne Meadows area, this route gains 1,660 feet of elevation to cross 9,940-foot Cathedral Pass before dropping into the Sunrise area. A shorter, albeit more strenuous, route from the west side of Tenaya Lake climbs 1,880 feet over 5.1 miles. Whichever route you take to get there, the views are equally stunning along the way.
The HSC at Sunrise offers nine tent cabins that can accommodate a maximum of 34 guests. Cabins are equipped with bunks, but campers must provide their own linens or sleeping bags. Camp guests are provided family-style breakfasts and dinners by the camp host and chef. A vault toilet is available, as well as backcountry shower and laundry basins. Scoring an overnight stay in one of Sunrise’s cabins requires entering the annual HSC lottery, which takes place the winter before the next summer hiking season. Due to high demand, limited space, and the 2–3 month accessibility season, camps sell out quickly. If you don’t get a cabin space, you can tent camp nearby with a valid backcountry permit. This is primitive wilderness camping, so you should follow Leave No Trace guidelines. You can still opt to purchase meals at the camp so you don’t have to cook in camp. HSC cabin rates are $159/person/night; meals only are $80/person/night; kids rates are available.
The Sunrise HSC is the perfect basecamp for exploring the Sunrise and Cathedral Lakes areas, or as a convenient campsite on part of a larger HSC loop. Due to its location right along the popular John Muir Trail, however, you should expect lots of company—this is not where you go to find solitude in Yosemite. This is where you go for spectacular High Sierra scenery, including the horn-shaped, 10,600-foot Tresidder Peak, the craggy, 10,970-foot Echo Peaks, and the dual-pronged, 10,910-foot Cathedral Peak. If you’ve got the gumption for a 12.4-mile round trip that gains another 1,880 feet of elevation, you can use Sunrise as the launch point for a hike to the top of 9,930-foot Clouds Rest. The view from this skyscraping perch takes in the entire Yosemite Valley, with all its iconic landmarks: Half Dome, North Dome, Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan.
Campground Review: It's 8 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp. You can either hike and camp in the backpackers camp, or make a reservation and have yourself and all of your gear hauled up there on the back of a horse. Regardless of how you get there, you are sure to be blown away with the stark beauty and solitude offered by the Yosemite back country. If you are planning a backpacking trip through this area, I'd plan to spend one night here. There are toilets and drinking water available. Also, I was told from another backpacker that after breakfast is served to the paying guests at the dining tent, backpackers can pay cash for any food that is leftover. Could be very appealing if you've been eating trail food for a few days. If you want to experience Yosemite without tour buses, crowds of people, traffic, & noise, get here. You won't regret it.
Gear Review: I received the Cotopaxi Luzon 18L DayPack through my Cairn subscription in the June box. This is a great day pack! I recently brought it on a 4 day backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park. What I liked most about it was how small I could pack it down. I really wanted to bring a day pack on the trip because we had planned to hike to the summit of Clouds Rest as a day hike. Because we had the Cotopaxi, we could leave our heavy packs at camp and throw our water, food, first aid, map, compass, & cameras in the day pack. When we weren't using the bag, we could pack it away without using up too much valuable space (and weight) in the large pack. The bag folds into itself and compresses to about the size of a folded T-shirt. It's very light but durable and comfortable to wear. My only critique would be that because it's so light and compressible, there is really no rigidity or padding on your back. This is just a compromise you have to make in order to have such a light pack. Overall this is a great product. I look forward to using it on more hiking adventures.