Photographer:Andrew M. Upchurch
Camera:Nikon N80
Film:Kodak Portra 800

Early Summer Backpacking to Yosemite’s Eagle Peak

Braving bright sun and a lingering snowpack for unrivaled views and a night under the stars in America's most iconic national park

The past winter has been a tremendous one in Yosemite National Park. Even as we inch into summer snowfall accumulations remain, sticking around much longer than normal. Many trails remained covered well into the month of June, with Tioga Road through the Yosemite high country still remaining closed. Nonetheless, my neighbor and I couldn’t go any longer without hitting the trail for a backpacking trip, even knowing well we would be heading into snowy territory by the time we reached higher elevations.

Our route of choice would be a strenuous one, taking us along the Upper Yosemite Falls trail and to the rim of the Yosemite Valley. Both of us live and work in the park, so we rode our bikes the mile or so from home to the trailhead that first morning. I work the late shift, so we weren’t going to be leaving at any ungodly early hour, which meant we’d be bearing the heat of midday sun. Someday I might decide to become an early riser, but not this day.

Snow confronted us shortly after we reached the top of Yosemite’s North Rim, as did a hiker coming from the direction we were heading. He thought the way was impassible, having attempted Eagle Peak too, but couldn’t follow the trail. We thanked him for his advice, and pressed on anyway. He shook his head as if he thought we were fools. Maybe we were, but we know the area better than most.

The lone hiker wasn’t wrong about trail conditions it turned out though. We trekked through roughly three miles of trail still covered in snow and water. Our knowledge of Yosemite’s geography guided us, as did the footprints from hikers who came before us, along with the occasional sawed-away log that had fallen across the trail during some other season. When in doubt, we found another chopped log and kept on going. We had to prove that guy wrong.

It was a few hours before sunset when we arrived at our destination—the summit of Eagle Peak, the tallest of Yosemite’s “Three Brothers” just east of El Capitan. The panoramic setting offered tremendous views of the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the still snow-covered High Sierras. To top it off, another friend joined us just before sunset, and together we took it all in with no one else around. The views just left us wanting more.

see more beautiful photography from Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra here

Andrew Upchurch lives and works in Yosemite National Park. His enthusiasm for film photography compels him into the backcountry, up rock walls, and generally keeps his wallet quite thin and carefree.
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