By Michael Lanza

In early evening on a bluebird September day, deep in northern Yosemite National Park, my friend Todd Arndt and I—with legs a little weary—reached our fourth pass on a 23-mile day, the second day of a four-day, 87-mile hike. Only a quad-melting, 1,500-foot descent stood between us and soothing our feet in the cool sand and cold water at Benson Lake (possibly the most unbelievable mountain lake I’ve ever seen).

We hiked past quiet tarns where a few backpackers were camped. And it struck me that they were the first people Todd and I had seen all day. That’s not an observation one expects to make in Yosemite. But we were exploring the “other Yosemite”—not the overcrowded park, but its most remote backcountry, on one of the best multi-day hikes I’ve ever taken.

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The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Yosemite.
” data-image-caption=”The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ width=”425″ height=”640″ src=”″ alt=”Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.” class=”wp-image-22001″ srcset=” 425w, 199w, 200w” sizes=”(max-width: 425px) 100vw, 425px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, Yosemite.

There’s a back story here. After several visits to Yosemite over the past three decades, backpacking, dayhiking, and climbing—some of those to write stories for this blog and Backpacker magazine, where I was Northwest Editor for 10 years—I had become kind of obsessed with the fact that I had still not explored the park’s two most expansive swaths of wilderness: the Clark Range and Merced River headwaters south of Tuolumne Meadows, and even vaster northern Yosemite.

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So I set out to finally fill in that glaring omission in my backpacking résumé, concocting an ambitious plan to make a 152-mile grand tour of Yosemite’s most remote backcountry in one week, divided into two legs, resupplying between them.

First came a three-day, 65-mile loop south of Tuolumne Meadows, including two of Yosemite’s most thrilling summits, Clouds Rest and Half Dome, plus walking through the Clark Range and tagging the highest pass reached by trail in the park, 11,500-foot Red Peak Pass.

That was to be immediately followed by a
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