Outdoors

Backcountry bliss: Dewey Point's reward is at trail's end

Rows of snowshoe tracks cast a shadow on one of the two trails to Dewey Point, which provides breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley. Most people take the Meadow Trail because the Ridge Trail is significantly more difficult and slightly longer. The two merge about a mile from the rim.
Rows of snowshoe tracks cast a shadow on one of the two trails to Dewey Point, which provides breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley. Most people take the Meadow Trail because the Ridge Trail is significantly more difficult and slightly longer. The two merge about a mile from the rim. MARK CROSSE / THE FRESNO BEE

YOSEMITE -- Mother Nature can be such a tease.

During the 3.5-mile journey to Dewey Point, cross-country skiers and snowshoers are allowed only a glimpse of the grandeur ahead.

A peek here. A break in the forest there. But nothing that prepares you for the wallop to come.

Then it happens. Across a narrow gully, up and over a small hill, down into a clearing and -- pow! -- the enormity of it all hits you like Ray Lewis hits a running back.

Spread out before your eyes is a winter panorama so breathtaking it can't possibly be real.

But it is.

"You know it's here, and you know you're coming to something," said Theresa Ballestin of Shasta Valley, who visited Dewey Point for the first time last week with her husband, John.

"But you don't see it until you come over that little rise. Your jaw drops, and you're speechless. The view literally makes you gasp."

And what a view.

El Capitan, so imposing from the Valley floor, looks like just another big rock from up here. And Yosemite's other landmarks -- Mt. Hoffman, Mt. Conness, Cloud's Rest, Half Dome, Mt. Clark -- line the horizon like sugary speed bumps.

The sky couldn't possibly be more blue, framed by a wisp of cirrus clouds. The air is clear and crisp. Distant summits appear so close, you can practically reach out with your ski pole and flick snow off them.

On the clearest of days, you can look west and see Mt. Diablo -- some 150 miles away -- peeking above the fog.

"It's so beautiful, you just about cry," Theresa Ballestin said.

Perched on the Valley's southern rim, 3,000 feet above the Merced River, Dewey Point really comes alive in winter when rangers close Glacier Point Road beyond Badger Pass, Yosemite's downhill ski area.

The road then becomes a winter wonderland for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Ski tracks and skating lanes are groomed all the way to Glacier Point, 10.5 miles from Badger Pass, and there are some 90 miles of marked backcountry trails branching off it.

Of these trails, Dewey Point is far and away the most popular. While you might encounter only a handful of people on weekdays, there can be up to several dozen on weekends, some of whom camp. (Overnight permits are required.)

Strong skiers can make the 7-mile, out-and-back journey in less than 4 hours. Beginners take a while longer, but not enough to dissuade folks from going.

Keep in mind there are two trails that veer off Glacier Point Road near Summit Meadow and head to Dewey Point. Most people take the Meadow Trail because the Ridge Trail is significantly more difficult and slightly longer. The two trails merge about a mile from the rim.

All Yosemite backcountry ski trails are signed with numbered yellow triangles and directional aides hung in the trees. From each trail marker, you generally can spot the next one.

Skiers and snowshoers should maintain separate tracks, which is easier said than done on a popular trail like Dewey Point. Nothing can ruin a ski track like a herd of snowshoers stomping through it.

Park ranger Dick Ewart, who has been stationed at Badger Pass for more than three decades, said the most common mistake people make is not bringing along enough warm clothing. He added snowshoers sometimes underestimate the energy it requires to tramp 7 miles, while skiers who aren't used to variable backcountry terrain can be at risk of falling.

"It's a totally different experience from being on a groomed surface," Ewart said.

Steve and Margreet Ray can relate. The Topanga couple visited Dewey Point last week for the first time and wound up taking off their skis and walking when the terrain got a little steeper.

Fortunately, the snow was packed down enough so they didn't post hole.

"This is a view everyone should experience," Steve Ray said. "It gives Yosemite a whole new dimension."The reporter can be reached at marekw@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6218.

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