Backpack the Lyell Loop

Rate this Adventure Yosemite Mono/Parker Pass Trailhead

Added by Kyle Frost

This backpacking trip is 2 days and covers 4 passes in the Yosemite backcountry. If you have a little more time, you can also be done in 3 days.

Start the hike at the Mono pass trail. You'll eventually take the fork towards Parker Pass a couple miles in. We tackled the trail in late spring, and it quickly became clear that there was still enough snow to make our lives difficult. As we climbed out of the Parker drainage, the trail essentially disappeared and we resorted to map and compass for our backcountry route finding.

Reaching the 11,100ft Parker Pass provided but a brief respite. After all, we’d only hiked 8 miles so far; we still had 2 more passes and 10 miles to go before camping for the night. The view towards Kuna Crest and the Parker drainage is spectacular though!

As we climbed the slopes above Parker Pass, It quickly became clear that we might be the first people to tackle Koip pass this season. The way ahead was untouched snow, not another footprint for miles. Julian didn’t bring crampons, so I was tasked with leading the way up to the pass and kicking steps for him to follow. We severely underestimated the snow conditions; it takes exponential more energy and time to cover distance while post-holing.

The view on the eastern side of Koip pass was a welcome sight. We still had a long day ahead, but at 12,260ft, we had reached the high point of Saturday’s hike. We managed a bit of fun glissading down the east side of the pass, saving us a bit of time and energy.

Our route took us around the edge of the frozen Alger Lakes to Gem pass. Here, we found (then lost) the trail, resulting in some sketchy scrambling up the side of a snowy ridge to reach the pass. From there, it was all downhill to Gem Lake; we rolled into camp about 8:15pm, to the incredulous looks of a couple campers who didn’t believe that we had come from Yosemite that morning.

We were back on the trail by 6:30am, heading past Waugh Lake and up towards Donahue pass. After Donahue, all we had left was a 13 mile slog through the wet and muddy Lyell Canyon. Luckily, the rest of our day would be on flat trail, but man, that was a long 13 miles to cap a 21 mile day.

You'll exit the trail near the Tuolumne Meadows ranger station, a couple miles from where your car is. Luckily, it's pretty easy to hitchhike in Yosemite.

Pack List

  • 10 Essentials
  • Ice axe/crampons depending on season
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Camping stove
  • Cold weather gear, be prepared for any weather
  • Bear canister (required in Yosemite)
Read More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Share

Activities:

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking

Skill Level:

Advanced

Season:

Winter

Trail Type:

Loop

Distance:

31 Miles

Elev. Gain:

5600 Feet

Features:

Forest
Lake
Scenic

Are we missing something?

Suggest an edit

How to Get There

Have you done this adventure? Have something to add? You could be the first to leave a review!

Added by Kyle Frost

Designer and Adventure Photographer based in Boulder, Colorado. Fan of mountains, coffee, beer, and witty banter. Available for commissions and collaborations. I'm @kylefrost pretty much everywhere.

More Adventures Nearby

Backpack to Big Bird Lake & Moose Lake

Yosemite / Alta Peak Trailhead

This trip requires a wilderness permit. You can get one at the Lodgepole Visitor Center where you can also rent a bear canister or use the bathroom before heading out.

Leslie Chang
2 Saves

Backpack to Vogelsang and Merced Lake High Sierra Camps

Yosemite / Lyell Canyon Trailhead

If you love the idea of backpacking to remote mountain destinations, but shudder at the thought of carrying a heavy pack and digging a hole to poop in, the High Sierra Camps are a great option.

Julie & Brian
8 Saves

Backpack Gem Lake Loop in Emigrant Wilderness

Yosemite / Crabtree Trailhead

The Gem Lake Loop is located in Emigrant Wilderness, which borders Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, and offers incredible views, smaller crowds, and diverse terrain.

Nancy Lappetito
5 Saves