Sierra Point Trail

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanOctober 26, 2012 

Would you be interested in hiking a Yosemite trail that has been abandoned for over 40 years? This forgotten steep trail is called the Sierra Point Trail located above Happy Isles on the southwest slope of Grizzly Peak and is the steepest trail in Yosemite Valley -- Which is probably the reason it was abandoned due to frequent rockslides. The trail is only .07 of a mile in length, but has an elevation gain of over 800 feet to an elevation of only 4,944 feet.

It was my hiking buddy Fred Cochran, who called my attention to this adventure. After some research we decided to test our skills to relocate a forgotten part of Yosemite's history.

We started by hiking the paved Nevada Falls pathway to the start of the John Muir Trail. We hiked past the large sign that lists the various distances to Yosemite landmarks. At the second sign that reads "Rock Piles," we doubled back 20 yards to a huge 12-foot high boulder and started scrambling upward over the rocks. Now to look for water ducts that will lead us to the abandoned trail.

Soon the boulder field narrowed and at this point we hiked to the right and found the original trail. This trail will switch back and forth until reaching a steep granite wall. This is one of two areas that hand holds are necessary.

Some of the steep areas are easier with layered stones stacked into stairs or steps. Anyone in good health can make the climb, but if you have a real fear of heights you may not accept the challenge due to some open areas at the middle and upper portions of the trail. Remember this trail has not been maintained for more than 40 years. So take your time ... the rewards at the top are worth the struggle.

During the late 1800s early explorers were looking for an area that would view all five major waterfalls. On June 14, 1897 Charles A. Bailey and a friend located the area called Sierra Point by triangulation. This process is achieved by lining up three central points to locate any given area on a map. From this location one can view all five falls, Upper and Lower Yosemite, Illilouette, Vernal and Nevada Falls.

Glacier Point rises almost 2,000 feet to the west. Panorama Point and Panorama Cliffs also rise up from the ragged canyon below. Next to Nevada Fall the towering Liberty Cap boarders to the east. The name Sierra Point was originated in honor of the Sierra Club of California.

Another bit of history associated with Sierra Point is that in 1916 Ansel Adams at the age of 14 took his first trip into Yosemite Valley. He wrote a letter to his aunt in San Francisco and stated he climbed to Sierra Point and took 30 pictures with his new Kodak Brownie, his first camera. Maybe these first pictures inspired him to keep returning to Yosemite National Park. Are we now standing on the same spot that inspired Ansel Adams many years ago?

A few days after we returned Fred convinced his wife Peggy to hike this forgotten trail. One afternoon I received a phone call from Peggy in which she stated "I'm standing on Sierra Point, the trail was very difficult and I swear I'll never believe a word spoken by Fred concerning a 'moderate' hiking trail." But she soon forgave him once they arrived at the point sharing those panoramic views.

Yosemite Valley has many hidden or forgotten trails. If you are searching for something different away from the crowds, try Sierra Point. Even though this hike is classified as a class two, there are a couple of areas that hand holds are required.

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