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Yosemite's back-country camps ... now's time to reserve for summer.

Yosemite's back-country camps . . . now's time to reserve for summer

Drifting snow has covered the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite National Park; the tent foundations are empty and forlorn, the rock-walled dining rooms boarded up.

But unless spring thaw is late, at the end of June pack trains and helicopters will once again bring in new supplies, the canvas tents will be erected, woodstoves will be fired up, and blankets will go back on mattresses. Within days, the first of the summer hikers will be arriving, eating breakfast and dinner at rustic tables in the main tent, taking hot showers nearby. While summer is the time to enjoy, winter is the time to reserve. Savvy hikers get their requests in early.

Where the camps are. If you know Tioga Pass Road, the high trans-Yosemite road that closes in winter, you know Tuolumne Meadows, with its gas station, store, and "lodge.' Belying its name, the lodge is actually a village of tent cabins that can sleep up to 264 people and feed them in an often crowded dining tent.

The five back-country camps are similar, on a much smaller scale. Together with Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, they form a circuit of overnight way stations for summer hikers, about 7 to 12 miles apart. Their purpose: to open up the high back country to people who want to travel light and not camp on their own.

Here are the five, counterclockwise from Tuolumne Meadows:

1. Glen Aulin (7,800 feet): 32 beds; 7.6 miles from Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, at edge of Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, famous for its series of waterfalls. Popular; usually first to open.

2. May Lake (9,270 feet): 36 beds; 8.6 miles from Glen Aulin, but less than 1 1/2 miles from a trailhead near Tioga Pass Road. Situated beneath 10,850-foot Mount Hoffman (climb it for panoramic views).

3. Sunrise (9,400 feet): 34 beds; 8.3 miles from May Lake, 7.8 from Cathedral Lake trailhead on Tioga Pass Road. Overlooks John Muir Trail at edge of Long Meadow.

4. Merced Lake (7,150 feet ): 60 beds; 10 miles from Sunrise. Largest of the camps and only one allowing stay of longer than one week. Good fishing nearby.

5. Vogelsang (10,300 feet): 40 beds; 7.6 miles from Merced Lake; 7.2 miles from Tuolumne Meadows. High, spectacular, craggy country; fine hiking, climbing. fishing. Fills up quickly.

How to reserve. The high camps are operated by the Yosemite National Park concessionaire, Yosemite Park and Curry Company. Daily fee of about $50 per person includes a generous dinner on arrival, bed in a dormitory-style tent (sheets and blankets provided), and a hearty breakfast. Children pay full rate.

To reserve, write to YP&CC, 5410 E. Home Ave., Fresno, Calif. 93727, or call (209) 252-3013, asking for a reservation form. Return the form, stating number and sex of your group, preferred camp, and preferred dates (give alternatives if possible). Be as flexible as you can; for example, "two days at Glen Aulin, one at May Lake, two at Sunrise, in mid-July'. Give your daytime telephone number.

Starting December 3, envelopes will be opened and reservations booked--so the sooner your form is received, the better your chances. In January, the reservations office begins mailing out confirmations and asking for deposits. If none of the camp and date combinations you asked for are available, the YP&CC may call you, suggesting an alternative.

What if you wait? Even well into the season, some slots may still be open, and cancellations may open others. Last year YP&CC shifted its reservation office to Fresno, added more lines, and opened a new number specifically for camp reservations for better telephone access. After about mid-January, the person who answers can tell you what is still available.

If you plan to bring your own tent, you'll find good campsites near most of the camps; you can reserve a welcoming dinner and next-day breakfast for about $21. You can also reserve space on seven-day guided hikes that visit all camps (these are in high demand) as well as four- and six-day saddle trips to the high camps. Ask YP&CC for costs and details.

The rest of Yosemite. It's not too early to reserve summer rooms at the Yosemite Valley hostelries--The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village--and at Hotel Wawona; call (209) 252-4848.

For stays from mid-May through September, Valley campsites are reservable through Ticketron no more than eight weeks in advance of arrival. Campsites in the high country are on a first-come basis at all times.

Photo: As welcome as The Ritz at the end of a leg-wearying walk, Glen Aulin's tents await the day's arrivees. Each tent sleeps four. Dinners, hot and filling, are served nearby, with pitchers of coffee and hot chocolate

Photo: From Oakland, it's a good 5-hour drive to Tuolumne Meadows and the start of the high camp loop trail
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Date:Dec 1, 1984
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