Jeremy P. planned the trip to Yosemite and took care of all the administrative stuff, which includes getting a Wilderness Permit from the powers-that-be in the Park. This requires advance planning as permits are issued about six months in advance.
Jeremy's permit was for four people. The roster were all BPL'ers, including Jeremy, Jay, Cameron and me. I was a late addition to the program, I was lucky enough to take the place of someone else who had to bow out.
Our destination was a loop hike in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. The planned route followed this path (see Tom Harrison Maps, “Yosemite High Country”):
Trailhead: White Wolf 7875'
Day one: Pate Valley 11.4 miles 4380'
Day two: Glen Aulin 14.2 miles 7840'
Day three: Ten Lakes Pass 16.7 miles 9628'
Day four: White Wolf 8.3 miles 7875'
Not all of us completed the original itinerary, but more on that later.
The weather was great, but it's been a long and snowy winter in the Sierras this year, so we were unsure what the conditions would be like on the ground. We figured we would take what Yosemite gave us and stay flexible. When we arrived at the White Wolf Trailhead turnoff we discovered that they hadn't opened up the gates yet. We parked alongside Highway 120 and set out from there, the first mile or so of our hike on the paved road into the resort and the trailhead.
Once we got on the actual trail we moved along at a pretty good clip considering how much snow was on the ground. The trail rolls up and down for almost four miles then starts to drop to the right (East) to descend into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. And it drops fast. We lost 2600' feet in roughly four miles. It seemed like a lot to me. Cameron pointed out that we were essentially putting the brakes on for our skin-out weights with each step, over and over and over again.
As we dropped into the Canyon we were treated to outstanding views of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. When we arrived at the leading edge of the Pate Valley we joined up with the Tuolumne and it was BIG. Lots of water moving very fast. We continued along the river until reaching a nice, flat, roomy campsite just short of the bridge.
The evening routine was.......routine. Jeremy and I got in a game of dominoes.
We were up and moving early in the morning, crossing the Tuolumne via a bridge and starting up the Canyon itself. There is no good camping nearby on the far side of the river, at least not with this much water around.
It wasn't long before we came across a rather daunting obstacle. The Tuolumne was so high that it completely covered the trail, washing up against a granite wall. We had a choice, abandon the trip and retrace our steps back up to White Wolf or wade the river. There was really no discussion, we had a close look and sent Jay out into the river. He got through, so we all gave it a go. It was pretty sketchy. The footing was good, as the trail was made up of stones laid out like a roman highway, but the stones were under two feet of very fast moving water. While a slip was not likely, the consequences would be huge. I think we waded three more short stretches of river like this and several more easier segments.
This part of the hike was very slow as we negotiated the river. We had a snack on a granite ledge opposite Colby Mountain and Grand Mountain (peaks which I think will play a role in the second half of this story), then we arrived at the big climb just as the sun was really starting to beat down. There is an excellent campsite at the junction of Return Creek and the Tuolumne.
The climb was long, hot and difficult. In the morning I was hyper aware of snakes, this was prime rattler country. But in the afternoon I couldn't care less, “Bite me please, just make it quick!”. But the payoff for the all the work was in the view as we approached the end of the Canyon. Water Wheel, Leconte and California falls were all massive, just incredibly spectacular.
We arrived just short of Glen Aulin after about eleven hours on the trail and set up camp. I, for one, was completely spent. It's not that I just felt tired, I felt unwell. I broached the subject of bailing out on the remainder of the trip. There were options available for an easier way out and I was giving them serious consideration. The others made a game, low pressure effort to convince me to stick with it and I decided to delay a final decision until morning.
Way too tired for dominoes on this night.
In the morning we were up early again and underway by seven. I felt better and decided to try it out for a while. The trail out of Glen Aulin en route to Ten Lakes Pass starts out very mild for the first four miles or so. Even so, I was barely making it and was just trudging along one step at a time. It was becoming apparent to me that I wasn't going to make the day.
In the morning Jay had approached me and said “Hike your own hike. Do what works for you, don't worry about us at all.” He gave me “permission” to think for myself and make a decision that was best for me without feeling a self-imposed pressure to keep up or complete the trip. This was an immense help. I found his words very thoughtful and backcountry savvy.
You know how when you watch a good tennis player or skier and they make it look easy and effortless? That's Jay in the woods – 100% at home. That's not to take away from Cameron or Jeremy. Both are strong, accomplished backcountry walkers and excellent hiking partners.
At any rate, I ultimately decided to turn around just short of the junction with the trail leading up to Ten Lakes Pass. We decided I would return to Glen Aulin for the night, then exit to Tuolumne Meadows in the morning. The rest of the group would continue to Ten Lakes Pass, then on to White Wolf and meet me at the diner in Tuolumne Meadows.
The others have quite a story to tell about their adventure the rest of that day, night and the next day. Hopefully one of the guys will share here.
My story is more dull. I returned to Glen Aulin around noon and found a nice campsite in the woods just downstream from the High Sierra Camp. I rolled out my ridgerest pad and laid down for a second. Next thing you know, I was waking up from a nice nap. I had hours to kill before dark, so I set up a schedule. Gather firewood, mess around with my tarp, read, take some photos, eat dinner and dessert, make cocoa, hit the sack at 9:00. Glen Aulin is a beautiful place to camp, by the way, and easy to get to from Tuolumne Meadows. Not remote, but a great spot anyway.
In the morning I was feeling much better and hit the trail by 7:00 and was in Tuolumne Meadows by 10:00. I asked the first couple I saw where the diner was. They said “Oh, you mean the restaurant, it's closed”. I told them that was ok. I just needed to know where it was. “But it's closed”, they said. Ok, thanks a lot then. I walked over to the visitor center. I told the ranger there about the trail conditions in the Canyon and asked where the diner was. He said there was no diner, but the ranger working next to him interrupted and said, “You mean the grill? It's about a mile that way”. Ok...the grill it is then!
I made it over to the store next to the closed grill and gorged on a constant stream of junk food and enjoyed some excellent people watching. Lots of “dirt bag” PCT through hikers around, characters all. And I mean that in the best possible way. They were already lean and mean, tanned and lined and mailing home their ice axes.
The rest of the group showed up exactly on time at 2:00, we took off toward home, sharing stories the whole way.
This is a spectacular hike, even just the part I did. I had a great time, suffering and all, and experienced some great scenery.
White Wolf Resort, closed.
Alpinlite Strat I tarp, Katabatic Pinon bivy, GoLite Jam 2 pack in "Ben2Blue", Coors 24oz.
Jeremy is prepared for rain or wind, but not rain AND wind.
"So, what you do, Cameron, is you place your feet about shoulder width apart, put your hands on your knees and squat down. No problem."
"You want ME to go first?"
Glen Aulin Falls
Home Sweet Home
This guy came out and did some push-ups for me at breakfast. Show off. I don't know why he thought he was so cool, half his tail was missing.
Really cool natural sluice at Glen Aulin.
I guess they're not sure if this is the visitor center.