July 18-21, 2011
Tuolumne Meadows to Ireland Lake (One Way): 11.4 Miles
Total Miles (Round Trip)Traveled Roughly: 25
After stumbling upon this forum about a week before a planned trip I decided to try and make my first trail report and share the conditions of the trails in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, CA. Our group of seven set off on July 18, 2011 to try the High Sierra Vogelsang Loop. The original plan was to start at Tuolumne Meadows and hike to Ireland Lake and set up camp for the first night, continue to Volgelsang Peak for night two, then back out the loop to Tuolumne Meadows to finish. We stayed in Crane Flat campground on the first night so that we could arrive at the trailhead in the early morning and hopefully acclimate a bit to the impending elevation change. After some delays we finally set off around noon towards Ireland Lake.
The view from Olmsted Point was breathtaking overlooking Teneya Lake and Tenaya Peak.
Starting off the path is a bit sandy and rocky. Day hikers walking along the roaring rapids and over the three foot-bridges were abundant. The crowds began to die down after the first mile and a half as the rocky sandy trail meanders between the trees. We kept a fast pace through a few short inclines on the mostly flat trail.
Soon the rocky walls and dense tree's opened up to large, blooming green meadows. Mosquito's began to make there first appearance; out comes the deet!
Out of nowhere the thin trail through the meadows became very muddy and wet and would remain this way for the remainder of the trail. Small flowing water crossings seemed to be every few hundred yards. Hopping over rocks and logs to stay dry was easy and the water was generally no more than ankle deep.
The trail eventually met with the river and we ran along in the same course. The water was freezing, though clear as crystal. Some small guppies could be seen swimming in lazy water pools.
Amelia Earhart Peak began to tease us as we followed the trail markings over the hard stone trail.
Near our first junction the roaring rapids were flowing with intense force. The speed of the water can't quite be realized until your standing at the shore.
Some friendly day hikers took our obligatory sign pose before we ate our salami, cheddar and crackers lunch.
As we began the switchbacks towards Vogelsang Peak and Ireland Lake we found our first patch of snow. Lots more water crossings appeared and though shallow, still were treacherous as the steep path could lead to a gnarly fall if you slipped or lost your balance. In no time, the trail was beginning to be covered in patches of hard packed snow. In just over a mile our group of seven had ascended over 1,000ft with very short and steep climb sections. As we climbed the steps of the trail towards 10,000ft elevation I forgot about taking pictures and got a mild case of altitude sickness. The fourth picture is a picture descending the steep terrain but it's still hard to grasp just how steep it was. These switchbacks were tough, a lot tougher then we expected, be prepared and pack light!
With the abundance of snow and setting sun we set up camp near the junction to Ireland lake or Vogelsang Peak. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos here due to nausea and drowsiness. Another camper did however and as soon as I get the pictures I'll link them or edit them into this post for the curious.
The next morning we decided to day hike to Ireland Lake and discuss our options for trail changes. The path quickly became completely covered in snow and we lost the trail a few times. Though warm, the breeze was chilling and the snow was a pain to navigate in trail runners; I knew I should've worn my waterproof boots! We ultimately decided to turn back and find camp back on lower ground.
In hindsight, we were glad we decided to make camp where we did, 1.3 miles from Ireland Lake. With our packs, and after the steep switchbacks, this steep snowy trail would have been a disaster especially with the setting sun. When we reached a dry meadow on the day hike all but two hikers decided to call it the end of the road. The final ascent to the lake was nearly straight up and completely covered in snow.
We left a few trail markers for our fellow hikers that went to the lake and for future hikers that may be trying to reach the lake in the snow; finding the trail in the snow pack was impossible and required a map and compass. Upon their return they informed us that it was a very wet, deep snow climb and that the lake was completely frozen over with no trail signs to be found.
We spotted our first two deer on the way back to camp. Look under the tall tree on the right if you can't see two; it's resting in the shade.
Packing up our camp quickly after a nice hot meal we figured out our trail alteration: camp near the river up a ways at the John Muir trail. Down the switchbacks we go, back to the junction.
Just feet after the junction there was a knee high water crossing with fast moving current.
A short trail to the right lead us to deeper water but a couple fallen tree's to balance over the water. We decided this was our detest path and with a tight ropers balance we slowly stepped across the surging rapids.
Looking back after crossing the log:
This section of the JMT was very wet and some sections had "Area Closed" signs posted.
Being next to the water this area was infested with mosquito's, even more so then the rest of the trail. We set up camp at a large meadow and got a fire going in short time to rid of us the pesky bugs. On the way we passed a fly fisherman and chatted with him a bit (Hey there Jeff!). We fished a bit at sundown as well but sadly didn't get a bite. The fly fisherman faired better luck catching quite a few small trout through the day. Two more doe's were also spotted before the sun set.
Camping nearby, the fly fisherman Jeff meandered over as we were cooking dinner and was around to witness our bear encounter. After setting up camp, we opened the bear canisters and lit the burners. A trash bag was behind us only a few feet when out of the darkness it began to move. When we turned our headlamps on the bag a full size black bear, cinnamon in color with an orange ear tag, had snatched the trash from camp and began running away as we hollered, blew whistles, and threw sticks in its direction. We couldn't believe the sneaky bear had the bravery to creep up just a few feet from us, and for a bunch of wrappers and used ziplocks for that matter! The incident scared us enough to move all our tents together and barely sleep through the night. Orange tag wandered by our camp again in the middle of the night, 20ft away and in the direction of our bear canisters. In the morning the canisters seemed untouched. Again, I missed out on pictures of camp.
Cheesy picture before we left the next morning, just a few feet from where we camped:
We hiked double time on the way out, anxious for our regular food stop in Groveland. Despite being sore from the switchbacks on the first day we made it back in no time. The water and mud levels had increased as did the amount of people hiking in. We chatted with many hoping to do our planned route and sadly told them of the full on snow covered trail. The only hiker that seemed undeterred was a ranger on his way to Vogelsang Peak.
Overall it was a fun trip with beautiful views. Hopefully the snow melts sometime soon, but I would definitely give a few more weeks before you try and reach Ireland Lake or Vogelsang Peak, unless you bring cramp-ons and a snow pick. I hope to come back to Tuolumne Meadows soon. It was my first time in the gorgeous part of Yosemite and I know it won't be my last!
And incase anyone needs to use the ATM at the gas station near Crane flat, tough luck: