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Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary

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Offline Ay Chihuahua!

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #45 on: July 22, 2008, 05:35:26 PM »
We....

We?  I thought this was a totally self-indulgent ... trip.  :eusa_think:

I went up Half Dome with two guys who I had met during a hail storm two days earlier, and we (and their father and uncle) got a campfire going to dry out since we were camped in adjacent areas along the shore of lower Sunrise Lake. It was otherwise a pretty solo experience.  :eusa_whistle:

I see.   :icon_frown:

My hope was that perhaps you had met a couple of blond-haired co-eds from Arizona State University, or something similar.  :icon_biggrin:

(Inside joke.)

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Yosemite Trip Report - Prelude
« Reply #46 on: July 22, 2008, 10:30:43 PM »
On the morning of Saturday, July 5, I told Chisos to be a good girl and jumped in a cab bound for the airport. My flight to Sacramento via D/FW was uneventful, save for the sobering views of the Northern Sierra mountains on fire as we descended into California's capitol city. A cab took me to the REI, which did not have the GPS maps I was looking for. Fortunately, I had loaded some waypoints into it before I left, and I always bring paper maps, albeit at a greater scale than I like to use. I picked up some supplies which I couldn't bring on the plane, such as solid stove fuel, and then I walked to a light-rail station a mile away. The train took me into downtown, and another train took me to the Amtrak station.

The San Joaquin train was on time, and I was off to Merced, one of the gateway towns for Yosemite. I walked 2 1/2 miles to the hotel -- practically the furthest hotel from the train station I could have picked -- and spent the evening hanging out with some fire fighters getting an R&R night. One told a harrowing story of a rescue in which they had to let the flames pass overhead.

The next morning, I had a cab take me back to the train station, where I caught a YARTS bus for Yosemite National Park. I finally made it, after five years of planning and two aborted trips, and marveled at the scenery out the windows before I was dropped off at Camp Curry, my home for the next two nights.

I stayed in a sweltering one-room cabin (without a bathroom), which didn't really cool down until just before sunrise. Fortunately, there was a fan, which sat on the heater and blew air across the bed. But this wasn't time for resting in a cabin -- it was time to explore. Well, first I grabbed a bite to eat at the pizza patio, then I caught the Yosemite Valley shuttle bus to Yosemite Village and walked to the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead. A short, fairly level hike leads to a viewing platform, bridge, and giant rockpile at the base of the falls. People were crawling all over the rocks, and I was soon among them.

Despite it being late in the waterfall season, there was still a fair amount of water rushing over the falls, which are 320 feet high. The upper fall was reduced to wispy curtains of water, a far cry from its peak flow, but impressive nonetheless. The middle cascades were hidden from view. Altogether, Yosemite Fall is 2,425 feet high, one of the 5-10 tallest waterfalls in the world depending on what list you're reading.



I spent over an hour at the lower falls area before beginning a meandering ramble back to Camp Curry. I criss-crossed the Merced River over a series of bridges and paths, catching nice views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome as I went. I also passed through Housekeeping Camp, a rollicking party of a campground which looked more like the infield of an NASCAR race than a place to enjoy nature. I caught a nice sunset through the haze of agricultural dust and wildfire smoke before enjoying the buffet at Camp Curry.

After an uncomfortable night, I was off to the Wilderness Center to pick up my permit for the next day's backpacking trip. I had reserved it months ago, fortunately, and I was among the first group of folks who got the spiel and were given permits that morning. From there, I hustled over to Yosemite Lodge to catch my shuttle bus to Glacier Point. After picking up my previously reserved tickets for that day and the next, I ran over to the food court for a quick hot breakfast. In the ensuing scramble, I managed to leave my trekking pole at the cash register. Too late! I had to get on the bus.

At Glacier Point, I chugged some water and bought another trekking pole. It was basically a varnished broom handle with a leather cord strap and the word "YOSEMITE" burned into it, but it was cheap. It was 8.5 miles and a net loss of 3,200 feet of elevation back to the Valley, so even a broom handle was better than no trekking pole at all, despite the bad blister it put on my left hand.



The views from Glacier Point are incredible. Yosemite Valley wraps around the base of the point, and Yosemite Falls looks like a pair of ribbons hanging from a distant cliff. Most of the Valley's iconic landmarks are visible from the point. After soaking in the views, I headed for the Panorama Trail and began the descent back to the Valley. This was my warm-up hike. The views along the Panorama Trail are amazing. Half Dome shows its sheer profile, its summit hanging precariously over empty space like a great nose, its mighty shoulders, tree-clad and steep, crash down to the valley below. From the trailhead, one can see straight up Tenaya Canyon, bounded on the right by Half Dome and Clouds Rest behind it, and Mount Watkins to the left. Nevada and Vernal Falls look positively puny from that lofty perch, and Liberty Cap appears as a gumdrop.



The trail swings away from the valley to cross Illilouette Creek, and it provides the only good vantage point to see Illilouette Fall when it's not at peak flow (at which time, it's visible from the Mist Trail). Following a steep but brief climb out of Illilouette Gorge, the trail continues to swing closer to Half Dome, which begins to resemble a giant loaf of sourdough bread, its sheer edges replaced by a vast hump. Liberty Cap also grows in size, revealing itself to be a massive conical dome, which would be more impressive but for its proximity to Half Dome.



The thundering sound of Nevada Fall accompanies the hiker for the last mile or so, when a sharp descent leads to the John Muir Trail and a bridge across the Merced River at the fall's brink. From the opposite bank, it's possible to gain several vantage points of the top of the falls and even sit beside the rushing water. Some folks were wading in a pool just yards upstream from the falls -- unwise, to be sure -- while a cadre of resident squirrels were begging for, and receiving, handouts from children. The Muir Trail provides even better views of Liberty Cap and its friends.

From the Muir Trail, a cutover trail leads to the Mist Trail, which descends alongside Vernal Fall and the swirling mist it creates. The Mist Trail is essentially a staircase -- a crowded one at that -- which I would not recommend taking a full pack down. The stairs along the 100 yards or so of mist are slick, though the mist is certainly refreshing on a hot day.



From there, the trail rejoins the John Muir Trail at a bridge across the river, providing one last glimpse at Vernal Fall. The trail follows the river downstream to Happy Isles, the appropriately named trailhead (Hikers are happy to see the isles.) which brought me to the end of the warm-up hike.

I took a shuttle bus back to Camp Curry, where I took a shower in the gross stalls by the swimming pool, hung out by the pool awhile, and caught another buffet dinner at the camp diner. I was going to watch the ranger program that evening, but it was a movie about the history of one of the park's hotels, not exactly what I had in mind. I retired to my hot cabin and got my backpack prepped for the next morning, when the grand adventure would officially begin.

To be continued.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline Al

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #47 on: July 22, 2008, 11:28:19 PM »
Sounds like many lessons learned but all things considered things are going well.  An incredible place! 
Thanks,
Al

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #48 on: July 26, 2008, 06:53:37 PM »
The hiker's shuttle picked me up from Camp Curry promptly at 8 a.m. before making a couple of other stops in Yosemite Valley. Before long, we were headed out of the valley for the Tioga Road. It was bound for Tuolumne Meadows, but I got off at the Porcupine Creek trailhead. I was the only person who got off there, and only a couple of other cars were in the parking area. It was almost a quarter after 10 before I started hiking -- a very late start indeed -- and the temperature was already pushing 80 degrees.



The trail follows an old road for about three quarters of a mile before the road disappears and instead a path through the forest takes over. In Yosemite, there is an immenseness of scale even in ordinary places. Old pine trees soared above the others, seemingly hundreds of feet high, and big enough around that it would take four or more people to embrace them fully. There is also evidence of fire everywhere. Periodically the trail passes through ghost forests of tall, dead, blackened trees, where grasses, wildflowers, and young trees thrive. Lupine were especially numerous, and beautiful, glowing purple and indigo in the sun-splashed portions of the forest.

Granite boulders are strewn about randomly as well, becoming more numerous as the trail approaches North Dome, part of the northern wall of Yosemite Valley. The trail stays mostly level, gently falling and then rising, until it reaches Indian Ridge. There's a side trail which leads up to a natural arch, but I decided not to take it. My late start made side-trips a luxury. Because of camping restrictions near the valley, I would need to hike nearly 11 miles, so the side trip wasn't happening.

The forest gradually began to open up, providing some tantalizing glimpses of what was to come. There was a confusing stretch of trail near one of the better viewpoints, and I wound up backtracking a bit to relocate the trail. After another hour, I'd reached a high granite saddle overlooking the bald head of North Dome. Mighty Clouds Rest and Half Dome rose to the left. The high cliffs cradling Yosemite Falls were to the right. Glacier Point and the Panorama cliffs were straight ahead, and Illilouette Gorge and its reclusive waterfall could be seen directly across from North Dome.



I paused for lunch -- well, an Odwalla bar and water, on this high saddle, debating whether to make the mile round-trip hike to North Dome, one of the trip's primary destinations. I was already tired, and I knew I had at least 5 more miles to hike, and the clouds were gathering ominously. As time marched on, my resolve steeled, and I charged down the steep trail with just my camera. Unburdened from the pack, I made pretty good time and bolted up the summit trail to see the incredible views.

Clouds Rest and Half Dome are an unbroken mass of granite thrown up toward the sky from deep Tenaya Canyon. Half Dome is at its most imposing and dramatic from North Dome, it's sheer stained face staring directly at you. Its summit nose looks virtually impossible to reach as the cable route is hidden from view. In nine (actually eight -- plans changed) days, I'll be standing on top it, I thought to myself. In the distance rose the peaks of the Sierra crest, some snow still clinging to their northern faces. What a view! Very much worth the effort.



It was now well passed 2 o'clock, and I had more than 6 miles to go if I stuck to the plan. I had left my pack conveniently near the trail junction, so I was soon following the north rim of Yosemite Valley to Yosemite Creek. I got water from Royal Arch Creek, and I was pleased that the SteriPen worked. I had been holding my breath -- a similar model failed in Big Bend earlier this year.

The trail swings away from the valley to cross Indian Canyon Creek, and the net loss in elevation from the trailhead was now 1,000 feet. I would drop another 500 feet or so to reach the banks of Yosemite Creek. It was thundering in the distance. I picked up my pace. By 4:15, as I neared Yosemite Point, it began to rain, and the normally spectacular views of the Valley's granite monuments were obscured by mist and clouds.

Half Dome's beaked summit peeks up over the surrounding highlands, and North Dome's bald head sits across the valley to its left. The jagged summit of Clouds Rest is visible above North Dome, while the coming storm gathers strength beyond the Sierra Crest. This day -- the first of 10 I'd spend backpacking -- marked a shift in the weather. A monsoonal flow was taking hold, meaning afternoon thunderstorms would become increasingly common. Lightning was already flashing all around, and I was still at least 2 miles short of my goal for the day.



Shortly thereafter, I ran into a couple who were standing under a lone, tall pine tree atop the highest granite ridge in a mile. They were watching the lightning draw closer, hoping -- if that's the right word -- to glimpse smoke from any wildfires it might start. I suggested they look for safer cover and left them to their fate. The trail descended rapidly to Yosemite Creek. A group of hikers had taken shelter in a creekside hollow, and I rode out a wave of heavy rain under some trees. Just after 6 p.m., I settled into a campside on a slight rise between Yosemite Creek and a small babbling creek running down from Eagle Peak.

My first night in the hammock was a pretty good one. It had been so hot in Texas this summer that I hadn't actually tried to fall asleep in it before. I was pretty tired after a 10.6-mile day -- about a mile short of my goal -- and already faced a decision as to how I wanted to proceed. The plan for the next day called for nearly 13 miles of hiking, the last of which would be a substantial climb over Ten Lakes Pass. Did I want to end my day like that, and did I want to risk being on the pass if the thunderstorms returned? I did not, though I would put off the decision until morning, when I'd undoubtedly feel better.

In fact, I was so tired that I failed to eat my Mountain House meal for the day, so I woke up hungry and a little stiff in the legs. I got off to a slow start and didn't break camp until a little after 8 a.m., which didn't bode well for going on to Ten Lakes. I decided to cut that portion of the itinerary out and instead use the extra day for a more leisurely exploration of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.

The Yosemite Creek Trail follows the creek upstream for a couple of miles on its way back to the Tioga Road. The creek has cut a V-shaped canyon out of mostly sheer granite. It rushes and tumbles in places, and sits in placid pools in others. Wildflowers -- mostly Indian paintbrushes -- bloomed among the cracks in the granite.



I got water a little after noon, nearly 5 miles into the day's journey, and was at the old Tioga Road (now a road to an established campground) in another hour. In a while, I had reached the Tioga Road itself, the roar of traffic giving it away as I approached. It was nearly 2 o'clock, and I was hungry. It was less than a mile to Lukens Lake, so I decided I would stop and eat there. The trail climbs over a ridge, topping out a little over 8,300 feet, which was 1,500 or so feet higher than my campsite. From there, the trail descends to the lake, which sits at the north end of a large, marshy meadow ablaze with wildflowers.

I found some rocks on the lake's northern shore which I turned into my kitchen. I got water from the lake, and, lo and behold, my SteriPen failed. It would work intermittently for a few more days, forcing me to use my backup water treatment, iodine pills. These stain my water containers and impart a not-so-fresh flavor to the water. And they take 30 minutes to take full effect, where the SteriPen takes 90 seconds. The delay in getting water ready left me at the lake longer than I'd planned, and I didn't hit the trail again until nearly 4 p.m. (as the clouds were gathering overhead). It was nonetheless a pleasant place to stop for lunch, except for the hikers who believed an appropriate activity was to scream as loudly as possible, as blood-curdlingly as possible.



From Lukens Lake, the trail leads to a junction with a major trail to White Wolf, a semi-developed area with a series of tent-cabins and a restaurant for its guests. I decided not to go there, and instead pressed on toward the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. There was some distant thunder and dark clouds overhead, but no rain. Still, I was getting tired. The trail passed through an especially eerie ghost forest, part of a significant recent forest fire. I decided to exit the trail when I saw a high shelf strewn with boulders to the right. After some wandering, I found a satisfactory place to tie up and set up a dry camp. It was after 7 p.m., and I didn't even make it until sunset.

I'd seen glimpses of the Grand Canyon through the trees, but the real treasures would not start revealing themselves until morning.

To be continued.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline bdhawk133

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #49 on: July 26, 2008, 08:37:18 PM »
This is great..... Anyone care for some kettlecorn?  :cool-thumb:
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http://hawkinshaus.blogspot.com/

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Offline SA Bill

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #50 on: July 26, 2008, 09:10:48 PM »
Get me a beer while you're up bd!

This is a great report Jeff! That scenery is magnificent!! Can't wait for the next installment!
   Bill
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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #51 on: July 26, 2008, 11:26:06 PM »
Make that 2 cervezas BD, please.

 Jeff, how did Garmin 60 CSx worked?
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline TheWildWestGuy

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #52 on: July 27, 2008, 11:10:44 AM »
Thanks for posting this Jeff - I want to go!   Sounds like the adventure of a lifetime and all brand new.  It's been too long since I have seen whitewater streams filled with trout and hiked on trails with alpine flowers.  Texas has a lot to offer but not everything.. TWWG

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BigBendHiker

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #53 on: July 27, 2008, 11:41:16 AM »
Hi Jeff!
Great pictures and trip report thus far.  Thanks!


BBH

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #54 on: July 27, 2008, 02:26:29 PM »
Thanks for the good comments -- the story and photos will only get better. We haven't gotten to the life-threatening part yet!

Thanks for posting this Jeff - I want to go!   Sounds like the adventure of a lifetime and all brand new.  It's been too long since I have seen whitewater streams filled with trout and hiked on trails with alpine flowers.  Texas has a lot to offer but not everything.. TWWG

Very true TWWG. Every step was a new one. It was also nice that the most water I carried at any point was 1 gallon, and that was to make a dry camp beneath Half Dome. I carried that water just 3/4 of a mile! Otherwise I usually topped out at 2 liters. I got some funny reactions when I told folks I was going to camp just off the Half Dome trail. "There's no water there," was their first thought, every one of them.

Jeff, how did Garmin 60 CSx worked?

Disappointing. The unit worked great in the field in terms of telling me where I was. It obtained signals pretty quickly and held on to them, except for a couple of stretches in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and in Yosemite Valley. Unfortunately, it did not accurately record time stamps on my saved tracks -- every breadcrumb it recorded occurred at 12/30/89 at 6 p.m.  :eusa_doh: -- so I can't know for sure where my photos were taken unless I created a waypoint. I also did not have any maps for it, though I managed to upload some waypoints, which were helpful. The REI in Sacramento was sold out, and they weren't carried anywhere else I could get to. I clearly could have gotten by with a less expensive, non-mapping model, although the convenience of the buttons and functions on the 60CSx are far superior to those less-expensive, non-mapping models.

My other piece of gear that performed miserably was my SteriPen. Some may recall that a similar model failed me on the Marufo Vega hike earlier this year. I exchanged it at REI for a new one, and it failed on the second day. It worked intermittently for several more days, then died for good. Back to filter/pumps for me. Anyone know how to get iodine stains out of Platypus bags?
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Yosemite - Entering the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne
« Reply #55 on: July 27, 2008, 02:31:06 PM »


This gorgeous sunrise, as viewed from my second night's campsite, made it clear I was in for a grand day. Day three of my backpacking trek would see me enter the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (pronounced TWALL-oh-me) and a prolonged period of radio silence. I had been Twittering from the trail and posting a few cell-phone camera photos via Flickr, but there would be no signal until I reached Tuolumne Meadows several days later.

I caught glimpses of the far side of the canyon through the trees. It was a hazy morning. Smoke from fires near and far, combined with agricultural dust and other central valley pollutants was going to rob me of some of views. The glorious vistas may be compromised, but the waterfalls will still be spectacular. I began my descent around 7:15 a.m. from my off-trail campsite at about 7,950 feet. The trail would drop all the way down to below 4,100 feet in about 8 miles of walking.

First I had to leave the forest which had hemmed in my hiking and views for most of the last two days. The trail descended steadily via a series of taut switchbacks down from my campsite, passing an unseen trail junction leading to Harden Lake, before continuing over a slight rise and then down sharply again.

A swift mile into the hike brought me to a thrilling viewpoint. A giant fallen pine added to the drama of discovery. This canyon would be my hiking home for the next three nights.



This view is downstream, toward the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco's drinking water and John Muir's broken heart. I thought I would be able to glimpse a finger of the reservoir from the trail, but I did not. There is a high point beside the trail a little lower down that probably offers such a view, but I did not see an easy way up (and definitely not one down), so I didn't bother. I would be headed upstream from Pate Valley, still more than 6 miles away, and there would be another 21 before returning to civilization at Tuolumne Meadows.

As the trail approached Morrison Creek, the pine forest turned into a jungle. Humidity levels rose to a sweltering level, and the bugs, noticeably absent so far, were wheeling and buzzing in great hordes. The air was as thick as the flora was lush, and all of it was dark and closed in. The only plus was the mad tumbling of the unseen creek, which was beginning its long crash into the Tuolumne. After about half an hour, the jungle gave way to steep open slopes, and the trail began to switchback down in earnest, dropping about 750 quick feet.



The viewpoint seen here, looking up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, is now fully immersed in the haze. I can only imagine how spectacular this would've been on a clear day. Yet, it wasn't a day to quibble over such details. What waited at the bottom of the canyon was worth the pinched in views above. Discovery is not just about the grand and vast. Discovery is also about the small and the unexpected, and I found an unexpected grotto and waterfall where the trail crossed Morrison Creek for the only time. In this small space I spent a good half hour, filtering water (the SteriPen decided to work that morning) and enjoying the spot. A hot descent awaited, and in a spot like this, it can wait a little longer.



While I lingered there, a group of backpackers were coming up the trail from Pate Valley. I told them this was the best spot to refill water bottles. The few other creek viewpoints offer precarious access to water at best. Looking at their faces, I knew I had made the right decision to descend here and spend three days regaining the elevation, rather than leisurely lose it and gain it all back over a few steep miles.

The trail continued its steady descent, swinging away from Morrison Creek, and gradually offering distant glimpses of Pate Valley and the Tuolumne River, whose rapids were slowly overtaking Morrison Creek's tumbles as the primary sound. The immediate goal for the trail is a dome-like outcropping, over which the trail passes before making the final push for the canyon bottom.

After about 6 miles of hiking, the trail finally reached the canyon bottom and saw the Tuolumne River up close.



The trail cruelly offers few, fleeting glimpses of the Tuolumne River as it mostly stays away from its banks for nearly 2 miles before it rejoins the river via a couple of footbridges. Those bridges mark Pate Valley proper, and for most hikers, represent camp. I reached the bridges around 1:30 p.m., stopping for lunch and water just upstream from them. I wanted to press on a few miles further, since Pate Valley was a popular with not only campers but also foraging bears. The SteriPen failed again, forcing me to wait a half hour for water to be ready, so lunch was slowed. After the long descent, I didn't mind too much.

As the sun climbed and I dropped below the haze, the canyon seemed to clear a bit, and the views up toward the high cliffs, thousands of feet above, became sharper. The trail passed through open scrub forest and wound around huge boulders. Camping spots suddenly became fewer as the terrain became more vertical, and the valley gave way to topography more expected in a grand canyon.



Around 4 p.m., I began looking for a campsite in earnest. I found one about a half hour later, near a spot where the river slides rapidly over a granite chute into a large pool where I could get to water easily. Below the pool, the Tuolumne churns past several large boulders before tumbling over another series of dropoffs. The soundscape was magical, and so were the views. The sun sunk back into the haze, wrapping the canyon, the river, and the rocks in an ethereal glow before vanishing behind the canyon wall.



I settled in for the night shortly before the sun actually set, watching the light slowly fade from my hammock. It was a hot night -- relatively speaking -- and I frequently awoke. The heat reflector (actually, a car windshield reflector) was trapping too much heat between me and the hammock body. As the night cooled, I got more comfortable. The sound of what was likely a bear startled me, but it did not come into my campsite. It was probably looking for an easy drink of water. Every time I woke, I was soon lulled back to sleep by the rushing waters, probably the best natural sleep aid on earth.

To be contined.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline russco

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #56 on: July 27, 2008, 07:24:08 PM »
Love It! That last photo is fantastic! :eusa_clap:
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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Walking Among the Waterfalls
« Reply #57 on: July 27, 2008, 09:46:54 PM »


Just upstream from my night-three campsite, the Tuolumne River crashes over these boulders before sliding across a wide granite apron and into the deep pool where I got water. For about the next 10 miles, sights and sounds of the Tuolumne will be similar, if not more dramatic and spectacular. Except for the bypass of Muir Gorge, the river will be a constant hiking companion for the next couple of days.

The goal for today, my fourth on the trail, would be to camp just below Waterwheel Falls, the most famous of the named waterfalls up canyon. This would leave either a chip-shot to Glen Aulin, or a longer hike to Tuolumne Meadows (on a Saturday) where I might find a spot to camp. That decision would essentially settle the "extra day" which was created when I decided not to go up to the Ten Lakes Basin. It would either be an extra day in the canyon or an extra day in the high country. It would not be a decision I'd make today -- the 10 or so miles of gentle to steep climbing would be enough to deal with.

The climb began immediately. The trail zig-zagged up the canyon, rising a couple hundred feet over the thundering river. The haze seemed worse than the day before, and the low-angled sun seemed to have difficulty penetrating it. On the plus side, the trail stayed in the shade for much of the early climbing.



I saw very few people along this trail. I suppose those few who were in Pate Valley were heading up toward White Wolf, following the trail I descended. I would eventually be overtaken by a group of family and friends who were accompanied by 9-year-old Mason, a Scout and obviously quite a trooper. This was his greatest, longest, and most difficult backpack, and his face showed it. He would end up being more chipper later, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

After 3 miles, I had gained a net 500 or so feet. The rolling trail wandered away from the river off and on, passing through forests of pine, oak, and other lower elevation trees (think scrub) and by dozens of jumbled piles of boulders, each providing a hiding hole for some forest beastie. With the eerie light of the morning haze, one's imagination could run wild, fathoming what horrors lurked in the shadows along the trail.

The trail found its way back to the river's edge, skirting it for some distance before the river veered away. Upstream, the Tuolumne passes through dark, wild Muir Gorge, a place where no trail leads. It can be seen from one small stretch of the trail as a steep-sided chasm, made more mysterious by the persistent haze and low sun. A collection of waterfalls pours from its mouth as though the river were jubilant in its exit from an oppressive prison.



The trail climbs nearly 1,000 feet from this viewpoint over the next mile and a half, the bulk of which occurs in a scant third of a mile as it bypasses Muir Gorge. But first it winds across a smaller side canyon cut by Register Creek. A pleasant grotto features a surprisingly vibrant waterfall -- which I dubbed Surprise Waterfall -- and deep pool of clear, cold water. The natural air conditioning from the waterfall, even a little spray, and the shade from the cliff made this a delightful place to stop and rest.



It was here that I encountered two athletic guys, both going in the same direction I was. They also stopped for water but headed on, wanting to get the climb around Muir Gorge completed before the sun got too high. In between them and the arrival of the rest of their party, I explored the waterfall grotto, got water, had a trail bar, and relaxed for more than half an hour. The other group came up, some carrying very heavy-looking packs, and I told them the other two had gone on to the trail summit. I departed, determined to reach the top before the 9-year-old and his pack-weary father.

The goal was rather simple. Climb up the steep ridge to just underneath a tall, lonely pine tree. I rather surprised myself, bolting up the numerous switchbacks in just over half an hour. It helped that they were mostly in the shade. The trail topped out at just over 5,900 feet, about 1,400 feet higher than I started that morning. I met the two athletic guys, and we sat in the minimal amount of shade under some brush. The rest of their party followed, and we hiked down the other side together after they rested a bit. We saw a rattlesnake by the trail, the first of several snakes I'd see over the next few days (though the only poisonous one).



We parted company when they reached their chosen campsite, and I continued on along the increasingly open granite slopes beside the rushing river and its numerous cascades and falls. The immense scale of things in Yosemite is greatly apparent in this portion of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne. Boulders are the size of houses. The fact that they crashed down from the surrounding cliffs, themselves well over 2,000 feet above the river, creates a disquieting sense that another will join them at any second. The river itself is dozens of feet wide. Trees are at least 100 feet tall. The pine cones they drop are bigger than my hat.

Add the shroud of haze and some high clouds, and the whole scene seems taken from Middle Earth, not taken at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on a Friday last month.



Finding a camping space proved difficult. I reached Return Creek, knowing there would be good sites there. Someone had placed his tiny tent in a large site, the only one with trees I could reasonably tie up to. I searched for over an hour, including an ill-advised off-trail scramble that left me exhausted and cut up. The trail got steeper upstream from Return Creek, and I passed up and down it several times, hoping to spy something. I knew if I headed on toward Waterwheel Falls, which was less than a mile away, my chances of finding a spot would thin. Eventually, I found a spot near a place where the river crashes over boulders, and a rock outcrop offers both access to the water and a nice view of the raging river.

This ended up being one of my better night's sleep, probably because of all the energy I spent searching for a camping spot and hiking 10.8 miles. However, I didn't feel refreshed in the morning. In fact, my legs felt like lead. This day would be a short one, distance-wise, but I would still gain 1,500 feet of elevation on my way to Glen Aulin. If I liked the backpackers' camp, I would stay there. I needed this fifth day of hiking to be more relaxing than the previous days' efforts.



Since I wasn't camped too far below it, Waterwheel Falls was the first of the day's many impressive waterfalls. Along this granite flat, the waters of the Tuolumne River are shot into the air in a series of arcs resembling -- much more so at higher spring flows -- a spinning wheel. The photo does not do it justice. It is significantly larger and more awesome than it appears. Part of the problem is the lousy camera angle. Had I not just started my trekking for the day, I probably would have taken off the pack and ventured down the rocks a bit to find a better spot. Waterwheel Falls is the lowest of the named falls in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.

After 500 feet of total elevation gain and about 1.25 miles from camp, I next encountered Le Conte Falls, which features a long sliding cascade and then a steeper drop peppered with waterwheel-like sprays. Many people hiking from Glen Aulin or Tuolumne Meadows mistake it for Waterwheel Falls, and it's not hard to.



As the trail continues climbing, it passes a number of other smaller cascades, flumes, falls, chutes, and aprons. Each one marks another climb in the trail, and it keeps on climbing until it finally reaches a level area called Glen Aulin ("beautiful valley"). There, magically, the river goes quiet, serene, still, resembling a lake. It's twists and turns are broader, weaving gently in and out of forests and meadows. Wildflowers were in full bloom, covering the open spaces all the way to the canyon walls.

Lupine was especially prevalent, blooming a light purple in the splashes of sunshine. A forest fire had blown through this area, clearing the landscape for blooming plants and young trees. It also opened vistas of the surrounding mountains, such as Wildcat Point, seen here.



By noon, I had reached the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. Unlike virtually everything else in Yosemite, the backpackers' camp does not take reservations. There is no fee to camp there. There are designated sites, but some of the signs are missing, and there's an open feel to the place. My dead legs were done, save for some exploring around the camp, particularly its striking waterfall and pool. I set up camp and napped in my hammock for awhile. Then it was time to explore.

To be continued.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2008, 10:05:56 PM by jeffblaylock »
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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chisos_muse

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Re: Yosemite in July - 10-day Backpack Itinerary
« Reply #58 on: July 28, 2008, 07:50:09 AM »
Incredible writing and photos, Jeff......one of the few things in my life that I can deem as a "given". (if you are writing and shooting).  :icon_cool: I'm really enjoying this ride!

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Offline jeffblaylock

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  • Mountain Lion
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  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Glen Aulin to Cathedral Lakes
« Reply #59 on: July 28, 2008, 11:35:47 PM »
Glen Aulin (pronounced like the name Alan) turned out to be one of my favorite places during the trip. The High Sierra Camp (HSC), a collection of white tent-cabins surrounding a central dining area and store, is one of five in the park. Behind it lies the backpackers' camp, a collection of cleared areas in the trees running between some low cliffs and Conness Creek, which feeds into the Tuolumne near the bridge into the camping area.



Here beside the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, the White Cascade of the Tuolumne River plunges the final 50 feet into a deep, swirling splash pool. A rocky beach lines the pool's north shore, beside the camp, and a jumble of boulders, wet with the fall's spray, creates a scramble along the southern shore to the curtain of water. The cold water beckons weary hikers, while the water's roar drowns out almost all other sounds. The only thing louder was the sound of a rescue helicopter's engine and its blades slicing through the air. A search-and-rescue ended well as I arrived. This particular view, from the rocky beach, is right before the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall, as its last rays kissed the falls goodnight.

Let's back up a moment. I chose a campsite a little after noon and got set up. After eating lunch -- and swatting all manner of ants -- on the rocky beach, I waded out into the pool. COLD! I expected it to be cold, but not that cold. Needle-cold. Almost burning cold. I splashed some water through my nappy hair and quickly retreated to the warm rocks, my pack towel, and some angry ants. I crossed the main trail bridge to the other shore and hopped my way across the boulders, drawing ever closer to the falls. I found a spot close to the spray, where the sun was shining and I could sit and enjoy, or even stand and celebrate this incredible place. Happiness is a gorgeous waterfall.



Following my exploration of the rocks and falls, I brought some water back to do some laundry. About that time, the sun disappeared behind some ominous dark clouds, and thunder cracked like a fast heartbeat. The monsoonal flow had settled in, and it appeared we would be getting drenched. I ditched the laundry idea and instead gathered everything under the hammock's canopy. I doubted it would effectively protect everything if it rained hard, but I nonetheless crawled into the hammock and napped. A few drops fell, but mostly the thunder rumbled unfulfilled (at least where I was).

Upon reflection, I knew it had clouded up each of the last couple of afternoons only to break about an hour before sunset. There may have been thunder before, but I was so close to the rushing river that I might have missed it. This weather pattern, and my own tired legs, made me question whether the 12-mile days and 10,000-foot passes ahead were wise. As the skies cleared and I ventured out to watch the sunset, I thought about rerouting my hike to ensure I wouldn't be searching for campsites at 6 or 7 p.m. My brain kept focusing on that first afternoon, dodging the lightning and ducking the rain while trying to get to Yosemite Creek. I did not want to repeat that experience.



Meanwhile, the sunset was beyond spectacular, and my mind's wheels, churning as they were over alternate routes, slowed to ponder this glorious sights and sounds of this remarkable place, in this singular moment. Not much I can add to what's here, save to say that this was the sunset, as viewed from a perch just west of the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. The haze and clouds, the cliffs and the water, together they made for a sunset far more beautiful and radiant than this photo conveys. There were only a handful of moments where I wished I had lugged the EOS and all its lenses instead of the compact, lightweight Powershot G9, and this was one of them.

Despite the relatively crowded nature of the camp, I slept quite well, finally, on the fifth night, finding the hammock's sweet spot. It was a cool night at nearly 8,000 feet. For the first time, I had to zip the sleeping bag up all the way to keep warm.

The next day (Sunday, my sixth on the trail) would begin with a steep climb and then a long, level ramble into Tuolumne Meadows. I got off to an early start, departing camp around 6:45 a.m. The GPS didn't find a clear signal for almost a mile. I had gained about 250 feet and wandered by the upper portions of White Cascade, even visiting the brink of Glen Aulin Falls. In the background, one of the HSC's tent cabins is visible through the trees.



The trail passes several waterfalls as it continues to climb up the canyon, weaving in and out of forest, meadow, and open granite. Finally, a last roaring cascade marks the end (the beginning, from the river's perspective) of the long tumble toward Pate Valley. Beyond the brink, the Tuolumne River is placid, calm, and, though moving with urgency, still-looking.  And quiet.

After being in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and wandering alongside a rushing river for three days, it was surprising to see distant mountains, so clearly, and to see water so still, and spaces so open, so sunny, and so crisply. This photo was taken just west of the braided crossings of (dry) Dingley Creek, where the river runs south to north, affording the wonderful reflections of the mountains in the morning.



As best as I can tell, the peaks are (L-R): Unicorn Peak, the Cockscomb, Matthes Crest, Echo Peaks, Cathedral Peak, and Fairview Dome. Pothole Dome is squatting down in front. Cathedral Peak -- specifically the upper lake in the shadow of its crown -- would be my ultimate destination for the day. In the short term, all I could think about was getting a hamburger at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill.

I made good time trekking across the level meadow, admiring views of distant mountains, majestic granite domes, pretty trees and meadows, deer browsing, and the meandering river. I reached civilization, via a confusing series of trail junctions, around 10:45. Unfortunately, the grill did not begin serving lunch until 11:30, and they finally took my order close to 11:40. In the meantime, I bought some additional provisions, emptied out the bear cannister of trash and uneaten trail food, and camped out at a picnic table beside the Tioga Road. When will I learn that I simply don't eat on the trail? The hamburger wasn't anywhere near as good as it was in my head all morning. In my haste to catch the shuttle bus to the Cathedral Lake trailhead -- saving almost 1.5 miles of walking -- I left my trekking pole behind, for the second time.

I began my ascent at 12:15 p.m. and immediately began looking for a walking stick. Since it was a popular trail, they were predictably absent. I labored up the switchbacks, realizing how much I use a trekking pole to help with climbing. I finally found a short pine branch which worked for the uphill sections. I soon passed the only remaining snow I saw up close and was startled when a huge slab of it broke off and crashed down the granite it had clung to. The sky was filled with cotton puffs of white clouds.

I broke my too-small hiking stick tapping it on a log I was planning on sitting on. About 45 minutes later, I found the perfect stick leaned up against a fallen tree. Someone obviously left it behind and was no doubt wishing he hadn't. My eyes, finally done casting about the ground and fallen wood searching for a suitable stick, now looked up, above the trees, and saw the darkening skies.



The craggy summit of Cathedral Peak appears as a lone jagged spike from this portion of the Cathedral Lakes Trail, as foreboding as the thunder rumbling low and loud and the bristling lightning shooting over the not-too-distant Sierra crest. The air was deathly still. I had not yet made it to where I could camp, and I quickened my pace, bypassing scenic lower Cathedral Lake (where I also could not camp) and made a hasty scramble over the 9,600-foot-high saddle between Cathedral and Tressider Peaks.

It took 2 hours and 45 minutes to reach the upper Cathedral Lake from the Tioga Road. The lake sits in a broad basin, 9,585 feet above sea level (and more than a mile above Pate Valley, where this climb began four days ago), just north of Cathedral Pass. A bank of trees sits on a slight hill to the left, just below Tressider Peak. I make a quick line for them and pick the first two trees I can tie up between. The GPS records the time as 3:03 p.m. The thermometer on the back of my pack says it's 64 degrees.

In the still air, the mosquitoes descend upon me. I slather Deet on my hands and face to keep them at bay while I clumsily get my hammock and tarp out. The mosquitoes vanish, not because of the chemicals. I get the hammock, still in its snake skins, lashed to the trees. I clip the tarp to one side, then the other. I attach the first guy line to a stake in the ground.

What happened next can charitably be described as rising above a difficult situation. Another description is a disaster narrowly averted. It could just as easily be called a survival situation.

To be continued.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

 


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