Yosemite, July 2005

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This year was the Variety Pack trip -- a little of everything. We covered terrain from 4300' to 10,800' in elevation, on rivers, lakes, and rocks. It was also our longest trip yet: seven days, 50-ish miles, and about 10,000' of elevation gain. And despite being a well-known route through the park, we saw surprisingly few people.

This was also the first year I brought a digital camera, which explains the large number of pictures displayed here!


Fresh and clean

Alex in the creek

A multiple exposure
using the close-ups

Day 1: White Wolf to Morrison Creek

After a great breakfast at PJ's Cafe in Groveland, we rented our bear cans and parked at White Wolf. The trail from there was easy and flat, through some beautiful meadows chock full of wildflowers. Eventually, it started down into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, dropping about 900' to our campsite along Morrison Creek. This was a very heavy snow year (the High Sierra Camps never opened), and there was plenty of water everywhere we went. The creek was gushing, lovely, and shaded.

Close-ups from the bottom of the creek

After a swim, we hiked up to the nearby ridge for some spectacular views of the canyon and the upper end of Hetch Hetchy.

Views from the ridge down into the Grand Canyon

Getting closer...
Finally the river!
A small lake we passed on the way down
Our lunch spot

Day 2: Morrison Creek to the Tuolumne River

From Morrison Creek, the trail descended steeply for another 2500' to the Tuolumne River. We felt sorry for the folks doing this loop in the other direction who faced a 3500' climb to White Wolf...

The river was fairly full and flowing quickly, and we soon found a beautiful grove of trees on the bank for our lunchtime swim. From there, the trail followed the river to Pate Valley and continued up the canyon. Parts of the trail were unpleasantly hot slogs through marshy fern banks, while others were shaded cathedral forests. The strangest parts were due to the exceptionally low elevation: oak and bay laurel forests that looked and smelled like Berkeley -- if you ignored the rushing river and 2000' granite cliffs! There were even isolated patches of poison oak.

After a few unexpected small climbs with our full packs, we were pretty tired and found a great campsite about two miles up from Pate Valley. This campsite was in the trees next to a very big pool at the bottom of a large cascade on the river. The water was so choppy from the cascade that it wasn't exactly relaxing, but it certainly was fun! Alex, however, seemed to be coming down with something and spent a few hours just sitting on a comfy rock.

Alex relaxing next to our cascade and pool

The falls on Register Creek
The tumbling river

Day 3: Muir Gorge and Waterwheel Falls

Alex woke up feeling worse and seriously dragged the first part of the day, until a pesky swarm of mosquitoes in a forest rallied him, and he practically ran the rest of the way up the relatively flat section below Muir Gorge. As we approached the gorge, we passed one of the nicest little waterfalls I've ever seen, on Register Creek.

Views of the canyon
At this point, the trail climbed 700' up over a shoulder to avoid Muir Gorge, but the ascent wasn't as bad as we'd feared. And the views were getting better and better: the rushing river, the cliffs, and numerous hanging valleys with waterfalls.

After coming back down to the river after the gorge bypass, the trail continued up the river, climbing gently and moderately in places. Soon we reached the ascent next to Waterwheel Falls and started slowly up. Despite being about the same vertical distance as the gorge bypass, this climb is much steeper and we suffered mightily -- Eric cursed every step he took.

Eric suffering the climb around Waterwheel Falls
Waterwheel Falls

The distractions to our pain, however, were exceptional: we could not believe the beauty of the views, both down the canyon and of the falls. As we'd hoped with such a wet year, the falls were spectacular.

After cresting the falls, we continued on for a short distance and then left the trail down into a grove in a bend in the river. There we found one of the two best campsites on this trip. The site was huge, canopied by giant trees, and had access to a really lovely, calm stretch of the river with a great diving rock.


Le Conte Falls
California Falls
White Cascade

Day 4: Waterwheel Falls to Polly Dome Lakes

Leaving our lovely campsite, we got back on the trail and continued up past two more spectacular displays of hydrodynamics: Le Conte Falls and California Falls. At this point on the trip we began seeing lots of folks day-hiking down to the falls from base camps at Glen Aulin. Interestingly, that completely stopped as soon as we'd passed through the glen, and we were once again alone on the trail.

At Glen Aulin we turned South and climbed slightly to lunch at McGee Lake. This was a beautiful, warm lake -- a nice change from the loud, cold river -- and Eric delighted in viewing Tuolumne Peak and Mt. Conness in opposite directions from the middle of the lake.

We considered camping at the lake, but wanted to get more miles in that day in order to ease our climb the next day. So after lunch we continued on our way across the Cathedral Creek valley. This was the least pleasant portion of the hike for me. The trail was more difficult than interesting, plus extremely buggy. By the time we reached the Polly Dome Lakes, I was exhausted and grumpy. The beauty and warmth of this lake was unfortunately not enough to overcome my mood, the mucky lake bottom, or the swarms of mosquitoes, and I reached my low point on the trip. We all went to be early that night.

Polly Dome Lakes

Mosquitoes like Alex
Views on the way up

Day 5: Polly Dome Lakes to Tuolumne Peak

After a quick breakfast and no swim, we got back on the trail and ran quickly through a very buggy meadow to the base of our climb up Tuolumne Peak. This was a 1200' ascent and was our most feared section of the trail. It turned out to be not so bad, however, as the trail was well-groomed and only moderately steep.

What was most impressive, however, were the views. This slope of Tuolumne Peak looks Southeast toward the heart of the Park, and as we climbed higher the views of Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, and the Cathedral Range were just astonishing.

The lake at our camp
The terrain here was so fantastically different from Pate Valley: a few stunted trees, bunch grasses, rocks everywhere, and patches of snow in the shadows -- it felt like we were on a completely different backpacking trip! Climbing into this after the swamps near Polly Dome Lakes was extremely uplifting.

Immediately after crossing the high ridge on the trail, we set up camp next to a snowmelt pond at 10,000'. This pond was our other favorite campsite of the trip. It sat next to a small, gurgling creek running through a flowery meadow that appeared to drop off the edge of the earth 50' further on. Beyond the drop-off lay an excellent view of Matterhorn Peak and Mt. Conness to the North.

Various views of and from our camp
Eric having a drink
Alex having a drink
Eric hanging on the edge
Wildflowers in front of Cold Mountain
The stream and meadow.
Mt. Conness at sunset

Small tarn on the way up...
...and the way down
Hanging out on top

Since the climb to this point had taken only the morning, we decided to continue packless up to the top of Tuolumne Peak. This was another 1000 vertical feet, mostly scrambling over boulders and loose rocks. But, oh my God, the view was like nothing I'd ever seen before. At every point on this trip so far, we'd marveled at how the views had kept increasing in beauty, thinking of course that they couldn't possibly get better -- and then getting proved wrong. That happened again on Tuolumne Peak. The view from the top is almost impossible to describe. The entirety of Yosemite National Park is laid out before you like a model railroad table. You can see everything: Matterhorn Peak, Mt. Conness, the Cathedral Range, the Clark Range, Tenaya Canyon, Half Dome, and, right at your doorstep, May Lake and Mt. Hoffman. We sat for about two hours, saying little more than "Wow".

Views from at or near the top of Tuolumne Peak
Cathedral Peak
The Cathedral Range
Sawtooth Ridge and Matterhorn Peak
Panorama of Yosemite Park from Tuolumne Peak

Eventually, we climbed back down to our campsite and had a (quick) swim amongst the icebergs. A lack of mosquitoes was a blessing of this elevation, and we calmly watched the colors change on the mountains to the North as evening came on.

Eric swimming with icebergs
The mouse in our fire pit

Cathedral Peak
South Fork Cathedral Creek valley

Day 6: Tuolumne Peak to Ten Lakes

From our icy pond on the slopes of Tuolumne Peak, the trail skirted the mountain for a few miles, passing through beautiful small tarns, before dropping into the perfect, U-shaped glacial valley of the South Fork of Cathedral Creek. Near the bottom of this valley, the trail turned back up and climbed over a broad ridge to the Ten Lakes Basin.

We continued past the largest of the lakes and descended to the second largest, lowest, and, by the looks of it on a Saturday night, most popular of the lakes. Despite our fears, we managed to find a great campsite hidden behind two fallen logs. After a very nice swim, we relaxed and enjoyed a great campfire on our last night of the trip.

Second largest of the Ten Lakes
Our armoire
Eric thinking about telescopes

Blurry picture of the second bear
Ten Lakes Pass
Half Moon Meadow

Day 7: Ten Lakes to White Wolf

Our hike out was another of our fears for the trip: 10 miles in one day. As it turned out, it was not a problem. Our packs were empty of food, the trails were gentle and lovely, and we had no trouble making it even after Eric's ankle started to get sore.

After spending half an hour trying to locate the trail amongst the dozens of well-trampled use trails, our route climbed up over Ten Lakes Pass, down through Half Moon Meadow, and up a broad, forested ridge.

Soon after the trail joined the Middle Tuolumne River, I heard a loud rustling to my left. I looked over and saw a young bear climbing out of the river gully. It was a beautiful shade of reddish brown, and had that rolling, swishy gait that made it look like a henna pom-pom. I continued on, congratulating myself on my first bear sighting in five years of backpacking the Sierras, when I saw a second bear only ten minutes later!

Finally back at the cars, we cleaned up a little and drove back to PJ's for hamburgers. High Sierra Food Critic says: "They had food. No de-hy. Five stars."

Dirty and smelly

Last modified: Fri Dec 23 22:06:01 2005