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Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike

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Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 01, 2011 10:22PM
This Sunday, for my wife's birthday trip, we day-hiked the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne from White Wolf to Tuolumne Meadows. (The actual "gift" was that I carried most of the gear.) Despite having missed out on most of the trips this year due to injury, and this being only her second trip of the year, she hiked like a champ and finished strong. (Me, I was done by Glen Aulin or so...) The total distance was about 30 miles (30.8 according to the GPS, perhaps a bit less by trail signs or Tom Harrison). We hit the trail in the dark at about 5:00am, and finished, also in the dark, at about 9:00pm.

The previous day, we had gotten rained on lightly in Tuolumne Meadows, and from White Wolf we could see tall clouds over the Sierra crest until sunset.



We passed several people camped midway up the Morrison Creek switchbacks, where there are good views of Hetch Hetchy, including Kolana Rock and Wapama and Tueeulala Falls. I considered that this hike would have an entirely different character if it started with an easy stroll up the canyon from Hetch Hetchy Valley instead of the knee-jarring descent from Harden Lake.



Pate Valley was lush and humid, and we passed a few groups camped near the trail east of the bridges. Above Pate Valley were a few small cascades that reminded me of Sentinel Falls. We stopped for lunch near a cascade a mile or so past Pate Valley, and just as we were finishing, it started raining and hailing. Thunder echoed down the canyon, and lightning seemed to strike the mountains above the Muir Gorge "bypass". The rain started earlier than expected--10:45am or so--and took the edge off the bugs and heat.



The rain was lighter by the time we crossed rain-swollen Register Creek, which was about crotch deep. We passed a couple who had been backpacking in Northern Yosemite at the top of the Muir Gorge "bypass"--these were the only people we saw between Pate Valley and Glen Aulin. They said the rain had turned the river black, and sure enough, the Tuolumne was raging brown at the point the trail rejoined it. In contrast to the muddy Tuolumne, the water falling into it from Cathedral Creek was pure white.



A bit below the Return Creek crossing, in a recently burned-out area, grey mud and ash "flows" buried the trail for a few hundred feet. The mud's consistency ranged from fairly solid to quicksand, and covered the ground from a few inches to a foot or so. We saw one set of footprints heading up canyon.



We wondered what had happened--or was happening--up river, and why we hadn't passed any backpackers hiking down canyon. Were they being turned back by flooding? Something was turning the river brown--a landslide? Were the meadows washed out? What would the falls, or Tuolumme Meadows, be like when we arrived at them? Our biggest concern: would the Return Creek bridge still be there?

Just below Return Creek, it was clear that all the mud was coming from Return Creek, its dark color contrasting the the typical blue-white color of the Tuolumne. A few yards' walking confirmed that the bridge was still intact, Return Creek raging under it.



The sun came out as we began the climb up the major Tuolumne falls. After another lunch (okay, closer to dinner) break at Waterwheel Falls, we continued hiking past the falls and cascades I had hiked in late June. The water was a bit lower, but the evening sun brought the falls and granite to life. Falls Ridge glistened below us. We had prepared mentally for late-evening storms and returning to our car in the dark and rain, but luck was on our side: the rain was there when it helped make the trip pleasant, but it cleared out in the evening, making the remainder of the trip enjoyable. We were surprised that no one, not even day hikers from the High Sierra Camp, was enjoying this setting except for us. One place where the water level was the same: lower Glen Aulin, where the Mattie Lake outlet was flooding the trail just like it had a month or so ago. This made my wife happy--she enjoys walking through cold water and had missed out on the earlier trip. Several groups were camping in Glen Aulin just east of the flooded section--perhaps the water or storms had held them up there.



After climbing to the Twin Bridges above Tuolumne Falls, we left the trail to take the Pothole Dome "route"--mostly now an established trail. Just where this route leaves the river we put on the headlamps again and followed the path through the woods to the Pothole Dome parking lot. The last sun light was fading as we arrived at our car.



More Pictures
avatar Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 02, 2011 06:41AM
Quote
basilbop
I considered that this hike would have an entirely different character if it started with an easy stroll up the canyon from Hetch Hetchy Valley instead of the knee-jarring descent from Harden Lake.

Very impressive hike. I would not have considered anyone doing it in one day. Three days more likely.

The above quote caught my eye though. Be glad you took the "knee-jarring descent from Harden Lake". Check the trail from HH to Pate Valley. One redeeming quality of that route though is that you would have the opportunity to stop in on Table Lake and check the "been there" box on the poll.



Old Dude
avatar Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 02, 2011 06:45AM
Very cool. If my bird-day is weekday... last couple years... gone on big day hikes
(Skyline to Sea, Ventana Double Cone) ...
bummer this prolly wouldn't be do-able in a day in early April...

As always.. thanks for sharing..



Picasa Pictures
Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 03, 2011 12:13PM
Very nice report and a very impressive "day hike" - wow! smiling smiley
Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 03, 2011 09:46PM
Wow, I can't believe that you guys did that in a day. I was a few hours behind you on the same day. But I only did half the distance and camped at Muir Gorge the first night. It was my first time doing the entire Grand Canyon and I absolutely loved it.

I looked though all of your pictures on Picasa and noticed a lot of differences in the water color and level. By the time I got to Pate Valley the water was already very brown. I did not even want to filter water but had to.

And by the time I got to the section above Pate Valley that your shot shows covered by a few inches of clear water, it was nearly knee high in sections. And you could not see anything through the brown water.

I got to Register at about 5:30 and it was raging. Again, it was dark brown with no visibility of what was under the water. Not having crossed it before I felt more comfortable camping a quarter mile back and waiting until the morning to cross. By morning is was clear and only about 1.5 feet deep. My guess is that it would have been about thigh high the night before.

Thanks for your tracks through the burnt out mud flow sections. Made it really easy for me to stay on course.

Your shot of Return creek blew me away. How can so much mud/dirt get into the water? I guess the flash flood warnings were legit.

Have a good one,
Trevor
Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 04, 2011 11:26AM
The first time we did the GCT (admittedly, I think it was our second backpacking trip....) we didn't have many fond memories of it (hot, humid, buggy). We enjoyed much more the "return" part of our loop, especially from the Tuolumne Peak tarns back to White Wolf via Ten Lakes. This time was different--the weather and conditions made it very enjoyable, even if it sounds like we were lucking in being early enough to miss even more water in the Tuolumne or Register Creek.

I hope you didn't follow our footprints too closely in the burned out area--we were wandering around quite a bit looking for the trail and trying to avoid quicksand-like areas.

According to Google Earth there is what appears to be a very active slide area a mile or two up Return Creek, on the east bank. Perhaps the rains dislodged more of it...? I'm wondering if the added turbidity will get the attention of the SFPUC; if so, they'll probably investigate the source...
avatar Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 04, 2011 07:13AM
Here's one from last year ... runner... :

http://yosemitenews.info/forum/read.php?3,27396

I got a buddy who does this stuff... If I go along I just hike. If I start running downhill my
knees start killing me by the end...
He recently (actually the same day earlier this year I went by Washburn) ran up to
Washburn Lake and back. The guy isn't stable though (and yes, I'll tell that to his face).

Have fun



Picasa Pictures
Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 04, 2011 04:33PM
Sounds like a great trip. But "A DAY HIKE"? I have a group of 6 hitting the trail on the 20th heading down stream from Tuolumne Meadows and exiting through Pate Valley to White Wolf. Looking to spend our last night as close to the ascent to White Wolf as possible. We are going to be in the canyon for 6 days. After all, it is a vacation. When we hit an especially nice camping area will might just stay a day or two. Creek crossings look interesting.Backpacker
avatar Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 04, 2011 05:57PM
Last September I was on top of Glen Pass on the Rae Lakes Loop in SEKI having lunch and someone came up who was day-hiking the entire loop. Basilbop's dayhike reminded me of that.
avatar Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 04, 2011 06:48PM
Quote
ttilley
Last September I was on top of Glen Pass on the Rae Lakes Loop in SEKI having lunch and someone came up who was day-hiking the entire loop. Basilbop's dayhike reminded me of that.

That's Eco Challenge mileage.



Old Dude
Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 04, 2011 06:51PM
It wasn't bad at all as a day hike--we averaged 2 mph, which is certainly not a "set-the-world-on-fire" walking speed. There was ample time for stops, pictures, and just enjoying the canyon, especially as it transitioned from morning to day, then to storm, then to late afternoon and finally night. I think I noticed more things about the canyon--side waterfalls, the differences in the various meadows and valleys, and so forth, this trip than when we did it in 2.5 days.

Many (most?) people doing the GCT "downriver" spend the final night midway up the Morrison Creek switchbacks at the nice campsites just past the creek crossing.

And, of course, with a six-day schedule, you'd have enough time to visit this Table Lake everyone here is discussing... and after doing that, Morrison Creek will be like a walk in the park :-)
Re: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Day-Hike
August 08, 2011 06:59AM
Thanks for the info on the campsites past the Morrison Creek crossing. Bowing to his greatness
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