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Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)

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TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
August 15, 2014 12:14AM
Hello all. This is the 2nd 5-day trip I did this season. In short, it was an awesome experience. We covered about 58 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes. Here is the route on CalTopo.

Day 1: 9 miles from the Glen Aulin TH to an unnamed meadow south of Elbow Hill
Day 2: 13 miles to Matterhorn Canyon w/ a side trip to McCable Lakes
Day 3: 11 miles to Benson Lake
Day 4: 12 miles to Peeler Lake
Day 5: 12 miles Twin Lakes TH w/ a side trip to Crown Point

DAY 1 (all photos):
Met with 2 hiking partners at the Glen Aulin TH. They had shuttled a car to Twin Lakes earlier in the morning.

Started off easily from Glen Aulin TH early in the morning around 9:30am. The rain began to fall soon after, a slow steady rain for most of the next 3 hours. Took a lunch break at the Glen Aulin HSC while we watched it rain. The smell of wet earth, the cold rain, the dark gray clouds in the sky with a few openings of dark blue sky, the pitter patter of raindrops on the leaves of trees; very therapeutic. Not many people at the HSC at this time of day, just one other person taking a break.

After lunch, we continued north through Cold Canyon. Eventually the rain stopped, and the views afterwards were amazing: steam coming off the rocks, clear skies, fresh clean air, dramatic lighting. We ended the first day at a still green meadow just south of Elbow Hill. The creek in the meadow was no longer running, but there were plenty of clean pools of water. All in all, a good first day of hiking and good weather, with a rainbow to cap off the day.

Leaving Tuolumne Meadows

Bridge to Glen Aulin HSC

After the rain

Unnamed Meadow south of Elbow Hill

After the rain

DAY 2 (all photos):
Was awakened at 5:30 am by the barking and yelping of a pack of coyotes. Had a tough time orienting myself as I poked my groggy head out of the tent to locate the pack. It was also difficult to see because it was still kind of dark, and the entire meadow was covered in mist. I imagine they were across on the other side of the meadow. Went back inside the tent to get some more sleep, but the noise went on for another 10 or 15 minutes. Decided to get up and out, and was able to see the mist hanging in the meadow. The sun came up soon after.

Moved on further north up Cold Canyon with a side trip to McCabe Lakes. Along the trail, McCabe Creek was replete with wildflowers before reaching the lake. This is a beautiful area, worth spending more time exploring around. There was a group who had camped there the previous night, and they said they had seen some bighorn sheep on the slopes of Sheep Peak the previous evening.

At the junction of Return Creek and McCabe Creek, there were some pretty cool-looking rock formations with holes and cutouts and lots of pools for dipping and refreshing. Had lunch there watching the clouds go by. Continued up Spiller Creek. There is a section of granite over which the creek runs down forming a myriad of mini cascades. The views only got better on the approach to Miller Lake. We were taking a break at the lake cooling our feet on the sandy shore, when we heard some bells far off in the distance. I thought I was imagining things, but the noise kept increasing in volume. Pretty soon, a couple of travelers showed up with a couple of horses in tow.

Ended the day in Matterhorn Canyon where the trail crosses Matterhorn Creek. It was a long day with many miles traveled, but with lots of beautiful landscapes.

Early morning fog

Butterly, Swamp onion

Butterlies, Arrowleaf groundsel

McCabe Lakes, Shepherd Crest

Cascades on Spiller Creek


Horse feeding near Miller Lake

Miller Lake

Sawtooth Ridge in the distance

DAY 3 (all photos):
This was the best day of the trip for me. The views never ceased to amaze me and only kept getting better beginning with breakfast at Matterhorn Creek at dawn, leaving the Canyon in the early morning as the sun was rising, hiking over Benson Pass, having lunch at Smedberg Lake, swimming at Benson Lake, watching the stars at night to cap off another long day.

The hike up to Benson Pass was not a walk in the park by any means, even on a third day, but the views at the top were spectacular. The blue sky and cloud patterns just added to the beauty of this landscape. Next on the list of awesomeness was Smedberg Lake. During my research and planning of this trip, I read many accounts of people talking up Benson Lake, but few mentioning Smedberg Lake. Therefore, I wasn't expecting much of this lake. But I was astounded by this lake. Maybe because it was the middle of the day and we were hungry, the refreshing waters, the cloud patterns in the sky. Whatever it was, I could have spent an entire day there.

Along the way to Benson Lake, we saw a few snakes on the trail, lots of trout swimming in the creeks, and still plenty of wildflowers. The sands at Benson were a welcome relief to tired feet. There is a camp at the far end of the beach with California Conservation Corps personnel who maintain the trails nearby. Pretty cool group of young people. This night the sky was clear, and I was able to take some night photos.

Matterhorn Creek at dawn

Matterhorn Canyon in the early morning

Some kind of trout

Benson Pass

View east from Benson Pass

View west from Benson Pass

California whipsnake

$3 lunch...

...million dollar views, Smedberg Lake

Volunteer Peak

Beach at Benson Lake

Milky Way, Benson Lake

Starcircles, Piute Mountain

DAY 4 (all photos):
Woke up to another beautiful sunrise and a bunch of spiders napping under my swimming shorts which I had left outside to dry overnight.

This was an amazing day full of meadows, and one big disappointment. After the views at Benson Pass the previous day, I was looking forward to getting up to Seavey Pass. I was expecting more breathtaking landscapes, but it wasn't to be. I belatedly realized I had gone over Seavey Pass when the trail began to head downhill. Seavey Pass was a letdown, nothing more than a grove a trees, and no great views. My sour mood didn't last long though.

Some miles later after leaving the PCT, endless miles of wonderful green meadows began to appear with Rancheria Creek running through the middle. At one point I saw a marmot feeding on vegetation 20 feet from the trail. It saw me and stared for 15 seconds. Then it ducked its head and continued to feed. I was mesmerized and watched it do its thing for about 10 minutes with no other sounds besides the water rushing nearby, the wind blowing past, and the sound of a jet engine far away. The marmot would nibble some grass, lift its head, look around, then move to another patch of grass. It just never seemed to find the perfect savory grass it was looking for; or maybe it was like me at a buffet, sampling every food item it could.

Ended the day at Peeler Lake. Because of the distance from the trailhead, there were a whole lot more people camping around here than we had seen in the past 4 days. Nonetheless, we could still find some spots away from the crowds. It's a nice lake with deep blue waters, lots of rocks along the shoreline, some emerald coves, and great views all around. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe.

Benson Lake at sunrise


Endless meadows

Kerrick Meadow

At Peeler Lake

Peeler Lake at sunset

Milky Way, Crown Point

Stars, Sawtooth Ridge

DAY 5 (all photos):
Started the day watching the sun rise over the Sawtooth Ridge. After breakfast, hiked up to Crown Point. Didn't reach the top; we only got to 11,000 feet, but I was pleased. Reached the ridge, and looked over to the east and south of Crown Point. Wow. Amazing country. Breath-taking views. Perfect place to sit and ponder the meaning of life.

On the way down from the peak, saw bighorn sheep tracks. Too bad I didn't see any actual sheep. I am thinking I could do another trip where I would camp at Peeler Lake, and do day-trips to the surrounding lakes and passes. That in itself would be a great trip.

This was the worse day. The views along the trail to Twin Lakes were still great: leaving Peeler Lake, the meadow south of Barney Lake, Barney Lake itself, the grove of aspens along the trail. The difficult part was leaving the backcountry and getting a rude awakening by the myriad RVs at Twin Lakes Campground. Walking that last mile through the camp to the car was a shock. I realized that the past 5 days had been really amazing, even the hikes out of the canyons to the passes. I hiked on this trip with two other people, but we were hiking at our own pace throughout the day, enjoying the solitude, thinking our own thoughts, and meeting up at camp. I was already having withdrawals, and missing the lakes, and meadows, and passes, as we drove through Bridgeport to the Whoa Nellie Deli for dinner. The ribeye sandwich managed to lift my spirits somewhat, and I was already planning my next trip as I finished the last bite of my sandwich.

View north of Peeler Lake

Snow Lake, Rock Island Lake

Contrasting rock formations

Kerrick Meadow

Unnamed meadow south of Barney Lake

Barney Lake

Grove of aspens on the way out
Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
August 15, 2014 11:07AM
Some fabulous pictures just in the TR (don't have time to do justice to the full set just now)...I especially like the shots of the Milky Way over Benson Lake and the sunset at Peeler Lake.

As a certain pink bird would say, thanx for sharon!
Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
August 15, 2014 11:41AM
Thank you for sharing!!! Reminds me of beloved places, and our lovely trip last year with TomDisco, Chick-on and the Catalonian Burro. (I think of you all frequently- even if I forget to note it!) The fire changed our plans and some of the places you visited, we couldn't that time, but others we did! Lovely! And yes, Twin Lakes is one of the hardest re-entry spots! What a shock to the system!
Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
August 16, 2014 06:51AM
Wonderful photos. Thanks for posting them. We've done just about all of this route, but in different trips. Nice to see it all tied together.

And that's a brook trout. You can tell by the white edges to the fins...

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Or just read a good mystery novel set in the Sierra; https://www.amazon.com/Danger-Falling-Rocks-Paul-Wagner/dp/0984884963
avatar Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
August 16, 2014 08:00AM
I am kind of surprised how much water is in the lakes and particularly the fact there is still water at the meadow near Elbow Hill in Cold Canyon. Guess it's because of the rain this month. I have camped at that very spot several years ago with Len the Marmot Man, someone who is no longer with us.
Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
August 17, 2014 11:18AM
Awesome photos!

Haven't made it over Benson Pass yet, but had a great trip out of Twin Lakes last year. Skies are nice and dark out there, ideal for Milky Way shots. :-)
avatar Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
August 17, 2014 02:39PM
Glorious! Thanks!
Re: TR: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes (7/20-24 2014)
February 28, 2015 08:14PM
Very nice trip report. Thank you!
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