Overview & Maps

Back on track for 2009! After a few years of variations on a theme, it was time to get back to slogging trails and hauling stuff. Our goal this year was to complete the Yosemite section of the PCT. The trip was ready to go but then Mother Nature tossed out a twisted challenge in the form of the Big Oak fire. We had planned to stay at a motel along H120 the night before and buzz into the Tuolumne Meadows pack station early Saturday morning. Not to be, as H120 was closed from Crane Flat to White Wolf. So that meant the long way around via Sonora Pass and Lee Vinning. Beside the extra miles, it was also cutting into our beauty sleep. We dragged into Lee Vinning at 0100 and crashed immediately, seeming to wake up just minutes later at 0600. Breakfast in the car (bagels-cream cheese-hard boiled eggs) and a spectacular early morning drive up and over Tioga Pass heading for the Wilderness Permit cabin. George dropped me off to stand in line and he went on to the stables to hand over the gear, all at the very civilized hour of 7AM, since we are usually 30 minutes into the ride by that time.

The fact that we were able to snag the Tuolumne Stables to take us up trail was a stroke of luck, but to top it off our packer was to be Sheridan, whom had lead the High Sierra Camp trip that Betsey and I had taken a few years back. It was a pleasure to have her as our guide and we chatted all the way to our drop off point at the footbridge. This is a scenic spot with good shade, ample established camp sites with fire rings (last chance since fires are prohibited above 9600') and a strong running creek draining the Maclure lakes and glacier. We set up camp and it was not long before we were scrambling up a face wall to get a peak at the next day target, Mt. Lyell.

 

Highlights

  • Day 1 ** Elev +1165/-136 (10.8 m) ** Footbridge Camp 9595 ftN37.77792 W119.26302 ** Beef Kabobs w/Parmesan Bread Sticks
  • Day 2 ** Elev +3401/-3401 (7.1m) ** Mt Lyell (Geo) 13114ft ** N37.73936 W119.27148 ** Black Bean Chow Mein w/Crab
  • Day 3 ** Elev +1468/-1542 (6.3m) ** Waugh Lake 9532ft ** N37.75097 W119.20534 ** Burghal Pilaf w/Shrimp and Humus w/crackers
  • Day 4 ** Elev +930/-0 (2.7m) ** Donahue Meadows 10453ft ** N37.76441 W119.2344 ** Sesame Noodles w/Chicken and the last of the Humus
  • Day 5 ** Elev +705/-903 (2.7m) ** Mile 160 Lake 10212ft ** N37.76775 W119.25616 ** Mezzaluna Pesto Pasta w/Chicken
  • Day 6 ** Elev +125/-1521 (5.7m) ** Lyell Canyon 8867ft ** N37.83735 W119.28506 ** Pad Thai w/Chicken
  • Day 7 ** Elev +108/-343 (6.2m) ** Tuolumne Meadows 8640ft ** N37.811 W119.35873 ** Cheese Burgers at Tuolumne Meadows Grill and dinner at Cetrella in Half Moon Bay

My Lyell Ascent & Views

Up early to tackle 3.5k of elevation gain and about a seven mile roundtrip to Mt. Lyell. We followed our tracks back up the same face wall and then started to cross-country. It was relatively mid-grade hiking over open terrain with good stretches of easy-to-follow contours. However, there was elevation gain and a hot sunny day to contend with. After a few hours it was apparent that George was moving at a faster pace then me, and so off he went to capture his peak and I found a great spot to capture the surrounding panoramas. There was a 360 view from the Southern end of the Cathedral Range continuing on to Donahue Pass, which is the entrance to the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the Kuna Range, Lyell Canyon and finally Mt. Conness in the far distance. Meanwhile, George was trekking towards the Yosemite Park high point which would require a glacier crossing and then a scramble up the summit block. I was able to see several people crossing the glacier and was comfortable that he had company in case of any difficulties. I left my perch after about 2 hours and headed back to camp. George was successful and returned via the PCT from a direct trail off the glacier. So it appears we took the hard way. What else is new!

 

 

Waugh Lake & Donahue Pass Camps

Packs on and up and over Donahue Pass was the plan for today. Nothing out of the realm of what we have done before, but after a few years of not carrying a load at these altitudes, it took a toll on me. Nevertheless, I trudged on and was comfortably moving downhill towards Waugh Lake, when George appeared. He was coming back up trail as Waugh Lake, our target for the night, was not a lake this year, as it was bone dry except for the creek that ran thru the basin of the valley. We needed to find a water source and camp for the night, and luck had it that there was a running creek about 2 blocks back up the trail where I had just replenished my water supply. Now to the twist. We were to meet Bill somewhere along the trail, as he was to join us for a few days, and had planned to enter Ansel Adams Wilderness from the East side. With no lake as a common ground, and my slow pace that day, we did the best we could to look for him but never did hook up. Later on we figured out that we had missed each other the next day by about 15 minutes. So here comes the next twist. Having met our goal of finishing the PCT portion thru Yosemite and George bagging Mt. Lyell, the remaining portion of the plan was not looking as good as when we had finalized it a few months ago. Water sources thru Parker Pass were of concern, as well as a total lack of shade for two days. So we decided to turn around and do a slow burn home and stop at several nice spots we had spied on the way in.

Mile 160 Lake & Lyell Canyon Camps

An Alpine lake at the 160 mile marker on the John Muir trail was our goal for today, as we wanted to maximize the time we were in the back country. No big rush to return to civilization. This picturesque hanging valley, with a small lake and Mt. Lyell and the Cathedral Range rising as a ring of towering peaks, has become one of the my top ten camp spots! George went ahead from Donahue Meadows to run the ridge at the Pass, and after I huffed and puffed and got to the pass I spent my time chatting with all the hikers on their way down the PCT. An impressive lot. There was a group of 8 seniors (not high school or college) on their way to Whitney, along with 3 or 4 groups of 2 or 3 backpackers and a few solo hikers. It was inspiring. George finally came back from his scrambling and we headed down to catch a good camp site. One more night left in paradise!

It was time to start putting some trail miles underfoot to get within striking distance of Tuolumne Meadows. In Lyell Canyon you must camp at least 4.5 miles into the canyon to be legal, so as we wandered down the trail, we started to look for a decent site that met that requirement. We got to what must have been a popular staging point as quite a few sites popped up above the trail, and some were stocked with firewood ready to go. We looked around for about 30 minutes and settled on a smaller site well hidden from the trail. Once we set up, as it was early in the afternoon, it was exploring time. George went off to check out the ridge behind our camp, and I settled into a photo session on whatever came my way. And it was a good day. While I was shooting wood growth patterns on an toppled tree root, which was a brilliant red patch against the gray of the surrounding wood, I heard a twig snap and stealthy turned to see a young doe making her way into a clearing not far from me. I slowly positioned myself, stood up, set my camera and went into a freeze pose as she grazed her way to the opening. My patience paid off, as when the first shutter sound hit the silence, she turned and look straight at me while I fired off about 12 frames. And then she went off and about on deer business and back to her two fawns. They were a bit to shy to follow her, and I did not want to disturb them, so I just let the scene soak in.

As sunset was enveloping the canyon, we heard some loud voices that seemed to be shouting out for someone who might have not returned to camp yet. They went on for about 30 minutes, but we did not see anyone come up or down the trail and then silence returned to the night. We had a nice fire, hot chocolate with Bailey's and headed to slumber land. All was well until around 3:00 AM. More loud sounds from down canyon, but this time a markedly different tone and pitch. The telltale sounds of a bear in camp and the efforts to chase it away! I woke George and figured that it was 15-20 minutes before we would be treated to the same task. After 15 minutes of high voices, quiet had returned and I fell asleep to wake an hour later. No bear, no yelling, no encounter. Another year of plying the Sierra without having a confrontation with a bear. Many footprints left in our camp, but no face to face encounters. And I like that way, as it is a good indicator that these bears are wild and stay away from us smelly humans, and also a telling sign that we keep a clean camp.

Last day and last hike. We awoke to another picture perfect day, had breakfast, dropped camp and headed for the trail. What a way to finish, as it was mostly downhill and winding in and out of tree cover. Once again. we were surprised at the amount of traffic heading towards Whitney and the range of ages hitting the backcountry. As we came back to civilization where there is someone else to prepare your food, burgers at the Grill were in order- the one time you can gulp those down and not feel guilty. We semi-cleaned up, as there are no public shower facilities at Tuolumne Meadows, and wound our way down H120 which had opened while we had been running the PCT. And as we jumped into the SUV, little splatters of cool rain hit the windows and reminded us that fall was approaching and that we came out just in time. Next year will be George's choice, so we will see where that takes us. Stayed tuned and as always,

May our paths and errands meet...