A Winter's Hike out of Tuolumne Meadows

posted Jan 16, 2012, 9:35 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Jan 16, 2012, 9:36 PM ]
With the three-day weekend and still no snow in the Sierra, we made tracks for Yosemite for one last adventure before the snows come. 
So Sunday found us in Tuolumne Meadows in bright sunshine and temperatures that were just about freezing.  We parked at the Pothole Dome parking lot and strapped on a day pack.  The route was a cross country trek to Mariuolumne Dome and, with luck, up to the top of the dome.  The silly name comes from the fact that the top of this dome lies exactly on the border between Mariposa and Tuolumne counties. 
hoo boy.
The first half mile was up a cold and snowy slope to intersect the John Muir Trail to Cathedral Lakes.  That worked perfectly, and the snow was so cold and dry that even though we were crunching through about six inches, our feet never got even slighty damp. Once on the JMT, we hiked for about a mile until that trail began to turn more southerly---at which point we broke off and headed due West towards that big white granite blob in front of us.  Here the sun had melted those early snows away, and much of the route was on bare ground.
Mariuolumne Dome is one of a whole family of huge granite domes in this area, and after only a few minutes, we found ourselves at the southern end of the dome right at treeline.  These domes are famous for rock climbing routes, but we were hoping to walk up the more gently sloping southern spine of Mariuolumne. 
That spine also turned out to be windline!  A bit further out on the dome

Because while we were in the forest, the icy wind that had sprung up didn't seem too bad.  But once we were out on the exposed granite spine of the dome, it was blowing like crazy.  In fact, it was blowing so hard that we decided to call off our attempt to sneak up to the top of the dome.  It was steep, and would have taken considerable concentration to climb--particulary since we didn't have any ropes. 
That's the view from the ridge, looking west at Mt. Hoffman.
Our rule is that we will climb almost anything as long as we don't need our hands to get up.  That way we are pretty sure we'll also be able to get down.  And that was true of Mariuolume Dome--except that the wind was blowing so hard that we didn't even try to get all the way up.  We stopped part-way up the ridge, snapped a couple of photos, and carefully worked our way back down.
The dome will be there next time.  And we have all of our fingers and toes.  And our noses, which were positively frozen.
The trail back down was yet another adventure, as much of the trail had turned to very slick ice.  First M slipped and fell, and then P did the same. By the time we left the JMT we had a total of seven pratfalls between the two of us.  Luckily, no real damage to anything except our pride.
Once back at the car, we walked over to Pothole Dome and walked up onto the top of it instead.  The wind was fierce here too, but the exposure was a bit easier, and we snapped more photos, llike the one below of Unicorn Peak from Pothole Dome.  Done for the day, wewandered back to the car, turned on the heater full blast, and starting driving for home.  There it is...spectacular
And the good news is that it looks as if the snows will come, indeed, later this week.  
We do need the water!