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The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne--a trip report

With so many closures, I took one last trip into Yosemite...

Day One: I had a nice easy day for this. One Zoom meeting on Tuesday morning, and then a leisurely drive up to Yosemite. Pick up the permit at the Big Oak Flat entrance, and drive to Tuolumne Meadows, where I had managed to score a last-minute campsite.

And it all went according to plan. I was happy to hear the wilderness ranger encourage us to be “good stewards” which included informing others when their actions were prohibited…no need to tell me this!

That evening after an early dinner, I read a book until it was too dark outside--a little surprised that it happened so early. And then climbed into the van and off to sleep.

Day Two: I was up by 6:30, and it was cold in Tuolumne Meadows. And the weather report called for cooler temperatures in the following days. No worries, as I was going down, not up, and it would be warmer in the canyon. I was at the trailhead at 7:15 but realized that Le Van Blanc was full of food—a definite no-no in Yosemite. So I had to consolidate our snack box and larder into two containers, and then lug them over to the bear boxes at the Murphy Creek picnic area. I couldn’t help thinking that a hungry backpacker would think he was in heaven if he found those…

But I was hiking by 7:45, up and over the ridge past the trail to Polly Dome Lakes, and the miles just seemed to slip by. And I was running into lots of people—about thirty-five on this first day. I was at Glen Aulin well before noon and saddened to see the low lever of water in the river. White Cascade was a mere shadow of its normal self. Still, even though it was early, it was a nice place for lunch. And Glen Aulin itself was silent and empty. It looked abandoned. The water in the river was almost too low for fishing, except in the deepest pools.

I hiked down the canyon, passing huge deep pools of very slow-moving water, and then tumbling cascades where the river went over the cliffs. Past California Falls, past LeConte Falls…I started to look for a campsite, but this was the wrong part of the canyon to do that. I found two smaller sites, stopped at the second one and filtered some water. It had a nice view, but was perched on a cliff, and there wasn’t much else there. I decided to push on.

Finally, after passing Waterwheel Falls (not nearly enough water to make the famous wheel) I found just what I was looking for on the other side of the river. I set up camp, filtered more water, took a nap, read a book, and generally enjoyed watching the day-hikers from Glen Aulin all disappear by later afternoon. I had the place to myself.

That night was warm, unlike the weather forecast, but with a powerful wind.

Day Three: I had food for at least one more day, maybe two, but the morning breeze had brought in more smoke. What I initially thought was the grey sky of dawn turned out to be the duller grey sky of smoke. The granite cliffs above me towered up into a sky that almost the same color as they were. It made for an unappealing view.

I thought about hiking down another day, but that would leave me with two long days back out. Or day-hiking down the canyon and back…but the smoke dragged on my morale, and in the end I decided that I would take it easy, start hiking back out, and see how far I would get. I didn’t want to work too hard in the smoke.

I left camp at 7:45 and was soon running into more hikers coming down from Glen Aulin. Even though the High Sierra Camps were abandoned, they were clearly busy! Most of the people I met were hiking that circuit in one way or another. I found myself at Glen Aulin again before ten a.m., and was already in the crowds of people leaving for May Lake. And the smoke was getting worse. I did a quick calculation and figured I could be at the trailhead by early afternoon.

I started up from Glen Aulin and was at the junction with the May Lake Trail before noon. That left me only an hour to the van. I thought about camping at Polly Dome Lakes, but the smoke was even worse here, so I hoofed it on out, disappointed with the air, but pretty damn happy with the miles covered (22-23) and the fact that I had seen so much of the Tuolumne Canyon.

And that whetted my appetite for a deeper dive next time, when the air is clean and the waterfalls are running vigorously.

That night I had a shower, a fresh green salad, and a beer at our cabin above Sonora, and slept like a baby.

The photo log of the trip is here:

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