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TR: Ten Lakes to May Lake, Yosemite. 24-26 May 2014

Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 6:24 pm
by nikhilm
Hello everyone,

Nikhil here. I've been lurking on HST for a while and benefited from it a ton! This is my first TR. The rangers said nobody had reported anything about the trail yet, so this should be useful. It is more of a trail conditions report until I can go through pictures and stuff and write a full report on my blog.

One thing to get out of the way is that water is available pretty much constantly on this trail right now and I expect it will remain so for at least another 2 weeks. All the small creeks could be crossed without getting shoes wet. Only the South fork of Cathedral Creek requires wading through almost knee deep water, but the current wasn't strong yet and it was possible to safely cross even without trekking poles.

EpicSteve has already covered the first 5 miles here viewtopic.php?f=1&t=10977" onclick=";return false;.

Slightly before Ten Lakes Pass (before the signs going to Ten Lakes and Grant Lakes), the trail will disappear under snow. The signs themselves are in a clearing. The rest of the pass is snow covered but if you continue heading north east and stay on the saddle you will soon arrive at the small peaklet near which the trail descends down. There is a faint trail visible at the top of the peaklet which we took. But that is not the real trail (although there is a way to the real trail from there). The real trail starts earlier to the right.

The switchbacks to Ten Lakes are clear, but once you enter the meadows around the lake, the trail starts to go in and out of sight. Cross the creek connecting lake 9021 and 8947 and there is a clearing on the left which is a good campsite. We camped here on the first night. You can also descend towards lake 8947 and there is a campsite. There were several people camped here. These would be the last people we'd encounter outside our group from here till the morning of day 3.

Lakes 9229 and 9021 were mostly frozen, lake 8947 had melted (and it looks like mosquitoes will be arriving here soon given how warm it was, though we didn't see any). Follow the shore of lake 8947 and the sign pointing to May Lake is visible. From here the trail is a use trail, but easy to find and clear of snow for the most part. Lake 9398 is half frozen. The meadows on the saddle east of Lake 9398 have several good campsites and are snow free for the most part, but the trail itself is either covered with snow or has creeks flowing on it. So be prepared for wet shoes and don't plan on going a lot of distance.

The switchbacks descending to the South fork of Cathedral Creek are clear and in fact the stunning views of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, the sunny weather and the clear meadows around here made this area one of the best parts of the trip. The creek had some mosquito activity (no. 1 on the HST scale, at least around 1pm). There are some lovely swimming holes and rocks to warm up on where the trail crosses the creek.

Rising out of the South fork canyon, the trail continues to be clear until 9200'. From here the rest of the trip was an adventure. There is a stretch of about a 100ft of trail here where steep snow covers it. We crossed it by kicking steps in the snow, but the exposure on the western side is severe and 3 out of our group of 7 turned around at this point. Once you clear this, the trail is easy to follow, but has several waterfalls flowing over it. Once the trail approached the north-west ridge of Tuolumne Peak, snow was everywhere! From this point on we had to resort to map/compass/gps as the trail was visible very rarely. Trail that is on rock is snow covered, trail on soft ground is filled with water. There was one point where a small lake had a fire ring next to it, but I no longer recollect where exactly it was.

Almost halfway between the north west and north east ridges, around 9700' the trail offers some respite by being snow free for a few hundred feet and there is even a nice meadow with plenty of camping options.

From here the trail heads due east on the map, but was completely snow covered in front of us. The snow was deep and post-holey and it was 6:30pm or so when we were north of the two small lakes on the topo at the base of the north east ridge, so we all started panicking a little since we had basically been making our own path on snow and now we had run out of a direction to go in. The last stretch had been particularly nervous kick-stepping :S

At this point, rather than try to find the trail we headed straight up Tuolumne Peak since we knew we were close to the lakes. Fortunately we found the lakes quickly (both are half melted, but no good campsites nearby) and scrambled up the tiny saddle south east of them to the east face of the mountain. What a relief that was! We had found the trail, the east face was pretty much snow free and there was a nice campsite right after the saddle. It was the remotest campsite I'd camped at and the snow and the views and silence were beautiful. There was still a small fear in all of us that we might still have to face tough conditions on day 3, but a lot of it evaporated after dinner and a warm night. If the weather hadn't been cooperative, I think the trip could have turned out a lot worse.

On day 3 we climbed the north east ridge to about 10200', an easy class 3 scramble. Beyond this there is snow and although it should be possible to reach the north east summit without mountaineering gear (plenty of snow but none of it steep), there is a high chance of twisting an ankle while postholing! I didn't complain too much since the views from here were almost as good as from the summit, with everything from Mt. Conness to Clouds Rest clearly visible and even Half Dome spotted sitting between two trees!

We began the descent down the trail around 8:30am and met a solo backpacker camped about 200' lower than us. He had come up from May lake and spent the night taking photos, but had only sneakers, and we advised him not to continue towards Ten Lakes :)

From here the descent to the trail junction towards May Lake was mostly uneventful. Do not be fooled by a sign pointing towards Tenaya Lake right as the trail turns east at the foot of Tuolumne Peak! The sign and the rest of the meadows has a lot of snow, and we thought that it was the junction and hence turned south. We did actually find a cairned trail heading uphill, but after following it for a while with a considerable amount of dead trees and snow and destroyed sections and the wrong heading, it became clear that this was a an old trail. We spent an hour going up and backtracking this trail. Instead continue east following the sign saying Tenaya Lake. Snow covers the trail almost the entire time it is in this meadow, and only occasional creeks and footprints point the way. Minor postholing was necessary here, but much of the snow was hard packed. About 0.4 miles later you'll see the actual junction and the sign pointing to May Lake.

It seemed we'd have had enough adventure for this trip, since from here on the snow mostly disappeared and the trail going towards May Lake is in good condition and has beautiful views of the Tenaya Lake area. The small peaklet south of the saddle just before Raisin Lake is another great spot to take pictures.

May Lake is unfrozen and a beautiful blue and had no humans :) Mt. Hoffmann climbers should be careful since Hoffmann had a very obvious cornice on the north-east side of its summit! From May Lake it was a quick hike for 2.8 miles on which we encountered more people than we'd seen in the last 2 days. The road to the trailhead is snow free but closed to vehicles, so you'll have to walk to the parking lot off of 120.

We walked to the car at around 3:00pm and were pleased to see the rest of our group was already back. The burger and cheese chili fries in Groveland were a great meal after a relatively intense trip!

I had originally planned to summit Tuolumne Peak from the north east ridge and traverse to Mt. Hoffmann. Looks like I'll have to go back for it in a month!

Re: TR: Ten Lakes to May Lake, Yosemite. 24-26 May 2014

Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 7:09 pm
by maverick
Hi Nikhilm,

Welcome to HST! Thank you for your very detailed intro TR, this should be helpful
to folks planning to visit that area in the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to
seeing your photo's.

Re: TR: Ten Lakes to May Lake, Yosemite. 24-26 May 2014

Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 7:53 pm
by skyehawk
Very interesting, especially as I was in that area last summer (when it was free of snow almost entirely). Any chance of photos? I was at Polly Dome lake.

Re: TR: Ten Lakes to May Lake, Yosemite. 24-26 May 2014

Posted: Tue May 27, 2014 9:37 pm
by nikhilm
Some pictures.

North face of Tuolumne Pk


Clouds Rest

Cathedral and surroundings

Hoffmann east face

Tuolumne east face (clear)

Re: TR: Ten Lakes to May Lake, Yosemite. 24-26 May 2014

Posted: Wed May 28, 2014 2:45 am
by EpicSteve
Great TR, Nikhilm. Welcome to HST! (I was a lurker too for quite a while before my first post.) Sounds like quite an adventure. I probably would've been among the three who turned back due to the exposure. :o