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GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3/18

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 10:32 am
by Wandering Daisy
NOTE: I have added some photos at the end of this post.

This was my fourth trip in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne; 1998 (156% snowpack) in August as part of a loop from Twin Lakes, 2003 (65%snowpack) downriver and up to White Wolf (never again!), 2012 (43% snowpack)loop from Lukens Lake TH including Ten Lakes and this trip (67%snowpack), an in-and-out from Tuolumne Meadows. Although a low snowpack year, the 2003 trip hit peak flows, 4-5 feet higher than other trips. My favorite was the loop from Lukens Lake TH. But this year, I was not up for the walk over Pate Valley Bridge or the hitch back to my car.

My equipment selection left a bit to be desired. I could have ditched the tent fly, rain jacket and pants, pack and rain cover; should have swapped out my 10-degree bag for the 45 degree bag and brought my sun-brella. Definitely thankful for my Crocks, head-net (gnats not mosquitoes)! Note that the photos below are not necessarily in chronological order- I took some going down and others going up.
8292_Tuolumne Meadows.jpg
DAY 1 8.8 miles; 5.3 hours, +370 / -2085 feet (plus drive to trailhead)
I left town before 7AM and was lucky with traffic and able to step onto the trail at 11:15 AM from the stables parking lot. Not five minutes passed when I missed the PCT as group of day-hikers blocked the trail sign. Down the road I went ending at the wastewater pond. I headed back towards the trail, hiking an extra mile for nothing.
8284_White Cascades.jpg
It was coo, pleasantly windy, no bugs and only a few other day-hikers. Although there is a log across Delany Creek, I chose to wade due to my propensity to fall off logs. Second shallow wade was at Dingley Creek. Two other backpackers were resting on the slabs before the first footbridge, ending my encounters with others. After dropping past three falls, I crossed the bridge at Glen Aulin junction where the river tumbles to a smooth but swift flow through Glen Aulin Valley. I diverted around the first trail flood, which put me right under the falls from Mattie Lake, but was forced to wade knee deep icy water to reach the top of California Falls, my “must get to” point.
8258_Wildcat Point.jpg
8136_Falls from Mattie Lake.jpg
Too early to stop so I dropped down next to Le Conte Falls, passing several tempting campsites. I decided to continue, reaching Waterwheel Falls at 4:15. I had previously camped here up on the shoulder but it was so blustery, that I dropped back and found nice campsites a few hundred feet back up the trail in timber. After setting up I spent an hour gawking at the falls and photographing. The water was so high that it was not safe to get as close as I had my last trip. Nevertheless it was spectacular. After dinner I hopped into the tent; it was still light. It was a chilly night and I was glad I had my overdone sleeping bag.
8140_Flooded trail_Glen Aulin.jpg

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 10:39 am
by Wandering Daisy
DAY 2. 9.5 miles; 7.5 hours, +985 / -3035 feet (including day-hike)

You would think going downhill would be easy, but I awoke to very stiff muscles and aching knees. I packed up and left at 8AM heading down again to Return Creek footbridge, limping like a cripple! I met a fellow going up and asked about Register Creek; he said it was easy. He also said that the bridge in Pate Valley was no problem.

Downriver, the trail quickly deteriorated becoming faint in places, overgrown with grass and head high brush (some loaded with thorns), wash-outs and numerous downed trees to detour around or crawl over. I had never seen the trail in such bad condition. I passed a rock and a little rattlesnake coiled up, rattled, and slowly slithered to the other side and was glad it was not hidden in the high grass where I could have stepped on it. The mile from Cathedral Creek to upper Muir Gorge heads away from the river and was in a bit better shape. I took a break; it was getting hot and in-your-face gnats seemed to sprout out of nowhere. The river was roaring, but the rocky ledge of the trail well above the water.
8178_below ReturnCr.jpg
There were some really rough sections as the trail climbed up over the hump and dropped to Register Creek. I ate lunch at the top of the hump, and heading down I blinked in disbelief as I saw the trail way down below, only to have to go up again! My knees were aching and I was going a snail’s pace. I had hoped to do a mid-point 0.2 mile side-trip to Muir Gorge were it is only 300 feet lower but between my sore knees and brushy descent, I instead kept going to Register Creek. In 2003 Register Creek was too deep and swift to cross so my husband and I found an upstream wet log and shimmied across with the creek raging below. That, I will never do again! This time it was knee deep at most and easy. Unfortunately the spray was constant so I could not get a photo. Thankfully a footbridge spans a small gorge where a second branch tumbles down, merges the other branch and enters the Tuolumne shortly below the lower end of Muir Gorge.
8215_Muir Gorge.jpg
Although fairly early in the day, my knees were killing me so I started looking for a campsite. As I met three fellows coming up the trail they asked if it was about a mile to Waterwheel Falls; I had to break the bad news that it was closer to five miles and almost 2,000 feet gain. They too had no problem with the Pate Valley Bridge but said the drop from White Wolf was brutal. I passed a great established campsite, but the view was not great so I continued. Still dropping and knees hurting, I about shouted out in relief when I spotted a great campsite at 2:15 the base of a wonderful waterfall at 4700 feet. I cleared a site, then on second thought, decided to move to a bit higher ground, just in case. It was hot so I only set up the tent, without fly. By the time I gathered water, set up and fiddled around, ate the rest of lunch, it was 3:15.
8200_falls camp2.jpg
I decided to hike downstream to peek into Pate Valley. It was hellishly hot and still. The trail dropped to a section obviously recently flooded. Again, I spooked a much larger snake that hissed and slithered across the trail, but did not rattle. It was freaked out enough that when the trail disappeared into a pile of rocks I turned around, again passing the snake. On the way back to camp I found perfect rock slab with safe water for a bath. Back at camp at 4:30 took photos and just sat and watched the roaring falls. I had brought minimal fuel so decided to build a little fire to cook dinner in hopes the smoke would shoo away the gnats. I was pleased to still be able to light a one-match fire, but forgot what a mess a fire makes on the bottom of a pot! After dinner I had a big scrub job! It now was nearly 8PM and I was exhausted. I listened to music for an hour. I loved the tent without the fly since I could see the stars and later the moon when it peeked over the rim of the canyon. It was downright hot all night.
8194_near Pate Valley.jpg

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 10:46 am
by Wandering Daisy
DAY 3. 9.6 miles; 9 hours, +3835 / -875 feet

I actually looked forward to climbing back up, giving my downhill muscles a break. I left camp at 6:45 AM, knowing it would be beastly hot. Given the bugs, I chose a slow but steady pace with few rest stops. Again the mist at the falls at Register Creek precluded any photos. Up over the hump I observed two distinct mushrooms; can anyone identify these? At the upper end of Muir Gorge, I again ran into the three fellows at their camp. They were packing up, packs heavy with camp chairs and a bottle of whiskey! We all hoped to reach Glen Aulin. I had thought my assessment of the trail was skewed on the descent due to my sore knees but it was just as bad going up! Nearing the Return Creek Bridge, I spotted a little sandy “beach” down on the river, so stopped for lunch and a cool mid-day soak. Back on the trail I passed the three fellows who also were stopped by the river a bit farther up. At the top of Waterwheel Falls, I took another break, wetting my hat and kerchief in the icy water. I wanted to camp at a new spot, so continued upward. Upon more detailed inspection of some of the campsites I spotted the previous day, reaching the water was brushy and nasty, so on I went. It was Saturday so I ran into several weekenders who camped at Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp and day-hiking to the falls. At the top of California Falls I set up in nice campsite, except it was too close to the trail for my likes. I hiked around and found no others that were suitably private, so just put up with all the foot traffic.
8223_above Muir Gorge.jpg
8242_California Falls.jpg
8236_California Falls.jpg
DAY 4. 6.3 miles; 4.8 hours +1170 /-365 (plus drive home)

I had planned 5 days, with one day for exploring but decided not to push it with my knees. I passed a few folks fishing, and had I not thought the fishing poor due to high water and brought gear, I would have lazed around and fished! So I headed out. As I walked up the trail, I contemplated going to the Valley (too hot), Hetch-Hetchy (too hot and buggy), camping at Ellery Lake (closed) or getting another permit to go up to Cathedral Lake (too snowy and a bad idea if my knees needed a break). Given the weekend hordes on 120, I decided to go home the eastern route, via Lee Vining, Monitor Pass, Carson Pass and Morman Emigrant Trail (nearly empty vs. the crowded Hwy 50). It was a wonderfully pleasant drive giving me a great view of snow conditions (still quite snowy up high). Carson Pass was especially scenic. Round Top Mountain was still deep in snow! Caples Lake was brim-full!

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 10:58 am
by Wandering Daisy
Footnote: I met a group with two carrying kayaks who were going to ride the falls to where Cathedral Creek joins the Tuolumne, portage Waterwheel, then, PACK out!! :eek: :eek:

A few more photos.
8126_Upper Bridge.jpg
8285_Tuolumne Falls.jpg
8259_Glen Aulin.jpg

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 1:13 pm
by wildhiker
Thanks for the great trip report! Makes me want to go there again! My most memorable trip to Glen Aulin and the falls was with the kids in mid June of 1987. Not nearly as much water then as your photos show - no flooded trail. We used the "use trail" that starts at Pothole Dome at the west end of Tuolumne Meadows which cuts off about 3 miles compared to the PCT (no overnight parking at Pothole Dome, so I had to park the car along the road about 1/2 mile west in the forest - today you could probably use the shuttle bus). This allowed us to make it all the way to a base camp in Glen Aulin (in the valley below the HSC) in one day with the kids (ages 3, 7, and 8). Then we day-hiked down to Calilfornia Falls the next day before returning on the third day. Didn't make it all the way to Waterwheel Falls until a trip at the end of July 1998. It wasn't very high then. So now you are inspiring me to try to get there at a time of high flow.

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 1:18 pm
Great Photos. Thanks for the report, I have never been into the GC but I need to

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 1:59 pm
by kpeter
This trip remains high on my list. I frankly don't know why it never seems to make it to the very top! Your photographs and nice write-up (as always!) gave me an excellent idea of what I have been missing.

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 2:11 pm
by rlown
I have fond memories of Wildcat point and Mattie Lk. Thanks for a stroll down memory lane.

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 2:41 pm
by Tom_H
So beautiful. Your TRs just make my spirit soar. THANKS!!

Re: GC Tuolumne, 5/31-6/3

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2018 4:02 pm
by Wandering Daisy
Supposedly the Pate Valley Bridge will be worked on this Fall and maybe that also means some trail clearing. The three fellows also mentioned that where I had turned around, a rock slide had covered the trail and getting through was tough. I remember when the Return Creek Bridge washed out in 1997-8 flood. It took more than a year before that was replaced. You probably would not need any bridges in late Fall, but now, you sure do.

Although the waterfalls are not as spectacular in the Fall, if you like swimming holes, this IS the time to go! My daughter and I did a loop; Twin Lakes, Rock Island Pass, Rancheria Canyon, Seavey Pass, Benson Lake, Rodgers Lake, Rodgers Canyon, Pate Valley, three days slowly going up the GCT swimming in every pool, PCT to Matterhorn Canyon, Burro Pass, Maltby Lake, Little Slide Canyon (waist deep ford required), Twin Lakes. Or instead go out via Mule Pass. You can resupply at Tuolumne Store, although we did not.

Here are photos from the 2012 trip, which had lower flows so I could get closer to the falls. At certain water levels, Le Conte Falls also has a few "waterwheels". The crossing at Register Creek was a bit higher this year. The "waterwheels" actually show better at slightly lower flows.