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Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 2:30 am
by Harlen
My ski partner and I raced into Yosemite Valley Wednesday Dec. the 11th, in hopes of reaching the Tuolumne Meadows ski hut before the bad weather forecast for Friday-Sat. came in.  It didn't look like very bad weather, and we felt that the heavy snowfall from the former week would be nicely settled.  We chose the easy route from the Valley: up Snow Creek Trail; along the "skier's route" to Olmstead Pt; and we skied the road from there.  It's a 22 mile trip in if all goes well.  There are 2 semi-serious avalanche zones, one of which can be skied around.  We had great luck with the weather, as you will see below.  It really pays to study the NOAA weather forecasts, and the avalanche advisories when choosing your travel dates.  Ours were: 12/11 to 12/19- eight days of sliding on snow.

I choose to take along a sled, or "pulk" on many trips; works well as long as there are no outrageous long uphills.  My latest sled design weighs just 5 lbs.  We were skiing by the 7000' level.

  Amazing forest of Snow Flat, composed here of giant red fir trees... and one big ponderosa left of center.

The skier's route: crosses the saddle north of Mt. Watkins.  As you can see here, the east side of the saddle is avalanche terrain.  The May Lake Trail option has none, and adds just a mile or so between Snow Flat, and Olmstead Pt.

Though these winter trips are less colorful, there are so many fascinating new forms, such as the snow-covered rocks seen here.  Also: icicles, frozen creeks, lakes and waterfalls, snowy trees, animal tracks, ...

The weather began to pack in around Tenaya Lake, so we camped there in a light snowfall. 

The pattern for the first 4 days was nice mornings, and snowy afternoons and nights.  We had this nice sunrise Friday morning.

Tenaya Lake. I tried to get Frank to ski across it, but he chickened out.

Two inches of blowing snow on Friday made for this nice scenery; that's Lembert Dome.

The ski hut following the Sat. night snowfall of 5-6."  We couldn't have been any happier to find the hut door open.  We'd arrived before the winter rangers, and had the hut to ourselves for 5 nights.  

  We split wood, made kindling and wood shavings for fire-starter, and dug out trails around the hut.  The great winter ranger duo of Rob and Laura Pilewski arrived late Sunday, and moved into their cabin for the season- it's half a mile up valley from the ski hut.

We toured all over the meadows on our first free day ski.

Unicorn and Cathedral Peaks.

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report Part 2

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 2:51 am
by Harlen
Soda Springs is just a half mile from the ski hut.  Birds and other animals congregate around the open waterways.  We saw a small flock of Cassin's finches, and mountain chicadees.  We had poor luck seeing wildlife this trip.  Tracks of coyote, snowshoe hares, squirrels, mice, and ??? were everywhere, but we only spotted a total of  5 chicarees, one pika (I think), 6 ravens, one hairy woodpecker, and the small finch flock mentioned above. 

It snowed about 5" Saturday night, but then dawned this clear!

5 easy miles up the snowy Park road is this high meadow where the Dana Fork meets Parker Pass Creek.  The Dana Meadows are another couple miles up the road.  If you can get used to skiing over a road, it can give you fast access to some wonderful areas.  Fit skiers can even ski up Mt. Dana or Gibbs here, and return to the hut in a day.  I was happy to just tour in the meadows below.

Frank and I chose to ski to Upper Cathedral Lake.  There are many great options from there, including Cathedral Pass to Echo Valley- for a brilliant view of the Western Echo Peaks; or a circle back via Budd Creek, with the great view of the south-east buttress of Cathedral Peak on the way.  I tried a new return route, traversing high up on Medlicott Dome for the fine view to the north.  Below are some images from that 10 mile day trip:

Frank heading up.

We passed through a snowy Elf forest.

Blowing snow off the shoulder of Cathedral.

Eichorn Pinnacle from the west.

This is upper Cathedral Lake; the far side of that forested saddle leads down to the Budd Creek Basin.

Great views north from up on Medlicott Dome.  Fairview Dome in the foreground and Mount Conness in the distance.

Left of Fairview Dome is the huge, shadowy wall of Whorl Peak hanging above Spiller Creek's canyon.

Back in the Elf land.

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report Part 3

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 3:11 am
by Harlen
We knocked and knocked, and called out "Markskor!" but he wouldn't come out.

Chicaree tracks everywhere.

These are the nutritious seeds of lodgepole pine and fir trees.  We think that both squirrels and some of the birds in large part, subsist on these in winter, but that's just a guess... lets see:
Naturalist Guide says:
Douglas squirrels  (*our "Chicarees")  mostly eat seeds of coniferous trees... They also eat acorns, berries, mushrooms, the eggs of birds such as yellow warblers, and some fruit... Douglas squirrels are larder hoarders, storing their food in a single location or 'larder' called a midden.
   Okay, so perhaps they also eat a lot of things that they stored earlier in the year.

Sunset on the divide from Puppy Dome, a small dome between the ski hut and the ranger cabin.  We met the Pilewskis here for "Happy Hour."  We asked them how bloody cold it had been, and they said the clear nights had hit a low of -8º F!  Other nights had been 0º, and then a bit higher.  It had felt very cold while skiing in the early morning.  This knowledge allowed us to drink more spirits for warmth.

The spirits kept me warm, but also apparently made my hands shake- look at this ruined blurry photo!  Same sunset from Puppy Dome, looking west at a well-lit snow banner.

On the way out the weather looked interesting, (as in "Chinese curse" interesting) but soon cleared off completely, for a very cold night.

Frank looking like a true wilderness explorer, but...

The honesty shot shows that we are in fact, skiing over a road.  Why is this monstrosity perched by Olmstead Point?  Due to the avie clearing/roadwork done here? Skiing the road, you will encounter various signs, metal posts, and off the road/trail, some bathrooms and other structures. Not for the real purists I suppose.

With just a 36" base, we can still dig down to the ground for fire pits.  We dig out nice sitting benches while we're at it. [We also experimented with digging snow out from under my beta-light tarp tent to create space- it worked really well.]

Thawing leather boots in the AM, even tho. I had them inside my z-bag during the morning hours.  Note: extra pads are great for snow camping. One for the bench seat, and a half pad for your feet on the ground to keep down booties dry.

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report Part 4

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 3:27 am
by Harlen
Back in the Snow Flat fir forest.


Snow Creek Ski Hut.  Locked up, so you must get the combo in the Valley with your permit.

End of the trail, ~ 6,500" snow line.

The last day is fantastic as last days go.  Great views of the upper Valley!


I was very taken with the view up valley.

Quarter Domes up to Clouds Rest.


A very good, and comprehensive text on an important subject.  Take care, and good luck out there, Ian.

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 7:20 am
by The Other Tom
WoW! Great pics and report! Thanks for posting

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 7:32 am
by TurboHike
"Thawing leather boots in the AM... "

Leather boots? Wow, haven't seen that in awhile!

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 12:06 pm
by bobby49
I did the same trip in March of 1980. It doesn't seem like much has changed, but at Tuolumne Meadows we slept in the Parsons Lodge.

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 7:28 pm
by rlown
Just curious Harlen. What where your pack weights when not on Snow?

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 8:12 pm
by Harlen
Hey Russ,
I began with 28 lbs.- light as that because I have stashed food for a month up at the ski hut's storage container. So I skied in with just dinner for the first short day- we left in the dark from the Valley to get that jump on the weather. Then food for three meals the 2nd day- Snow Flat to Tenaya lake; and breakfast only for the third day, when we reached the Ski Hut and buckets of food.

I added the 5 lb. sled, plus 5.5 lbs. for the carried skis- so a total weight of 38.5 lbs. for the trudge up the steep Snow Creek Tr.

Re: Tuolumne Ski Tour- Trip Report

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2019 11:52 pm
by wildhiker
Great report! I'd love to see those meadows in the snow, but this trip is beyond my skills and endurance. Your photos show some of the beauty I imagine.