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I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

Tioga Pass Blitz

The anatomy of a one-day blitz trip to the Tuolumne/Tioga area…

Yesterday morning: Up at 3:50 a.m. Eat four strawberries and drink a cup of coffee and hit the road for Yosemite. Stop at the Starbucks at Highways 120 and 99 for a quick breakfast and continue on to the park. Arrive at the entrance around 7:30 or 7:45 – kiosk not open yet so I figure I’ll buy my new annual pass on the way out.

10 minutes later I spot beautiful dogwoods in bloom at the bottom of a hill and stop for 20-30 minutes of photography. Back in the car I turn onto 120 and head on toward Tuolumne, trying not to stop for any of a dozen or more photo ops. There wasn’t much snow considering that it is still only late May – some remnants at around 8000 feet, but many bare areas even at higher elevations.

Coming around the last turn into Tuolumne Meadows the familiar view appears before me: Tuolumne in the foreground, Lemert Dome at the far end, and beyond that the high peaks of Mts. Dana, Gibbs, and others.. The meadow is still quite brown, though starting to become green in the wetter areas. In contrast to past years, there is only a small flooded area near the start of the meadow. Nothing is open there yet so I head on up to Tioga Pass.

At the pass I discover that the tarn next to the parking lot before the pass is now “off limits” due to “restoration of amphibian population” or something. Surprisingly the tarn is still mostly frozen as are other nearby tarns. After my obligatory visit to the actual pass I head back down to the Mono Pass trail and load up my pack with lots of photo gear, some extra clothes (it is cold and windy), a bit of food, and hit the trail.

While there is not a lot of snow, there are a lot of wet spots and the creeks are higher than usual. (Though not as high as they were at the start of the season last year.) I wade a few creeks near the start of the hike. I can report that Goretex boots and serious gaiters (Thanks, Tom, for reminding us how to spell ‘gaiters’ “-) will keep your feet almost kind of sort of dry even if you walk right through the creek. I climb over the two moraines that follow the creek crossings and then settle into the more gradual terrain leading to the Spillway Lake trail.

I briefly consider going to Spillway and Parker Pass, but instead stick to the main trail to Mono Pass. (Too much snow in spots and not many people around – hiking alone, it seems that discretion is wise. Which turns out to be true later…) The trail climbs more steeply after this junction and there is more snow to cross or bypass. Getting closer to the pass, I pause at one of the old cabins before finishing up the trail. At the pass it is quite windy and colder than what will be typical later in the season. I spend a good chunk of time at the pass, photographing a hiker heading over into Bloody Canyon.

I begin the return trip, enjoying the easier hiking in the downhill direction. As I descend I realize that I’m dealing with a bit of altitude sickness, along with serious fatigue from starting my day so early so I slow down and take it easy. There is no hurry since all I have to do is get back to the car in time to drive down the road a ways and shoot the sunset.

On the steep section I get ahead of myself’ and trip on rocks. Ouch! I manage to bang up my knees, my shoulder, and one hand a bit. (Probably wouldn’t have hurt myself, and might not have fallen at all, except that I was trying so hard to make sure that I didn’t fall on my camera or my tripod…) A strange thing… after seeing almost no one on the trail all day, right after I fall I look back and there is another hiker about 15 feet behind me. After spending a minute making sure that everything is still working, I head on down the trail – a bit slower and more cautiously than before.

The light had been less than exceptional on the hike out, but on the way back the late afternoon light takes on a bit of a golden color and some nice clouds appear – so I pause frequently to take pictures. By the time I get back to the creek crossings I’m really feeling the effects of altitude, and suffering from a pretty big headache.

I head on down to Tuolumne and take a half hour nap before driving on towards Olmsted Point to take a few photographs as the light fades. Now it is time to start the long drive home – but I’m more tired than I can recall being on a one-day trip and I still have the headache. As I pass through the park I stop every 15 minutes or so and take a short nap – I’m not interested in falling asleep while driving! Finally I get to the entrance station and the lower altitude begins to relieve the headache and I leave the park. (The entrance station is closed again – even though I brought money for an annual pass, there is no one to sell me one!)

So I drive on, out of the park and finally back into the valley and then to Oakdale. I stop at my 120/99 Starbucks a few minutes after 11:00 to fortify myself with a double espresso and a cookie for the remainder of the drive. I finally arrive home at 1:10 and simply go inside and crawl into bed, leaving the unpacking for the next morning.

Photos to follow…



May 21, 2007 - Posted by | Trips

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