Last weekend I decided to do one of my favorite Tuolumne Meadows area hikes – the Mono Pass trail. This trail starts below Tioga Pass, just inside the park, and goes out the Sierra crest near Mount Gibb, passing through forest and beautiful alpine meadows on the way.
As I loaded up my pack – filling with a lot of photography equipment – it was a beautiful, clear morning. The previous day I had hiked out toward North Dome and carried what turned out to be too much extra clothing. Since I usually tend to over-prepare for the weather, and was perhaps more aware of this than usual having done so only 24 hours earlier, I decided to just take what I was wearing. That’s right, no rain gear.
Is there a better way to ensure that it will rain?
About an hour into the hike, near the junction with the trail to Spillway Lake, I was pleased to see some white, fluffy clouds appear – they relieved the uniform blue sky and occasionally produced a welcome bit of shade. I began to consider how I would incorporate them in photographs near the pass.
I reached the area of the pass at about 1:00 and wandered over to the historic mine site that sits on the pass. (I had visited the mine remnants before, but this time I found out a bit more about it. The site is older than I had thought, first being used in the 1860s and abandoned in about 1890.)
I sat down on a comfortable rock to drink some water, have a snack, and look around for photographic subjects. I noticed that the fluffy white clouds had morphed into something much darker and a bit menacing to my south, in the direction of Parker Pass. I figured this meant that there might be some thunder and perhaps a few showers by late afternoon when I returned to my car. No worries!
Not five minutes later it started to sprinkle. I thought “that’s a bit surprising, but it will stop in couple of minutes.” It didn’t stop. The drops became larger. I began to think about my lack of rain gear. As I sat there munching on my snack there was a sudden clap of thunder right overhead – what I call “flash bang” thunder because it is so close that there is almost no delay between the flash of lightning and the bang of thunder. A few minutes later another clap of thunder exploded right overhead.
OK, time to leave! By the time I had the pack reloaded and on my back, the light rain was becoming steady. Two thoughts became prominent in my mind. One, I had left my tent windows open back in Tuolumne Meadows – I hoped the rain didn’t head that way! Two, I was either going to get lucky and watch the showers move on, or I was about to get very wet on the nearly two-hour walk back out.
I got lucky. Although the trail was wet all the way down, there was constant thunder, and I could see rain coming down all around… it barely sprinkled on me until I got to my car. As I loaded the car it began to come down in earnest.
My tent was not so lucky. Back in Tuolumne it had rained, and hard.
Lessons learned and relearned. Never leave camp without closing everything up and putting all of my gear away. And, what the heck, toss that lightweight parka in the pack!
I’m just passing this along as an as-yet-unconfirmed rumor, but I’ve heard that Tioga Pass Road may open this weekend. Expect that many areas will still have a lot of snow and/or be quite wet, especially up high. Also, don’t expect any services or campgrounds to be open along the road in the park.
In an online discussion group I read and post to someone asked about hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows region of Yosemite. They were going to be there for only one day, and wondered what some of the options might be. Since I wrote up a reply and posted it to that discussion group, I figured I might as well share it here as well. Here goes…
You’re talking about MY country now! ;-)
There are, of course, a ton of interesting day hikes in the Tioga/Tuolumne region. Which one is right for you depends a lot on how much time you’ll have, your preferences for terrain and other features, what time of day you are there, and so forth. I’ll just mention a few to get you started.
1. If you are only there for a very brief time, a minimal hike is simply to hike out across the meadow to the Soda Springs area. You’ll enjoy this more if you do it in the morning or late in the day. This is an easy and essentially flat walk – and there are several alternate routes – that takes you across the meadow and the river and into the edge of the forested areas.
2. Another short walk can take you to the the bridge across the Tuolumne on the John Muir Trail as it starts up Lyell Canyon. You can start this at any of the parking areas along the spur road to Tuolumne Lodge, though I think the route from the main campground is more scenic.
3. To get just a _bit_ more flavor of the backcountry, you could hike the one mile trail to May Lake and its high sierra camp set beneath Mt. Hoffman. (This is not all the way up to Tuolumne – e.g. it is further west along the Tioga Pass road.
4. The relatively short hike from the back of the Tuolumne Campground to Elizabeth Lake is scenic and gets you to a wonderful, meadow-surrounded sub-alpine lake. There is plenty to explore there.
5. If you want to get to a high place with great panoramic views of Tuolumne and the surrounding peaks (especially the Cathedral range) the hike to the top of Lembert Dome is a classic. Some find sections at the top a bit exposed for comfort, but it is not really dangerous at all – hundreds of people climb it every day. I prefer to start this hike from the “dog lake trail” parking lot between the wilderness permit station and Tuolumne Lodge.
6. To quickly get to true high sierra terrain, the hike from the Tioga Pass entrance station to the Gaylor Lake Basin can’t be beat. The route is short but steep. There are tremendous views of 13,000+ Mt. Dana across the meadow, and the basin itself has plenty to explore. You can even visit the remains of the old mining site at the head of the basin.
7. If you have a good half day, the hike out to Mono Pass is spectacular. You’ll get all the way to the Sierra crest on foot, you’ll travel through wonderful alpine terrain, you’ll get to see more historic remnants of log cabins near the pass. If you are a very aggressive hiker you can work nearby Parker Pass and/or Spillway Lake into your hike as well.
8. Another classic day hike – of roughly the same length at the Mono Pass hike but at somewhat lower elevation – takes you from T-Meadow to Cathedral Lakes.
There are more… many more.
… and I want to say that Saturday is a good day to be leaving Yosemite! :-)
As I left via the northern route around midday today, the line waiting to get into the park was half a mile long! Where do they put all these people?!
I spent the weekend shuttling around areas ranging from Yosemite Valley to Mono Lake to Mariposa grove. The story is posted at my photography web site.
I always look forward to reading the Tuolumne Meadows Winter Report from the rangers who spend the off-season generally keeping an eye on this part of the high country. There is a summary at Yosemite blog right now.
I just replied to an email from future European visitor to Yosemite who wanted to know a bit about visiting the Young Lakes region in the Yosemite National Park high country, and I thought it might be useful to share the message with others who may want to go there. Here is the text, slightly modified: Continue reading
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