After getting acclimated to the elevation and cold up at Tuolumne Meadows’ 8,600 feet, I took three days to go backpacking to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp (HSC) and into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. This was a typical view on the 7 mile hike into Glen Aulin, taken along the Tuolumne River. Suzanne and I joke about scenes like this, calling them “hateful places”…
This backpacker is obviously enjoying the day, which has warmed up from a chilly 25F low the night before to a toasty 65F in the afternoon, allowing him to remove the zippered bottoms of his long pants, converting them to shorts. He is also drinking plenty of water; it’s easy to get dehydrated at higher elevations, making you easily fatigued. The down side is that in dry stretches, you have to carry more water; fortunately, when you reach a spring, creek or river that is flowing, you just fill your empty water bottle and drink from an in-line filter or treat the water with iodine pills to kill giardia and cryptosporidium protozoa that cause gastrointestinal disorders.
This stock team (horses and mules) passed me while I was hiking; the young ranger was heading into the High Sierra Camp, which had closed the week before, to pack out supplies before an early snow isolated the camp. One of the advantages to following a pack train is that the trail, even over wide granite outcroppings is well-marked with… well, you know. But the markers can be very smelly…
The free campsite where I set up my tent is a quarter mile above the “ritzy” HSC where hikers can pay $166 a day to stay in tent cabins (with wood stoves, no less) erected on wooden platforms; they also get three meals a day prepared for them, not an altogether bad deal. Another advantage is that they can carry day packs and hike a loop trail through the National Park to six other HSC’s, enjoying a week in some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet without being loaded down with a 35 lb backpack. (This image shows the camp being disassembled for the winter.)
I much preferred my solo tent site on top of a hill behind the HSC, where this sunrise view greeted me for two mornings. The black can to the right of the tent is a bear canister weighing 2.3 lbs; backpackers are required to carry them into the wilderness and store all food, toothpaste and toiletries in them to prevent bears from getting access to human food and supplies. A stream was located about 300 ft down the hill, and a compost toilet about an eighth of a mile away in the opposite direction. (This is called “Living Large”… normally water supplies are much farther away, and instead of compost toilets, you carry a trowel into the woods, bury human waste 6 inches deep in soil, and pack out all T.P.)
The trail dropped rapidly several hundred feet on switchbacks into the impressive Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Had I walked to the end of the 17-mile long canyon, which kept dropping mile by mile, I would need a 3,700 ft climb out over 5 miles, a very steep, challenging route… I opted instead for a 6 mile day hike and much less elevation loss/gain.
During my hike down the canyon, I stopped for lunch at another “hateful place”, this stepped waterfall; because it was late summer, water flow was pretty low. May and June would see much higher water levels and spectacular falls here.
While having lunch, I met Raymond, a 61 year old trail runner. He lives at 8,000 feet in Mammoth, CA, and is a carpenter and ski instructor, although recent ski injuries (two dislocated shoulders and a broken collarbone) are starting to slow him down. Not too badly, though, because he was out for at least a 12 mile run that morning, carrying only a hydration pack and a few trail mix bars.
I was a tired hiker when I settled in for the night, but this twilight scene with a half moon above the mountains put me in a good mood.
On my last day at Glen Aulin, I hiked out the way I had come in back to the car. After three days, I was ready for a shower (ya’ think?) and a real fresh-cooked meal, but was still enjoying every minute I spent in the backcountry of Yosemite.
What passed for a shower came when I drove 22 miles down into the nearest town, the small hamlet of Lee Vining, CA, pop. 222, for a hot meal. On the way back I stopped at the Inyo National Forest Service office for some advice on hikes. This was the view from the USFS office; Tioga Pass (far left on the skyline) is the eastern entry into Yosemite. It sits at 9,945 feet, on the edge of the Sierra Nevada escarpment, 3,567 feet above Lee Vining and adjacent Mono Lake (6,378 ft) just east of the pass. The Tioga Road, CA-120, follows an ancient Indian path from the eastern valley into the High Sierras. It is closed during the winter months (October-June) when frequent heavy snows making plowing an impossible task. Unfortunately, the office was closed, but the restroom was open, and it had hot water, which is more than my campground offered back in Yosemite. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a sink bath, but 10 minutes later I was washed, refreshed and in clean hiking clothes. I even got to wash two pair of dusty socks in the sink and hang them up in the car to dry while I went to my next hike. As they say, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”.
My next hike was around Saddlebag Lake (10,087 ft) and then up to Steelhead Lake (seen here at left) and into the 20 Lakes Basin, where Mt. Conness (13,053 ft) hosts a small glacier on its north slope. There were very few hikers up here; I met only five other people and one dog (Meg, the hiking Chihuahua) that day, but the scenery was stunning. Because of the elevation, mostly above treeline, I was in the sun for most of the day, but the temp never rose over 65F, ideal weather for hiking.
At the end of the day, I was dog-tired, and made an early dive into my sleeping bag just after watching sunset at Lembert Dome, a fitting way to end another perfect day in Yosemite National Park.