Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows

10 August 2010

Months of preparation behind us, we bid farewell to Pilastr's parents who had delivered us to the trailhead, and pitched our first camp in the crowded backpacker's campground of Yosemite Valley. Earplugs came in handy this night, and a few crowded others. All told, crowds would be less of an annoyance than we'd feared. Insipid yammer, at passes that you'd expect to strike any human dumb, was really the worst of it.

11 August 2010 - Happy Isles (4000') to just beyond Cloud's Rest JCT (7190')
12% Diff=9.7
C1 - Trail follows Sunrise Cr with some sites btw stream and trail. Just before you cross CloudsRestJCT/Sunrise Creek, a collection of use trails leads north to sites atop small knob, views to Halfdome & Mt.Starr King
Yellow pushpins mark our planned stops, while "Camp 1, Camp 2..." mark our actual campsites.

First day on the trail! Out of shape and hauling too much flesh, the 7 mile 3,210 foot elevation gain meant starting off with a bang. WE'd hiked this first stretch before but it forever defies belief. We are definitely ready for a month out here. Avoiding the popular Mist Trail we stayed on the JMT proper, dusty but nicely graded with a tremendous stretch along a rim with views to Nevada Falls. We passed a couple of hikers who, judging from their deep orange Oompa Loompa tans, were finishing the trail that day. They looked plenty happy. It was encouraging to see them and know the snowy passes and streams ahead were indeed passable despite a report we'd had, from someone who finished three weeks prior, telling us crampons would be advisable. Instead, we'd find completely dry crossings and a single stretch of snowy trail (descending from Muir Pass). But not to jump ahead in the story, this was day one.

We broke for lunch at Nevada Falls and cooled off our feet in the river. Hiked the rest of the day and were glad to loose the crowds at the junction to Half Dome. We continued past Clouds Rest junction and spotted a path just before crossing Sunrise Creek. It led us to a gorgeous, level site atop of a granite knob. The site was previously impacted with a fire ring but completely hidden from the trail with spectacular views into Little Yosemite Valley below and ant trail of people ascending the cables on Half Dome.

We cooked dinner and brought our sleeping pads out on the granite slabs to watch the sky. It was much colder than expected, wind chill mostly though we may have been within the cold sink of Little Yosemite Valley. We fetched our sleeping bags to stay out and see the stars, worrying (unnecessarily it turns out) that if temperatures were this cold at 7200', what would we be facing some seven thousand feet higher!

Pilastr tried to stay up to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower but I hopped in the tent after catching a few decent shooting stars. For Pilastr, a long bright burner or two fell across the sky, but eyelids fell faster. Waking up with sunlight just touching half dome was a surreal welcome to our second day on the trail.

12 August 2010 - Cloud's Rest JCT (7190') to Echo Creek JCT (9320')

2300’ 7% D=8.8
C2 - Trail crosses sandy ridge+descends toward Sunrise HSC. Cross 1 small tributary where there is a small campsite among Mtn Hemlock. Joe=“Good camp @ Columbia Finger just past Sunrise HSC”
Broke camp, hit the trail and found ourselves immediately upon a huge bear standing on it's hind legs and tearing bark from a tree in order to snarf down some bugs. Pilastr was able to get a few blurry photos while I backed off, moving down the trail to let the bear have it's space. It eventually crossed the trail and continued on it's way up the hill on a felled tree but stopped, turned and took one and half charging steps to make sure we weren't pursuing him! Seems we weren't far enough away to avoid detection.

Brilliant ridge views down into Little Yosemite Valley on one side and chimney peaks on the other preceded a challenging uphill climb. There's ample water along the way, we could've carried far less than we were. We managed just fine and once things leveled off we stopped for lunch in a huge, gorgeous meadow where saw another bear!
We continued past Sunrise High Sierra camp, through the long meadow and started the climb toward Cathedral Pass stopping well below though to pitch camp on a stunning granite ridge just below Columbia Finger. The ridge flanks a secluded frog pond that's not marked on the Tom Harrison map. After pitching our tent on a sandy patch, we found an excellent established fire ring about a hundred feet away, marked above as "Camp2 Firering".

13 August 2010 - Echo Creek JCT (9320') to Tuolumne Meadows (8680')

(640’) D=10
C3 - Tuolumne backpackers camp is due north of Dana Campfire Circle. $5 per person, no reservations. Tuolumne Deli closes at 5pm Clark says “camp 18” not far from toilets is hidden, best.

The short steep climb to Cathedral Pass was just enough to wake us up, and the next 9 miles, loosing 850 feet in elevation, is well-known for its stunning views. We passed the scenic and crowded Cathedral Lake and sped on through groups of shampooed day-hikers. We did not continue out into Tuolumne Meadows proper, the official trail leads to Soda Springs. Instead we took the cutoff, before hitting the highway, to reach the Tuolumne backpacker's camp situated
up the hill from the car sites, behind A32 to be exact. Pitched the tent, gathered our resupply bucket from the post office and hit the Tuolumne Meadows Grill for lunch/dinner as we hadn't bothered to stop for lunch. Our hunger level was not as high as we predicted for this stretch of the trip, still I managed to inhale the pricey cheeseburger, fries and all, in under 60 seconds. We then discovered a note from Pilastrs' family on the bulletin board beside the post office. We hurried to meet them at Lyell Forks for an early evening swim which was most welcome.

After saying our goodbyes we returned to camp where Pilastr learned the most dangerous place on the trail is the place with the most people. Not to suggest anyone messed with us; but loitering outside the bathrooms the many campfires led him not to use his headlamp. He walked straight into a chest-high granite boulder, hidden in the shadow of a nearby car, giving himself nasty hamburger slider on the knee. Our first aid kit was put to use for the first time. By the time we were turning in, hikers were still arriving to the backpacker's campground, pitching their tents in between the numbered sites and sharing our bear locker. It was another very crowded campground where earplugs were welcome.

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