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TR Upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne 6/30-7/4

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TR Upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne 6/30-7/4

Postby jdille » Wed Jul 05, 2017 8:13 pm

Every year we meet our friends from Southern California for some time on the trail. Our main goals for this year's trip were to be on new trail, view epic waterfalls, work our early season legs, and be in the Sierra. We originally had permits from White Wolf to Glen Aulin (6/30- 7/4). We saw the PCT reports of high water and bridge issues at Glen Aulin a few weeks ago and knew we may have to change our plans. When we arrived at the Tuolumne Wilderness Permit Station, the Ranger said he did not know if Morrison Creek would be crossable or if the bridges in Pate Valley were out. He didn't recommend the trip and said that we would be the first people that he issued a permit to this season. We decided to change plans and start the same trail from Glen Aulin heading towards White Wolf. We wanted to see the waterfalls and knew we could turn around at Register Creek if we did get any further information about Morrison Creek and Pate Valley from other parties while on the trail.

We hit the trail and the Tuolumne River was high everywhere! There was some flooding (ankle deep) on one side of the twin bridges. The trail on the north end of the steel bridge leading into Glen Aulin was also flooded, but only ankle deep. The Conness Creek Bridge is out and lodged about 30 feet downstream. There was knee deep wading and some mosquitoes after the HSC junction in Glen Aulin itself.
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We stayed the first night above California Falls. The only other group we saw was fishing at a choice camp near the bottom of the falls.

The next day was an incredible tour of waterfalls. We made our way to the bridge at Return Creek (not flooded and in great shape) and kept going. There were parts of the trail full of driftwood from the earlier higher water.
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We found a good camp near the crossing of Register Creek the second night. The next morning, the creek looked high but crossable. But with no other information about the bridges and water crossings ahead, we decided to turn around and head back. When we stopped for lunch later in the day, a couple came by that had started out of White Wolf. They said that the Pate Valley bridge was badly damaged, but usable. From their pictures, it looked like the sides of the bridge were destroyed, but the planks across the bottom were intact. They also said that there was a section of the trail in Pate Valley that was fully submerged by the river and they had to skirt around by climbing 15 feet above on a large rock slab. It was a little bit of a bummer knowing that we could've completed the whole trail, but you have to make decisions based on the information you have, and we had a great rest of our trip.
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We spent our third night at a great camp at LeConte Falls. We hiked out via the Murphy Creek Trail and spent our last night at Polly Dome Lake. The Murphy Creek Trail is still under 3 feet of snow in many sections and requires a little route finding. Overall it was a great trip. We wanted to get into the High Sierra, work our legs and see some epic waterfalls. We got all three! Sidenote: Many snakes along the trail as expected. The rattlesnake, the kingsnake and others. Not a ton of trail trash but we did find 3 mylar balloons, 5 tin cans, and a partial trekking pole to pack out.
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Re: TR Upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne 6/30-7/4

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Jul 06, 2017 10:58 am

Thanks for the report and photos. I did that route when the water was about 1-2 feet deep on the trail on your photo "kissing the river". That new bridge on Return Creek looks really good. The old one blew out over 10 years ago. Also, on the same early trip (Memorial Day weekend 2003) we had to wade through waist deep water below Glen Aulin and the bridge itself was covered with a few inches of water in the afternoons.

Peak flows look to be well over in the upper canyon. Appears that flows from Tuolumne Meadows area has peaked, but bigger flows have come from Piute Creek, which drains a huge watershed. Must have been really strong to damage the bridge at Pate Valley (or perhaps the bridge was just in poor condition). I was in Pleasant Valley early one year and Piute Creek was like a huge river- totally impossible to cross.
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Re: TR Upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne 6/30-7/4

Postby maverick » Thu Jul 06, 2017 11:48 am

Thank you for the TR and pictures. Some folks are sometimes concerned about the flooding in the sections above California Falls, do you by any chance have any photos or info to share on that area. Thanks
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: TR Upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne 6/30-7/4

Postby jdille » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:19 pm

Maverick, I don't have many pictures from the trail above California Falls, but here is one:
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Flooding was up to mid thigh for me (I'm 5'2'') in the deepest places, but mostly calf high. Nothing difficult. Just a refreshing walk through calm water.
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Re: TR Upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne 6/30-7/4

Postby mrphil » Tue Jul 11, 2017 5:40 am

Thanks. What a great report! Best I've seen on the route for years, and no doubt there are lots of people that will find this useful. The falls looked amazing.

Were the snow drifts on the actual Murphy Creek Trail, down past the junction of the May Lake Trail, or before that? We usually find that forested area above the junction to be where we get those sections with the residual snowpack, and Murphy Creek to be just draining like crazy. Speaking of which, how was that upper crossing of Murphy? I recommend that trail for novices a lot, and some intel on the state of things might keep at least a few of them within their element.
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Re: TR Upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne 6/30-7/4

Postby jdille » Tue Jul 11, 2017 10:01 pm

Thanks Mrphil! Snow drifts really started in earnest at the second crossing of Cathedral Creek.
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This pic is actually from right after the Cathedral Creek crossing
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Snow is definitely a factor from before the May Lake Trail junction. The trail is easy to follow in the early sections like the pic show --with wide tree lanes, etc. The upper crossing of Murphy was no problem. I didn't take a picture but it was calf high at highest. After the crossing though, the trail was a little difficult to find. We followed our topo and the creek and it was ok. I think that there is likely a much better worn trail now (we were there in the first few days Tioga was open). But I still wouldn't trust finding the trail without map skills. One bonus, I'd never thought of camping at Polly Dome Lakes but we did on our way out and it was actually pretty pleasant
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