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TR: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

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TR: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Aug 05, 2010 8:26 pm

It was hot.

Well, cold, then warm for a while. And then really hot. And then cold again.

I had an opportunity, at the last minute, to jump into a hike with a friend who had a much longer itinerary planned. I'd been wanting to do the GCT. Here was my chance. I could go for the first three days of my friend's hike with him, and bail off the trail at White Wolf, letting him go on from there as he'd planned. He was kind enough to swing by and pick me up, solving the endless conundrum of how to get on the right bus to be where I should be at the right time.

Funny when I started at White Wolf (backpacker campground), I woke to frost on everything - I'd waded in the Tuolumne the afternoon before, and my Tevas froze overnight. Not a hard freeze, just enough to put crystals on everything and coat my Sublite (tarptent) with moisture inside and out (this is unusual for the Tyvek Sublite, which generally handles condensation like a champ where all nylon tent interiors are covered with water). Couple that with a bear visit (the firefighters are staying in the backpacker camp at White Wolf and have some good food, they get visited every night, one of them told us) leading to clanging and yelling at 1 am, and a midnight permit check by a mounted ranger (he clopped right by my tent and rousted someone from an REI tent across the loop), and it was a hard night. I did stay warm and dry and sleep some, so when my friend showed up two hours earlier than I expected, I was nearly ready to go. We drove off, leaving my frosted-over car in the White Wolf parking lot.

I got a quick breakfast sandwich at the TM grill and we hit the permit office for my friend's permit (I got a Glen Aulin passthrough the day before). And then we were off.

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The river gave us pause - I'd heard someone say the falls weren't flowing well and the river through the meadow looked placid. We saw a trophy buck along the way (picture unfortunately blurry), and lots of dayhikers - we got to Glen Aulin in good time (hit the trail around 10 am, rolled across the bridge into the camp around lunch time) and had a bite to eat near the falls, watching the pack train leaving. Backpackers were passing through - some were very young, 6-8 years old. Good to see families out there.

The falls were doing just fine. Not as impressive as early season, no doubt, but still present and accounted for. If you look close you can see the lady in the bikini sitting on the rock next to the falls.... I didn't realize she was there until I took the picture and she got up and walked away.

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We got to Register Creek well before dark, took a dunk in the river (cold!) and washed sweaty clothes, made dinner, loafed around camp. Took some late evening shots. Temps were great, down into the high 40s and in the mid 70s most of the time we spent in the canyon.

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The smoke haze that was in front of us all day was gone in the morning. The breezes shift around lunchtime - by evening smoke from the Slope Fire and nearby Harden Lake fires was back in force, hazing up the side canyons. But some shots I got were pretty clear, before then.

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Not too much wildlife watching, after our buck back in TM. We'd not had but a couple mosquitoes at Register. The breeze probably helped but there really seemed to be few bugs in the canyon. Along the way we found old bones from a horse and some really beautiful birds too fast for the camera. Well, too fast for the person using the camera. :p And then there was this guy:

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Cranky fellow, with busted rattles. He needed a little encouragement (end of trekking pole tapped on the ground a few feet away) but finally went back across and slid down into the rocks, where he buzzed and rattled angrily as we went by. What's not evident - he's hogging the trail and there's a granite face on the right, a steep rocky slope on the left.

We made it into Pate around two (started around 6 am) and after seeing how green and wet it still was, thought we'd make it further up before pitching camp. By 3 pm we were on the endless switchbacks heading for Morrison Creek, which meant full sun, granite trail, nearly 85F, sweating like crazy and drinking more water, and then I ran out. My friend had three mouthfuls left. Bad miscalculation - under normal circumstances I was capable of the mileage, but somehow had not registered that despite the low 70F temps all the way it would be different on that steep granite-lined part of the trail at that time of day. We were having too much fun trying to spot the bears leaving all the berry-filled poop in the trail and looking for more snakes to pay attention to such practicalities! My friend, of the so-much-greater heat tolerance, ran ahead to Morrison Creek, returned with water, carried my pack, and got us up into shade where I stuck my legs in the water and sipped water and snacked until my own temp dropped.

We camped on the ridge near Morrison, where there are flat (but dirty) tent sites. It gave us a great view of Hetch Hetchy and the Slope Fire - the helicopter flew until around 6 pm.

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This morning, my friend went onward, having a longer loop than me - his permit would take him back to his truck at TM, eventually, some days from now after he finishes his goal of hitting most of the north rim trail. When I topped the elevation gain from Morrison, the temps (in the 50s all night) immediately plunged, and after a surprisingly cold walk through green meadows full of wildflowers of all kinds, I finished out my own hike this morning, at 9:30 pm, sitting in my car with my cold Pepsi (from the White Wolf store) waiting for the YARTS to vacate the parking lot so I could start home and take the shower I needed to get the dirt and ash out of the pores on my calves. There's still a lot of burnt areas in the gorge; no avoiding the fine, powdery stuff that's left behind.

Great trip - a little late, but I think I would have been miserable when it's so green and boggy the bugs are bad. I had a blast - it will live in memory as the Hike of 1,000 Swimming Holes - the river was beautiful and oh so enticing. But we knew better and stayed in the eddies, no actual diving or swimming.



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AlmostThere
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Re: TR: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Postby windknot » Thu Aug 05, 2010 10:01 pm

Thanks for the detailed report and great pictures! I wouldn't have wanted to run into that rattler, he looks big enough to mean business.

Matt
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Postby gary c. » Thu Aug 05, 2010 10:42 pm

Thanks for the report. That buck does look like a dandy.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
-- Lionel Terray
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Re: TR: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Postby maverick » Fri Aug 06, 2010 10:01 am

Sounds and looks like a fun trip even with the lower water levels.
Ranger doing a midnight permit check, thats a first for me, though I do not
usually stay in the front country camp grounds.
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Re: TR: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Postby sierranomad » Fri Aug 06, 2010 9:30 pm

Nice TR and pictures. Thanks for sharing.
Jon

"When one tugs on a single thing in nature, he finds it's attached to the rest of the world". - John Muir
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