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TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

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TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby tomba » Sun Jan 22, 2012 11:13 pm

The routes in the links below are hand-drawn. Hopefully, someone will find them useful for getting ideas for short cross-country hikes.

After seeing encouraging reports from Tioga Road mentioning almost no snow and frozen lakes, we decided to go there for a day or few days during Christmas / New Year break. We took our kids with us, youngest being 8 years old. This (and the short days) would limit the distance of our day hikes.

On the way to Lee Vining we stopped by frozen Tenaya Lake at night. Few times per minute we could hear booming scary sounds "tunk!" that the ice was making. We would later hear this sound made by most frozen lakes.

The first day we set out to Gaylor Lakes. The route was mostly clear of snow, except the wooded area at the start and the slope to the Gaylor Lake. We had a lot of fun sliding on the frozen lake. Ice had many interesting areas - milky, transparent, with many bubbles and cracks. The bubbles and cracks visible deep under the ice surface helped estimate that the ice was quite thick and safe to walk on. There were areas that looked like "nerve cells" - a clear hub with clear dendrites extending from it. At the shore, expanding ice pushed itself up onto shoreline. We went up to the upper lake, looked over the road, up to the mines, and overlook to Saddlebag Lake. I hiked down a bit to see that the route to the area with Fantail Lake and Shell Lake seems quite doable - class 2. We went back down to both Granite Lakes where kids (all of us, actually) had fun playing "hockey" with chunks of ice that were easy to break off near rocks. On the way back at Gaylor Lake and the pass to the road, we were treated to a glorious sunset with sun setting behind the Cathedral Peak.

Click on pictures to see a larger version.

A "nerve cell" pattern on frozen Gaylor Lake.
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A "nerve cell" pattern on frozen Gaylor Lake.


We liked it here. I had to come up with where to go the next day. We wanted to avoid forested areas (they had snow), and stick mostly to open granite. We decided to go on a string of domes starting with Pothole Dome. Kids had a lot of fun playing on tops of the domes and finding the route up the domes. We went on Pothole Dome, through a no-name dome surrounded by little no-name lakes (which, while small, was a bit of a challenge to climb and get down due to its steepness) East Cottage Dome, and West Cottage Dome (see Closed Contour for dome names). Daff Dome looked too hard to get to from our direction. We went to the lake directly north from West Cottage Dome and we all had fun playing with chunks of ice on the frozen lake. Going down to the large meadow next to Tuolumne River we had to go through forest, which moreover was on northern slope. Therefore, we had to go through some snow, and our shoes got wet. Not a big deal - we changed shoes and socks when we got back to the car, as we knew this may happen. The river was frozen, and we were extra careful on the frozen river. If one falls in the water, current may take him under the ice - and that would be it. Safest places seemed to be where the river was wide, like a lake.

Sunset on snowy Tuolumne Meadows.
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Sunset on snowy Tuolumne Meadows.


We wanted to try some area in East Sierra. Little Lakes Valley sounded interesting, but a recent trip report mentioned that the road was open only till the stables, and additionally the trail from Mosquito Flat was solid ice river. Ranger at Mammoth recommended Parker Lake, so off we went. It turned out to be quite ordinary hike. The frozen lake was covered with a thin layer of snow (about 1cm). We tried to reach the head of the valley, but dense bushes discouraged us. On the way back we took a side trail to climb a ridge and some cross country bush walking to make it a loop. We finished the day by visiting the unmarked hot springs north-east from Whitmore Hot Springs and the Hot Creek Geological Area.

Bushwalking from Parker Lake.
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Bushwalking from Parker Lake.


We decided that the areas from Tioga Road are much nicer, so we went back there the next day. Open granite and domes worked well for kids, so we started from Olmsted Point and hiked north. After the first dome, we followed the ridge to the next dome. We had to be careful at one place, as in the morning the north-facing granite was slippery. This was the only time we had such problem, and we could easily go around it. We turned left and climbed the dome with an overhanging rock - like a diving board. Then we went towards the trail to May Lake parking lot. On the way we had some fun on frozen ponds. The trail led us to the parking lot and we continued to May Lake. At one point we left the trail briefly and on top of a ridge we found that someone built a spiral maze out of rocks. We arrived at frozen May Lake. After looking at High Sierra Camp deconstructed until the next season, we headed back. After the switchbacks we took cross country route to the old road, trying to stick to open non-forested areas marked on the map.

Spiral maze on the way to May Lake.
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Spiral maze on the way to May Lake.


We had one day break due to bad weather being forecasted on Friday, and we went back the next day. This time, from Sunrise trailhead, we went on some domes south from the road. The area is very nice. While making the loop, we crossed the infamous Tenaya Canyon, which is not treacherous at all at this section. After climbing up somewhat steep granite slopes we cut to the trail to avoid steeper climb and to start going back. The trail, actually, turned out to be more treacherous than our cross-country route. It is in shaded forest (which must be nice on hot summer days), and it was in many places covered with hard packed slippery snow. We soon left the trail heading north-east, traversing the granite slope. We had to cross a couple of frozen creeks. Sloping ice is very slippery and dangerous. If it was too risky, we would just go down. But we managed to find safe crossings. It was getting dark and we got back down to the trail with the help of moonlight.

Tenaya Canyon.
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Tenaya Canyon.


The next day we went up to Cathedral Lakes from Tenaya Lake. We parked where the road starts climbing up from the valley floor. On the hike from Olmsted Point we saw the route up, on granite slopes north from Tenaya Creek. From a distance it seemed doable. We followed Tenaya Creek past Pywiack Dome (I hoped to go up the dome on the way back), and started climbing on on the granite slabs. Soon, however, we arrived to a short section that was very steep and was bordered on the right by steep ice of frozen Tenaya Creek and on the left by a steep cliff. I tried to find a route, following some shelves and cracks, but options were limited due to the constraints on the right and left. We retreated down a bit, crossed Tenaya Creek and went up on the opposite side of the creek. We still had to climb a bit steep granite but it was passable for us. When we arrived somewhat above the outlet, the view of the lake with Cathedral Peak behind it was great. After a quick walk to the little Dozier Dome (see Closed Contour for dome names) we went back to the lake to play on ice. We met a group of people who went up here using Medicott Dome route. Just before we met them we decided to try to take that route back, as the route seemed passable according to the map. Meeting them gave us confidence that the route was OK. From Cathedral Lake we went on the ridge to Medicott Dome. On the way we played on a frozen elongated unnamed lake. We then climbed the dome east from Medicott Dome and went to Mariuoumne Dome. From there we had a good view of the area dotted with domes north from Tioga Road. Many more trips are possible there. Perhaps in the summer, when one doesn't have to try to stay out of forested areas between the domes (to avoid the snow). On the way back, trying to reach the bench below Medicott Dome we crossed the little creek from the elongated lake we played on earlier a little too soon, and we had to back-track. We found our way down to the valley without much difficulty. Sun was setting and we had to skip Pywiack Dome. We came back when it was dark, with moonlight helping us find the way.

Playing on frozen Cathedral Lake.
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Playing on frozen Cathedral Lake.


On the last day of the break, we went to see tufa at Mono Lake and went through (leaving the trail) Panum Crater enjoying obsidian and other sharp volcanic rocks, very different from granite. Back on the Tioga Road we stopped by Tenaya Lake and we went on the ridge north-west from Tenaya Lake. The north-most part of the ridge, that reaches the trail from May Lake, is a nice narrow arete.

Sunset on frozen Tenaya Lake. The rock with "diving board" that we went on three hikes earlier is visible.
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Sunset on frozen Tenaya Lake. The rock with "diving board" that we went on three hikes earlier is visible.


Two weeks later (last week), weekend forecast was still dry, so we bought some ice skates and went back up to the mountains. Ice skating lakes near Tioga Pass in mid January - this was something special that we could not pass. This time we didn't take the youngest kid with us. The next youngest is 10 years old. We stayed two nights in Lee Vining. Saturday, after briefly skating on Ellery Lake, we carried the skates to Gaylor Lake and skated there. Then, we skated the unnamed lake below the Granite Lakes (WL10049T). We made a loop around Granite Lakes, looking down at the steep cliffs down to the lakes. As we reached the plateau below peak 11887T we split. It was getting late and I let the family make the way on the ridge (first, around north side of peak 11887T) to the upper Gaylor Lake and I would catch up with them. I wanted to go to the nearby ridge to the west to take a peek at the valley with Skelton Lakes. I reached the southern end of the ridge and I saw the south Skelton Lake. I wanted to see the north lake too, so even though I planned to go down the plateau, I went north on the ridge instead, walking on the small glaciers (or rather, permanent snow fields), which fortunately at the top were fairly horizontal and easy to walk on. As I followed my family, I soon saw them and not long after that I joined them. The route around north side of peak 11887T turned out to be talus that slowed us down. Sun was setting, and we reached upper Gaylor Lake when it was getting dark. But now it was easy way - just follow the trail, easily done with flashlights. We didn't need flashlights until we started the final descent to the road in the forest. There was no moon this time. We saw people with flashlights coming down from Mt. Dana.

Frozen Skelton Lake.
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Frozen Skelton Lake.


On Sunday, after skating on Tenaya Lake, we went up on the ridge above Tenaya Lake. It was forecasted to be a windy day. On the little dome above the lake it was quite windy. But after that it turned out to be not too bad and we went all the way up to Tenaya Peak (we thought it may be too windy). Down on Mildred Lake we skated some. As we went back down, we pretty much went the same way, but we skipped the little dome. At Tenaya Lake it was dark and people were leaving. I wanted one last skate. I skated with a headlight and a strong flashlight in my hand. I went on the same places that I skated earlier this day, so it was safe. At one point I hear a loud "tunk!" and I see a crack in the ice appear few meters in front of me, many meters long, perpendicular to me. Even though I thought it was safe I decided that it was enough. Perhaps the ice was reacting to the cold of the night.

Frozen Tenaya Lake from Tenaya Peak.
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Frozen Tenaya Lake from Tenaya Peak.


Edits: more info on peak 11887T, ppl w/flashlights on Mt. Dana.
Last edited by tomba on Tue Jan 24, 2012 9:37 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby Snow Nymph » Mon Jan 23, 2012 12:41 pm

:thumbsup:
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby Cross Country » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:01 pm

You're lucky to have such good hikers (kids) who like that kind of stuff. I was lucky to have one (Mike) who loved it too. My other one, not so much.
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby windknot » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:53 pm

Neat trips, thanks for sharing.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby giantbrookie » Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:39 pm

What a wonderful way to spend the winter break. Those are some great little hikes and adventures.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby LMBSGV » Mon Jan 23, 2012 10:20 pm

I am extremely jealous of all of you who managed to get the most out of our late snowfall this winter. I really wish I could have escaped for a couple of days in that time. So I greatly appreciate the reports and photos. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby maverick » Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:16 pm

Very cool Tomba! Love the colors of the Tuolumne Meadow, and Tenya Sunset Photo. Thanks
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby rlown » Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:35 pm

that "nerve cell" pattern looks like a leftover ice fishing spot from earlier in the season. beautiful pics.
thanks..
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby balzaccom » Fri Jan 27, 2012 7:17 pm

Very cool! Thanks.

I flew over Yosemite today...and it was no longer bare of snow !
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Ice neurons

Postby tomba » Sat Jan 28, 2012 1:17 pm

rlown wrote:that "nerve cell" pattern looks like a leftover ice fishing spot from earlier in the season.


So, you think that they are not natural?

Ice neurons on Gaylor Lake.
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Ice neuron on Gaylor Lake.

IMG_4554-ice-neuron-small.jpg
Ice neuron on Gaylor Lake.


More interesting ice patterns - on frozen lake next to trail from May Lake.

IMG_4956-ice-pattern-small.jpg
Ice patterns on frozen lake on trail from May Lake.

IMG_4957-ice-pattern-small.jpg
Ice patterns on frozen lake on trail from May Lake.
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Re: TR: Short cross country hikes near Tioga Road

Postby rlown » Sat Jan 28, 2012 1:23 pm

it's a hole.. how do you know someone didn't drill it? it's a late season and there were some up there.
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