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GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

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GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 11, 2012 12:28 pm

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne-Ten Lakes Loop
June 5-9, 2012

This is a loop trip I had planned over the winter. I only had to decide when to do it and which variation. I delayed a day due to reports of snow and left town at 6:30 AM on Tuesday. I picked up my permit at 9:00 and with White Wolf road closed and the new snow, the only reasonable option was to loop clockwise from Lukens Lake TH. Unfortunately, Tioga Road was still closed so I drove to the blockade and waited along with several others. Conditions could not have been better – cool in the canyon, clear skies, full moon, lots of good water sources, and low major river levels with no more than mid-calf wading required. Trip statistics: 54 miles, 12,000 feet elevation gain and loss, 4.5 days.

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Day 1 (half day): 7.6 miles, +570 feet, -3025 feet, 5 hours. The road opened and I was on the trail by 11:00 AM with food for 6 days and several bail-out plans if the mosquitoes got horrible or if I got behind schedule. There was about an inch of fresh snow covering the ground and trees and a fierce cold north wind was blowing. I hiked in my jacket nearly the entire day, actually quite happy to have cool conditions instead of hot. First off, huge fresh bear tracks were all over the trail! So I started talking to the bears, who now have heard my repertoire of Dr. Seuss stories I read to the grandkids. “Red fish, blue fish; green eggs and ham”- hope the bears liked it. Lukens Lake was very pretty in the fresh snow. The trail became very soggy and snow was falling out of the trees. My feet were soon soaked. (Having accidently picked up my old same-brand hiking shoes that have been relegated to gardening. I am amazed they even lasted the trip!). Once I had descended to Morrison Creek snow was gone and there were lots of choices of campsites with plenty of water sources. I reached camp at 4:00 but had to check out camping on a nearby knob, finally returning to the standard campsite near the trail on a little saddle near the Morrison Creek trail crossing. I had a fine view of Hetch Hetchy. I saw nobody the entire day.

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Lukens Lake

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Hetch Hetchy from first campsite

Day 2: 12.1 miles, +2350 feet, -2780 feet, 9.5 hours. Another day all by myself! My knees hurt so I was glad that I had not tried to descend to the river on the first day. I had forgotten how nice the camping was down at the river below Pate Valley. Pate Valley itself is miserable and having encountered several rattlesnakes here before I pounded my trekking poles loudly to warn them as I plowed through the deep grass. Last time I was here it was a swamp; this time it was dry. Thankfully it was still cool. Bear tracks and poop were present but thankfully no bears to be seen. Crossing Register Creek was a snap- mid-calf deep. Last time I was here in 2003 Memorial Day we had to shimmy a log upstream because the crossing was too swift and deep. I had planned on camping at the head of Muir Gorge, but there was none, so I continued. Across from the falls from Cathedral Creek there is a nice little knob/bench that is a few hundred feet off trail with good camping. I should have stopped. I thought that I could make it to the bridge at Return Creek so kept going. Within half a mile I got lost in a burned area where the trail was lost in debris. It was late and I was too tired to find the trail, so I turned around and went back to the campsite by Cathedral Creek. This was a fortunate decision because I found a really nice campsite with access to the river exactly where the falls entered. It was spectacular! I took a very cold bath and washed my shirt and enjoyed the lingering daylight. By now it was quite hot. I was excited about full moon on the canyon walls, only to discover that the moon was so low on the horizon and the canyon so deep that moonlight never reached the canyon walls! At least I did not have the bright moonlight keeping me awake. There were a few mosquitoes and some face-swarming gnats, but the wind kept them down so it was not bad at all.

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Muir Gorge

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Register Creek crossing

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Cathedral Creek falls next to second day camp

Day 3: 9.4 miles, +3350 feet, -710 feet, 8.5 hours. This day was the most spectacular. I stopped at every point I could get some photos of all the falls. One advantage of going upstream is that you want to stop and rest a lot. There are lots of little side trails that go closer to the falls. I ran into one other fellow as we bumped into each other from one falls to the next. At the top of Waterwheel Falls 4 hikers wanted me to take their photo. Near Glen Aulin I ran into several others. The infamous “swamp” required wading but nothing like my 2003 trip where we were crotch deep in water. My plan was to camp at McGee Lake, but I really did not like it, so continued. I waded across Cathedral Creek and did not like the camping there either. It was getting late and I was getting tired. I worried about water sources (no need to since all the minor trickles were running). I went about a mile and found a great campsite with a 360-degree view, on the very top of a rock knob just above a little stream. I went back down the stream, sat right in the middle of the trail crossing and took a bath and washed clothes- good thing nobody came along! Back up on my perch I had a very enjoyable evening. That night I had horrible arm twitches (like restless leg) and realized that I had this problem previously- and blamed it on Good Earth tea. I did not get to sleep until well past midnight. Basically there were no mosquitoes once I got past the Glen Aulin swamp.

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Base of Waterwheel Falls

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Top Waterwheel Falls

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LeConte Falls "water wheel"

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top pond of California Falls

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Glen Aulin

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Mt Conness from thrid day camp

Day 4: 12 miles- trail signs indicated 14, +3230 feet, -2065 feet and 9.5 hours. The trail to Ten Lakes is like a roller coaster and you seem to go back and forth like crazy. It and is only a few miles as the crow flies. The hike to the pass on the shoulder of Tuolumne Peak is in forest, a bit boring, but from the pass it is quite pretty with plenty of good views. There still is a bit of snow on the north side but the trail has been designed very well so it just skirted the snow banks. There was plenty of water so one could actually camp up here early season. The South Fork of Cathedral Creek is nicer than I had thought and there also was plenty of good camping. I had planned on camping at the meadow where the trail starts up to Ten Lakes, but reached this side by 2PM so decided to continue to Ten Lakes. I reached the upper lake by 4PM but this lake is surrounded by trees and the view is not the best, although the camp sites are luxurious. I decided to continue off-trail to the highest lake where the view was better but the camping was marginal. I found one established campsite and set up. The wind was cold and howling so no bath today! I explored the outlet area where I had hoped to find a more protected campsite but found none. During the evening the wind became stronger. I was a bit worried but had anchored my tent with huge rocks. I was more worried about trees falling down. The wind subsided by about 10PM and I put in earplugs to sleep and thankfully, slept well through the chilly night. I ran into one young fellow during this day- he asked me where he was, admitting that reading a map was not his aptitude! He was about 2 miles off and one ridge over from where he thought he was. As I age, I am amazed at the optimism of the young. Not knowing how to read a map did not seem to stop him. Oh, to again be young, strong and oblivious.

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Tarn on top of Tuolumne Pass

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Ten Lakes 9398

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Ten Lakes upper lake - 4th night camp

Day 5: 12.4 miles, +2300 feet, -2585 feet and 8.7 miles. I was off at 7:30 AM and spent the morning hiking through the Ten Lakes and then down to Grant Lake. The most scenic camping is at Lake 9021 outlet area. There were patches of ice on water as I descended cross country to this fine lake. At the larger main lake I met a father and sons who were fishing. I decided to go to Grant Lakes instead of the unnamed lake west of Grand Mountain. Grant Lake was a bit disappointing. Instead of taking the trail back up to Ten Lakes Pass I dropped down cross country (amazingly easy although very steep) to Halfmoon Meadow which was surprisingly dry. Then it was a matter of the long trudge out through thick forests. There were numerous fallen logs to climb over and I ran into several people on their way into Ten Lakes. I had planned on camping on the upper reaches of the Middle Tuolumne River, but after discovering that I forgot to pack a breakfast for the next day, I decided to just walk out. By 3PM I was nearly to the Lukens Lake junction and hot and tired. I found a nice spot away from the trail on the river and took a bath in a deep pool. I washed my shirt and put it on wet and it cooled me and was dry within a half hour! Lukens Lake sure looked different with the snow gone and full of tourists. I reached my car at 4PM and decided to drive home. For some reason I was not tired at all.

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Most scenic of the Ten Lakes

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No Snow at Lukens Lake on return

I have said on this forum that I thought going up-river offered better views. I recant that statement! The views are better going down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. But to really enjoy it you need to slow down because it is too easy to just glide on downhill. At least going up, you are more inclined to take lots of breaks. I was a bit under impressed with Ten Lakes. They are pretty but I prefer the higher alpine lakes. I was lucky in that there were few people at Ten Lakes, which can get very crowded in the summer.



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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 11, 2012 1:03 pm

Here are some pictures to compare conditions this year and in 2003. The 2003 trip was done as a 3-day down-canyon trip June 6-8.

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Flooded trees in 2003

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crossing Register Creek in 2003

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Trail above Muir Gorge 2003

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same spot this year
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby schmalz » Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:17 pm

Great pics and trip report! I can't wait to check out that area of the Sierra.
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Re: TR- GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 11, 2012 7:22 pm

Sorry, I should have labeld this as a trip report. I bet conditions are changing rapidly - hot in the canyon, mosquitoes up higher. I have done the canyon in August, and it is a different kind if trip - go slow and swim in every pool in the river!
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Jason » Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:16 am

Wow! Fantastic trip report, thanks for sharing. I'd love to hike up stream through the GC and take several days to do it, just goofing around with my fly rod. One of these days......
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby mschnaidt » Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:22 am

Great report WD,

Thanks for posting. I'm doing a down canyon hike over the 4th of July weekend.

Your descriptions of campsites below Pate Valley and at Cathedral Creek falls were very helpful! Any recommendations for sites just below the twin bridges/Glen Aulin? I have a pass through permit for the 1st night and was thinking somewhere near Wildcat Point and the stream out of Mattie Lake would be good. Any real world experience is appreciated.

Thanks!

M
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby FeetFirst » Tue Jun 12, 2012 12:52 pm

Thank you for posting. Lately, your trip reports have been perfectly timed with my trip preperations. :) I plan on doing the GCTR in two weeks, so again very timely and relevant. Great photos as well!
I'm still rather convinced that you can achieve more than you've ever dreamed of if you just lower your standards.
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 12, 2012 3:09 pm

Here is my list of campsites (certainly not complete, but what I have found).

"Upper Morrison", where trail first gets near Morrison Creek. Not sure when or if Morrison creek dries up, but good water source most of the season. Woody, many sites, flat, nearly a quarter mile of widely dispersed sites within reach of water, most sites quite close to trail.

"Lower Morrison", this was my day 1 campsite. About a mile down from upper Morrison. Grassy/sandy saddle with short trail down to creek. Also grassy sites on the flat top of the lower knob to the north- would have to carry water there. These sites are hard to get to but are hidden (for those who do not like to camp near a trail) and have nice views too.

About another mile down, you cross a small stream (early season water source). then the trail traverses a flat to the southeast of a knob. There are abundant flat woodsy sites here but you have to carry water, and if the little creek is dry, then this campsite is not possible. There is a temporary pond on the northeast end of the flat. It had water when I was there, but it looked like pretty yukky water and could be a mosquito breeding ground.

West Tuolumne River sites- Just as the trail reaches the river. Nice sites on a bluff above the river with a few accesses down to the river. Can camp on bluff another quarter mile along the trail, but would have to hunt for paths that go down the bluff.

Pate Valley southwest of bridge. Many sites here - wetter and probably more buggy. Under large trees. A few well established sites.

One established site (with benches) in Pate Valley after the bridge - but it is pretty yukky in my opinion.

For about half mile up from Pate Valley things are pretty grim. The first descent site is about 1 mile east (upstream) of the Piute Trail junction.

Then, in another half mile there are nice sites at the base of the first waterfall, off the trail a little ways, just before the trail goes uphill. This looked like a really nice place.

After going up a hill, the trail drops back to the river, but I cannot recall any obvious sites. Once you go up over the hill that detours Muir Gorge, there is little, except a few "bivy sites" next to the Register Creek crossing. If you are adventursome, and want to bushwhack down about 150 feet after crossing the Rodgers Cr bridge, I think there would be some flat spots with good possiblilties of exploring a bit up Muir Gorge.

At the top of Pt 5637, there are a few flat bivy spots, but no water.

Nothing until river Mile 136, where there is large established horse camp, in the trees.

The trail then goes uphill across from Cathedral Creek. Just as you get onto the Falls Ridge 7.5-min map, the trail goes away from the river, but there are really nice campsites on a bench to the southwest. You have to step off the trail and down a small rock cliff and then there is a use-trail to these sites. This is where I stayed on the second night. There are two river accesses - one on the east side, and one right on the point of the "nose" of flat ridge. These are the best spots and the river access puts you right to the pool that the falls from Cathedral Creek dumps into. This flat ridge has many sites- and you could camp 10 or more tents down here. It is nice and open with good views. Only down side is that it does not have lots of shade so would be hot in mid summer.

Upstream of Cathedral Creek, there are few sites. There are ugly flat sandy sites where the trail gets lost in a mud slide and burn area. Not much until you get to the Return Creek bridge. The fellow I met did however find a little rock bench that he camped on with a view of Waterwheel Falls. The ranger told me the site at the Return Bridge was "really nice", but I thought it just was a marginal established site too close the trail and with no view.

I have camped at the top of Waterwheel Falls. If you can cross the river, there are nice sites. There are also some flat spots uphill on the north side of the river.

The trail goes away from the river most of the time between the top of Waterwheel Falls and and the top of California Falls, but if you are willing to do a bit of bushwhaking, I think there would be some sites - it certainly has enough flat ground.

The half mile past the top of California Falls is the "swamp", where the stream from Mattie Lake enters Glen Aulin. I have only been here in early season, so do not know if there would be anything later. I suspect it is not nice even later, being quite muddy.

Out of the swamp the trail goes up a little rock ridge and then it is much drier and you could probably find something here. The trick is to find a flat spot that is not too far from the river for water, and not next to the trail. I do not remember if this are is in the "no camping" zone or not.
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 12, 2012 3:42 pm

Here are a few pictures

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The river just as the trail comes down, showing the "bluff" you have to get down to reach the river

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The large site where I camped on the second night. It is obvious from the trial.

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River access from the above campsites
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 12, 2012 3:48 pm

"Lower Morrison" campsite

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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby cvr » Tue Jun 12, 2012 5:23 pm

Nice pics and great info on camping possible locations. I have done in and out trips to below Waterwheel in this area many times. It is simply an amazing stretch of river and a great early season low-elevation option that is really at its best during the early season, which is nice. I have used this area, along with the Ritter Range, to seduce many a rookie backpacker, including my wife, to enjoy more adventerous forays into the Sierra backcountry.
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Re: GC Tuolumene - Ten Lks

Postby Ozark Flip » Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:54 am

Another dandy report. I always enjoy reading these.
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