Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

2003 July

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Henrik organized a 4-day, 3-night backpacking trip for the long 4th of July weekend which also included Emily, me, Mike, Peter, and Ann. We started in Tuolumne Meadows and followed the river with the same name downstream until just before the eastern tip of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, where we climbed out to a waiting car at White Wolf.

Generally I don't like trips that require car shuttles, but this trip is certainly an exception. If you would like to extend the trip, consider hiking north at Ten Lakes and then walking along the north shore of the reservoir. This will take you to Rancheria Falls, which you can read about in "Hetch Hetchy, July 2004".

Day 0

As far as traditions go, I like the idea of a 3 or 4-day backpacking trip in the Sierras to accompany the long 4th of July weekend. Many people have the same idea yet congestion is not a problem, so long as you get about 6 hours away from the trailhead. Our trip included Henrik, Anne, Mike D., Peter, Emily and myself. We met at Henrik's house after work, separated into 3 cars, and then started driving. After a pizza stop in Oakdale we made it to Groveland shortly after nightfall where we played a bit of pool at the Iron Door Saloon prior to retiring in a luxurious double-wide trailer we had rented for the night.

Day 1

Cold pizza and fruit purchased from a roadside stand the previous day greeted us in the morning, along with the drive up to Tuolumne Meadows were our trip would begin. Along the way we took a slight detour, to drop off our car at White Wolf, the terminus of the trip. At a crowded parking lot near Tuolumne Meadows we rented bear canisters, exchanged our reservations for wilderness permits, then drove several minutes west to the trailhead where the usual madness that accompanies a trip occurred. We stuffed last minute items and hid rocks in each other’s packs but soon we were on the way.

The scenery was stunning as we followed the Tuolumne River towards Hetch Hetchy and the going slow since we seemed to jump in the river every couple of hours. Just past Waterwheel Falls we found our campsite for the first night, a tree covered flat area between the trail and river that would have held 100 people, but we had it all to ourselves. Despite bringing 4 bear canisters, we had excess food that had to be bear bagged.

So where are the pictures? Henrik has promised to bring them to me for almost 2 years now! If you want to see the pictures please call [415.288.2749] or email [] Mr. Dahl and tell him to get his ass in gear.

Day 2

The second day was more of same, walking and swimming. However, our maps indicated a slight hill about 1 mile past Cathedral Creek, the first climb of these two days, and we ended up going up, over and down the parched trail during the hottest part of the day. As usual, the climb was tough on Em while the descent troubled me.

Once on the other side of the hill we found Peter waiting for us, along with mosquitoes. He had been instructed to find the first campsite beyond the hill and this may have been it, but so early in the season mosquitoes where in force so we moved on. And on, and on for a quality campsite was not to be found until we where within about 1 mile of Pate Valley. But it was an exceptional site, with a gentle waterfall leading into a giant pool, at least 100’ by 100’, probably much larger. After a brief swim, pitching our tent and a snack (in that order) we backtracked along the trail to find out where Henrik, Anne and Mike where. Mosquitoes called our bluff and we headed back without finding them, although they showed up with Peter a bit later.

Day 3

Emily and I woke up at 6 AM on day 3 and hit the trail about 15 minutes later, alone. We had studied the maps the previous night and decided to attempt to climb out of the canyon in one day rather than in two with the rest of the group. The main reason was that Emily had to work the following Monday at 6 AM and preferred a relaxing Sunday in the Bay Area to climbing 4,000 vertical feet. In the cool morning air we walked along the river, admiring the spots that the rest of the group would be swimming at later in the day. Soon we came to Pate Valley fought our way though the lush meadow. I was slightly troubled walking through the valley since our map showed a bridge crossing the river at the start of the valley, which was not to be found (until the opposite side of the valley!).

Eventually we cut away from the Tuolumne River and began the climb out to White Wolf. Some parts of the trail where exposed to the hot sun, but we had plenty of water and where able to collect it along the way. With frequent stops for water and snacks we eventually made it up to Harden Lake. At this point you can head back downhill for about 10 miles to Hetch Hetchy or continue about 3 miles to White Wolf. We chose the latter but also took time for a swim with an amazing display of tadpoles.

As usual, the last few miles were the worst. Sensing it was almost over, Emily began to feel her blisters, but we made it and soon found ourselves on the road, driving back to the start of the trip at Tuolumne where we would pick up Mike’s truck and drive it back to White Wolf so the remaining group would have a vehicle waiting for them; thanks Mike! We made it back to Oakland in the early evening.

Day 4

Sunday we rested and ate at the Thai Temple. The food was especially good considering that the alternative was climbing out of the canyon. Bravo to Henrik for another great trip, I wonder what we will do next year? Whatever it is, I will not volunteer Emily and myself to supply the food, as this was the only negative aspect of the trip as we brought way too much.