Wednesday, July 22, 2009

JMT: Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley

On Wednesday, July 15, 2009, we left the backpackers camp in Tuolumne Meadow, walked out to Hwy 120 and followed it about one mile until we reached the Cathedral Lakes Trail which was also the John Muir Trail. Over the course of the next 5.1 miles, we climbed about 1,150 feet past the Cathedral Lakes to Cathedral Pass, at 9,700 feet, where we took a nice rest. Below, me, Mark, Phil, Larry, Garrett and Nathan, with Cathedral Peak in the background. Cathedral Peak, itself, was easily seen from Tuolumne Meadow.

A picture of Cathedral Peak, itself.

A picture of the Cockscomb, a neighboring mountain.

After a nice rest, we continued on to the end of a valley and had the Matthes Crest off to our left.
In the distance were some distinctive snowy peaks that we could not definitively identify.

We dropped about 300 feet in elevation and entered Long Valley, a beautiful grass covered valley that went on for about 1 1/2 miles.

More Long Valley.

Long Valley, very close to Sunrise High Sierra Camp.

While in Long Valley, we were passed by some pack mules headed to supply Sunrise High Sierra Camp which is about 10 miles from Tuolumne Meadows. It takes the mules 3 to 3 1/2 hours to make the trip and they do it every other day.

We arrived at Sunrise High Sierra Camp not quite knowing what to expect. We found that they have little cabins that they rent for $150.00 to $200.00 per night and they are booked well in advance. Below is one of the cabins. A number of these pictures were taken by Larry.

The guests have shower facilities, pit toilets, water and meals (breakfast and dinner, on-site, and lunches to take with them on the trail). We were pleasantly surprised to learn they have a backpackers camp connected to it that is available at no charge. One benefit of the camp is that we had piped in water that we did not need to filter.

We also had a very nice pit toilet, supplied with toilet paper, another luxury along the trail.

We also had a very nice site to camp, with a developed fire ring and a great view of Long Valley.

In the evening, from our camp perch, we viewed quite a few deer enter Long Valley to graze on the grass.

Below, Larry protects himself from the ever-present mosquitos.

Below, Steve and Mark prepare a warm evening drink of some kind.

During the afternoon, Mark, Steve and I hiked about 1 1/2 miles to Sunrise Lake to take a bath. We found three alligator lizards along the way, two of which we caught temporarily. The one below had a very distinctive yellow coloring on its side and underneath, something I've not seen on the alligator lizards in the Redlands area.

The alligator lizard below was a little smaller and did not have the yellow coloring.

Sunrise Lake was a long walk, but ultimately worth it. The grime of the trail was getting pretty thick on us and I was getting to the point I couldn't stand to smell myself inside my bivvy bag. It was a warm afternoon and the cold lake water felt great, after the initial shock and loss of breath.

The downside was that as we got out of the water, we were immediately attacked by hundreds of mosquitoes. However, the loss of blood was worth the loss of smell and grime.

I arranged to eat with the guests that evening and sat with a family of five from Dallas, Texas. We were served hot chocolate, broccoli soup, homemade bread, salmon, basmati rice and cooked zucchini and bell peppers, and finally, chocolate cake with white frosting, cooked in a pie tin. I decided I much prefer that food to the freeze-dried stuff. Thursday morning, we headed out.

We hit some serious downhill and determined we were very happy to be going the direction we were. As we left Sunrise Camp at 9,400 feet, it was nice and cool. As we got lower, it started to heat up. It appeared we would be at the trail to Half Dome before noon. As I contemplated sitting around in the heat the rest of the day, versus going into Yosemite Valley and catching the Yarts bus back to Mammoth for my car, I decided to hike out to the Yosemite Valley that day. As we hit a little bench with a beautiful view of the very distinctive Yosemite landscape around us, I departed. Below, a distinctive mountain visible from the bench.

Other distinctive Yosemite features from the bench.

Half Dome, visible off to our right through the trees.

Larry took this photo of me as I was leaving. Note my hat with the cut-off back to allow for my pack. As I looked at my shadow on the trail, I looked like the flying nun.

About two miles later, I neared the trail to Half Dome at about 7,000 feet. It was getting much warmer.

The line of people climbing Half Dome, using the metal posts and stairs, is visible in the picture below. Larry and Garrett climbed Half Dome the next day.

As I got lower it got hotter and hotter. My water got warm and I really started heating up. The most distinctive feature on the way down was the spectacular Nevada Falls. Below, the falls as they cascade over the mountain from the bridge right above it.

I continued on the longer John Muir Trail, instead of taking the shorter Mist Trail, just because I wanted to say I had done it (although the Mist Trail sounded much nicer). A view of Nevada Falls from further down the JMT.

An area along the JMT where there was some mist and moisture providing some welcome heat relief.
Toward the bottom of the trail, at about 4,035 feet in elevation, a drop of over 5,300 feet during the day, the temperature was 102 degrees and the crowds were reminiscent of Disneyland. After the solitude and cool of the backcountry, negotiating the crowds in the heat was not a fun experience. Yosemite Valley on a summer day is not the place to be. I did note that the large ground squirrels got very bold as I got closer to the valley. It would have been very easy to reach out and grab several along the way.

My favorite was at the very end of the trail at Happy Isles, laying on a rock near the bridge on the highway. The squirrel had splayed itself out on the rock, obviously feeling the heat as I was.

Fortunately, I was able to order a 32 ounce cup of Mountain Dew on ice that tasted as good as anything I've ever drunk. I nursed it as I let the sweat partially evaporate from my hot body before catching the shuttle for my Yarts bus back to Mammoth.

The final mileage for the day, from Sunrise, was 13.7 miles. It was 23.9 miles to Yosemite Valley from Tuolumne Meadows. We covered some beautiful country during our week on the trail and it was a trip well worth the time and effort to do it.


  1. Love the hat. Glad I wasn't there to enjoy it and the mosquitos.

  2. Did it take you 5 days to hike from Agnew Campground to Happy Isles? Was it a rushed hike?

  3. I was on the trail for 6 days, but 1 was a rest day and 2 days were really 1/2 days as I was at the destinations before noon (Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley). The rest of the group took an extra day because they stopped to climb Half Dome. I enjoyed the extra time we built into the hike - a day of climbing up to Banner Peak and enjoying the food and vicinity in Tuolumne Meadows. If you are in reasonable shape, 5 days should be plenty without feeling rushed. An extra day or two would really allow you to enjoy it.

  4. Thanks for the lovely photos and the information. I can't wait to do this. :-)