Friday, July 17, 2009

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River - July 2 to 6, 2009

The Stats:
30 miles over 5 days one way
134 songs played on the iPod over 2 days
Goal Met - Multi Day Backpacking Trip
In Attendance - Kevin & Courtney Castanos, Mark & Nancy Wathen, Mike & Sherilee Nimon

After many months of planning we finally started our hike through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. Originally there was going to be 12 of us and slowly people started dropping out with lame excuses like, My Grandfather died, I can’t miss school, etc. The hike starts from Tuolumne Meadows in Upper Yosemite National Park, a lovely 3 hour drive from Fresno.
The first day after driving up to the park, getting our permits, renting some bear canisters and repacking our food and hygiene items in said bear canisters, we were off like a herd of turtles. Actually the first day was fairly easy and our shortest day. We went from Tuolumne Meadows to just past Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp (about 5.5 miles). On the way we were swarmed by mosquitoes, passed many beautiful waterfalls and enjoyed the general splendor of the meadows and granite mountains. We reached Glen Aulin and polled the group to see if we wanted to continue on or stop there for the night. We decided to stay away from the crowds and continue on. We didn’t get that far though because just past Glen Aulin was a hill you come down and at the bottom was a really nice campsite that we decided to grab.It was right next to this great wall of water and had a nice fishing hole and lots of flat ground for us to put our tents on. We saw Marmots running around the hill all evening, they looked like beavers. We had a lovely dinner hosted by the Castanos’ of sausages and crepes with chocolate sauce and fruit. It was delightful! That night we put out bear canisters up the hill from us. We had a few last minute items to put away but Mark didn’t know where the canisters were so he went and put them up on a rock (butter and some camp soap).
The second day we got started a little on the later side, we took our time packing up. The Marmots got our butter and soap. It was 10:30 by the time we put our packs on and started hiking down the valley. We followed right along the river passing huge pools of water and climbing over granite pathways and bridges. On this day we passed the famous falls called Waterwheel. The granite under one set of waterfalls is shaped in such a way that it makes the waterfall hit the groove and flip back up on itself.
We were kind of slow moving that day. Nancy and Courtney were looking for quartz. Kevin and Mark were stopping at every fishing hole to see what they could catch (11 fish in all). My dad and I were being awed by the scenery, the canyon seemed new with every corner that you went around. At 4pm we realized that we were taking a little too long hiking and needed to get at least another 2 miles before we set up camp so my dad and I busted a move down the trail. We suddenly dropped from granite passways along the river into a forest of trees, where the trail was all barky and soft. The mosquitoes started to get more abundant as we got further into the forest, I was spraying Deet like crazy. Then my dad saw a little rabbit trail heading down by the water, he went to go check it out for a campsite. That is where we landed for the night (about 6.5 miles). Now the ranger who gave us our permit told us to only camp at previously impacted sites, meaning places that others had already camped. My dad found one little burnt briquette at this site and we decided it looked good.Not too soon after Nancy and Courtney joined us at the site. We all planned to get into the water to wash off, but then realized that Kevin had the canister with all the hygiene items in it. My dad dug out a tiny quarter full bottle of dish soap and all four of us used it. We went into the river with all our clothes on so that we could rinse the sweat off. It was very frigid snow runoff water. But Courtney and I got all the way under the water just to wash. It was so cold you had to let out a yelp when you got in. After that, us girls sat out on the rocks in the river until the last bit of sun was gone and then we went and stood around the fire. By then Mark and Kevin had joined us. My dad and I started dinner of chicken stir fry and the Wathens provided humus for an appetizer. We did not stay up late that night due to the mosquitoes and being dog tired. We actually went to bed just as the sun was really starting to go down, about 9pm.
The third day as we were getting ready and starting breakfast we saw another hiker and then realized that it was a ranger. This young man came down the trail to talk to us. We kept him there for about 30-45 minutes just asking him questions and talking about the trail. He informed us that we had not gone as far as we thought we had, we were about 1 mile short of where we wanted to be. That motivated everyone to get a move on, but we didn’t leave the campsite until 11am. Luckily for us though, we knew there would be a trail marker at the next place we needed to stop because it was a trail junction. We started out the hike strong, with everyone really clipping along. Then we came upon the difficult part of the trail. We ran into one small rattlesnake that my dad set rattling. I nearly had an anxiety attack right then and there, but he went back into his hole. Just past there was a 3 mile section that we had to go straight up the side of the mountain and then come back down on the other side. We all did it, but it was crazy difficult, it was a good taste of what we would have to do the next day for 4 miles. We stopped at the very top to enjoy the view and some lunch. We went straight down the mountain after that. We came across a creek that had a waterfall coming off of it. We stopped to refill our water containers and then we had to cross the stream with our shoes off as there was no bridge.
It was really nice to cool down my feet in the river after the crazy up and down we had just done. Then we kept on blazing the trail. We were able to look back and see why we had to do the 3 mile leg, because the river carved a very thin canyon and there was no place for a path. We ran into several groups along the way 3 going the opposite of us and 1 group that was doing the same trip of as us. 3 miles more and then we came to a place where the trail had been washed out by the river. The only options were climb over the boulders or ford through the water, we decided it would be easier to ford the water because it only went up to our knees. From there it was only another mile or so to our campsite. The site was just before the bridge and away from the water (about 9 miles). When we arrived Mark had already set up the tents. Mark and my dad went to go refill water bottles and the rest of us pulled our soap out and dirty clothes and went down to the river to wash up for real this time. The water here felt great, it was still really cold but we were either too hot to really care or it had had a chance to warm up a little because it was bearable. It felt so good to get clean and smell like soap instead of Deet and sweat. The mosquitoes were not so bad at this location thanks to the bats. We had a wonderful meal of gourmet cheese, salami & crackers with gnocci and pesto for dinner and oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert. It was the best meal we had all week. That night we decided to head out at sunrise the next day so that we could hike in the cool of the day. So we went to bed early again and I had the best night of sleep yet.
The fourth day began just as the light hit the sky. We packed up and were on the trail by 6:30am, the sun was shining bright enough to see the path. We went about a mile on a gradual uphill trail along the river. We ran into one rattlesnake on the trail but he was slow and not too interested in us so I didn’t have to run too fast to get past him. Then we went through a swarm of mosquitoes that seemed to really like Courtney. After that point the trail was up. Just up with more up and for the fun of it, more up. I stopped a lot along the way but there was beautiful scenery and very quickly we got high enough that I wasn’t too scared that a snake would pop out at me. Along the trail I could see the valley we had just hiked through and the river getting smaller and smaller. The boys were ahead of us but Nancy and Courtney waited up for me. We reached a point where you could look down at all of Hetch Hetchy and then we kept going up. My dad left the water filter behind at one point so that we could refill our water bottles, and it was perfectly timed as I was just about out. Along the way we met a man coming down the hill who said they had seen a bear the day before but we never saw the bear. Then when we reached the very top of the hillside/mountain/canyon wall we had been climbing we found the hiking pole they had left behind that lead to our camp. There was much rejoicing from us all. We made it to the top just before noon (about 4.5 miles). All of us stripped off our packs as fast as can be and headed down to the creek that was running next to the campsite. It felt so good to stick my feet in and wash my face. Then I went and took a nap in the tent for while. We all kind of lazed around the campsite until dinner time reading and talking and sleeping. Nancy made humus, we found 6 carrots left over from the second night’ dinner and we had pita bread, it tasted so good. Then my dad and I boiled water for our freeze dried lasagna dinner from REI. Everyone added their leftover dried veggies and we made a great dinner, or at least it was food, and we didn’t really care if it was good or not. Then my dad and I broke out the chocolate truffles and red port that we had brought for our dessert. Kevin and Mark pulled out their last cigars. It was fantastic. We decided that the next day everyone was going to get up early and hike out so that we could catch the bus back to the car. Originally it was only going to be my dad but then we had to still return the bear canisters to the ranger station in Tuolumne Meadows, a 45 minute drive one way in the wrong direction. We went to bed even earlier that night with full stomachs.
The fifth morning stared at 4am in the dark of the morning. We packed our bags without eating breakfast and were on the trail by 5:15am. This day I was not moving very fast. My legs and glutes were screaming at me for doing this to them 5 days in a row. My dad stayed back with me. The trail went up for a good 2 miles like the day before. Then the last 3 miles were fairly flat through a wooded meadow. I was slow going uphill but on the flat my dad and I booked.

We passed a sign saying 0.8 miles to White Wolf and then we really started walking fast. Suddenly we could hear a humming of the generator at White Wolf and soon after my dad turned to me and said, “Look, cars and tents.” Just past him was a bunch of campsites. I have to admit that my eyes got a little watery when I saw that. Then not far from there the trail ended in a parking lot with a great view of the White Wolf dining hall. We made it to White Wolf in exactly 3 hours. When we got there everyone was just sitting down with food from the breakfast buffet. We were talking to them and my dad realized that my pack was still on and helped me out of it. I got a lot teary eyed then because I realized that I didn’t have to put that back on again. They told us to go get our food. But there was a story, when they got to the restaurant they realized that no one had brought any money or credit cards so Courtney talked to the Assistant Manager to see if we could work out a deal. The gal was nice and said that she had come at the perfect time because they needed register tape from the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. So the deal was that we had to leave a few people and backpacks, send someone on the bus to bring back the tape and money to pay for breakfast. That was the best breakfast ever. And I mean E-V-E-R! Eggs, potatoes, bacon, fresh fruit, biscuits & gravy, coffee and fresh squeezed OJ. After that we waited for the bus to come at 9:30. We emptied all our bear canisters and piled them up for my dad and Courtney take on the bus and the rest of us sat in the sun on the porch, talked, read and hung out until they got back with the car. Then we loaded back up and were on our way home.
It was a once in a lifetime trip. The views and scenery is stuff that few people get to see and I felt pretty well up to the trip. Actually the 9 mile day was worse than the uphill day. All in all it was hard but worth it with a great group of people to do the hike with.

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