Each year in August, we're trying to go on a weeklong trip somewhere, usually in the Sierra. In 2013, while on the Two Kings Loop
, hurting knee or not, I was already thinking about the next trip, and during our discussions with Em, Yosemite came up. We only went there once, in 2009, and spent two nights at Bridalveil campground. Going to the park for some serious hiking seemed like a given.
We started planning the trip in the fall, then I didn't bother with it for a while and picked it up again in January. The idea was to do a nice, big loop from Tuolumne Meadows, going mostly north. Every info on the internet pointed towards the fact that the permit system is very overcrowded, so I set several reminders for myself to be ready by the day we can make the reservations.
They still have a fax system, you have to print your request, then fax it to them a certain number of days before the entry date (list on their website
). For us (entry on August 8th), this was February 20th. We don't even have a fax anymore, so I spent almost an hour at the local Fedex/Kinko's trying to send the fax. The line was so busy, it took 20+ tries. Finally, it worked, and the following week they sent me an email with the confirmation.
We later learned about the Adventure16 PCT challenge, and part of this trip was already taking care of one segment, so we signed up.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, August rolled around, and after packing all that food and gear, we were off.
Sheryl Crow at the Hollywood Bowl
Day 0 – L.A.
It wasn't as simple, though. In March, when they announced the schedule for the Hollywood Bowl, it turned out Sheryl Crow will performing August 7 and 8. We had a permit to enter the Glen Aulin trail on the 8th. I knew Em likes Sheryl Crow very much, so she didn't have a hard time convincing me to get tickets for the 7th. We both knew it's not going to be easy, but hey, why not?
A few days earlier, I had to arrange for a late pickup of the permit. If you don't show up by 9am on entry day, they give the permit to somebody else. When we actually got there, it turned out they will be giving out those permits starting 11am, but that another story.
Right top: one bag with 6 normal pita breads. The other five compressed packages contain 48 pitas in total. That's how much space can be saved with vacuum-sealing.
The days leading up to our departure were pretty interesting. We were both working until the penultimate day, Thursday, meaning we prepped everything during the previous evenings. At least we were home Friday, so we packed everything trail-ready by the late afternoon. The packs even had water in them.
Then we went to the concert, which I have to admint was great. We got home not much after 11pm, went to bed straight away.
On famous 395
Cars and crowds at the Glen Aulin trailhead
Day 1 – L.A. to Tuolumne Meadows and down into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne
The alarm went off at 4:30am and we left in 15 minutes. Even breakfast was in the car. I tried to drive as fast as possible without risking a ticket, and it turned out pretty well, we got up to the park's east entrance not much before 10am, and they were waving us through along with the other yearly pass holders. That interagency pass
is a really cool thing.
The permit office looked like a big camp, with dozens of hikers lounging around, waiting for the rangers to release the unclaimed permits. It's good we got there before 11 as we got the permits and were parked at the Glen Aulin trailhead by 10:45. That place was very crowded, by the way. The actual parking lot is tiny and for day use anyway, most people have to park on the dirt road leading to the trailhead. There weren't many spots left, I think we took one of the few remaining ones.
Oh, how I love this place. We stopped in Tuolumne Meadows on the way home on our trip in 2009 and loitered around the meadow for and while. We kept talking about returning ever since.
Even with all the preparation, of course it took us more than half an hour to get ready, but then we were off, day 1 of 8, here's to not having forgotten anything important, to our knees holding up and to the weather staying tolerable.
We had around 10-11 miles to hike that day. The plan was to get past Glen Aulin, down into the Grand Canyon, go as far as possible, then camp for the night. The good news was that it was almost exclusively downhill, and not even very steep.
Em on the trail to Glen Aulin. I had a hard time framing all the other people out of this picture.
The trail winds through the impossibly scenic Tuolumne Meadows, then climbs a tiny hill and starts heading down, very gently at first. Of course, there was a huge crowd of day hikers and people just out for a stroll. Many were in the river, enjoying a cool water.
It's no wonder many call this river "bipolar". First it meanders in the plain of the meadow, flowing almost imperceptibly. Then it abruptly turns wild and crazy, with rapids and waterfalls.
Tuolumne Falls, not much above Glen Aulin
The last part of the descent to Glen Aulin is a pretty steep, short section, leading to one bridge over the main river and then another into camp.
This is one of the five High Sierra Camps. There's a backpacker's campground, but they also have tent cabins, which are so popular a lottery system is needed for reservations. They even even a small "store" and a dining hall. More about that later.
It was time for lunch, so we sat down in the main area of the backpacker's campground next to the water faucet. We wanted to scout the place anyway as one version of the trip called for spending the last night here.
Em making Putella (nutella on pita) at the Glen Aulin backpacker's campground
After having had our fill, we went back over the bridge and took the trail leading down into the Canyon. This place is unbelievable. Going was slow, because we kept stopping for photo breaks.
Like before, there were more gradual sections, followed by "steps" with California Falls, then LeConte Falls, and finally, Waterwheel Falls. The latter is very interesting when the river flows well, the water hits the rock in a way that it's thrown back upstream, creating a wheel. This time, it still looked very nice, but the effect was lost.
Past Waterwheel, near the bridge that crosses Return Creek, there was an OK campsite, but it was right next to the trail, and it was only 6pm, so we decided to hike for another hour and look for a campsite then. The ranger at the permit office told us there's good camping further down from this point where the canyon gets a bit wider.
Em in the canyon with Muir Gorge way in the distance
Almost on the dot at 7, we found a very nice spot among the trees, with good access to water, and a bit off the trail. The first order of business was to soak our weary feet in the cold river while eating a snack, then we pitched the tent and prepared dinner. There were some mosquitoes, but it wasn't terrible.
While making dinner, a guy and his 9-year-old son came over to our site. It turned out they were camped not far away, but out of sight. They were doing the awfully popular White Wolf loop, and running late by a day, they were looking for a way to get a message to the family, letting them know everything is OK. Their hope was we're going up-canyon and we could send a message if we hike out sooner. Of course, we were headed the other way, but we had the inReach
, so why not help them, I sent a text in their name.
Our campsite west of Waterwheel Falls
Despite being up since dawn, we didn't feel terribly exhausted, and with all the talking, message-sending and late dinner, we got to bed at 10pm. The night was very warm, we left the sleeping quilt wide open and slept like content marmots.
On the trail to Muir Gorge
Day 2 – Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne to Pleasant Valley
We knew we had a very hard day ahead of us, so we tried to get up early. This meant we somehow managed to be out of the tent around 6:30 in the morning, then left comparably fast, not much after 8am.
As soon as we hiked a bit, we realized how lucky we were to have camped where we did. Further down, there were quite a few sites, but they were mostly occupied by several small groups coming up (again, White Wolf loop), and the vegetation was much denser, meaning flies. At least they weren't biting, but they swarmed our faces in scores, landing on the sunglasses, trying to crawl into our noses and mouths, and generally being as obnoxious as possible. We both had to keep swatting them away, and it was very annoying.
Yours truly looking down the canyon from the top of the incline at Muir Gorge
Em in the thick jungle around Pate valley
Soon, we got to Muir Gorge. Though the trail overall drops 3,500' in 13.4 miles from Glen Aulin to Pate Valley, there's an uphill section where it climbs the rock to go around the gorge. The views from top are one of a kind, and the fly problem is a bit less bad up there. The trail descends very steeply for a while, then it gets close to the river again and soon, the files are up and about in even stronger numbers.
This did not, however, detract from the beauty of the place. It's just unbelievable. It was unthinkable not to take pictures at almost every turn, affecting our mileage. Very often, when you exit a trail, rangers would ask whether you encountered any hazards or obstacles, like rockslides or downed trees. I kept saying we'll have to complain that the landmarks are too nice and they present serious obstacles to hiking at a normal pace.
When the trail approaches Pate Valley, it turns away from the river a bit, and there's a very dense, jungle-like environment all around. It's simply gorgeous. The junction with the Pleasant Valley trail - our route - is in the middle of this. However, there was no water, and we needed a lunch break and a serious fill-up, as we had 4,000' of climbing in front of us with no access to water. I was a bit concerned about how much we have to go out of our way to get to the river, but it was unfounded. Walking only 50 yards down the trail towards Hetch Hetchy, we found the river, easily accessible, and some nice big fallen logs where we could sit.
We knew we had to hurry, it was already past noon, and we had a long way to go, but we also needed proper food, some rest and lots of water. After an hour-long break, we were off again.
The trail climbs out of Pate Valley in an oven-like place where the air sits still and the rock above reflect all the sunlight down into it. We felt like being in the desert, despite the lush vegetation.
A bit higher, it follows Piute Creek into sort of a high valley with nice pine trees, but it stays well clear of the water. Then the trail turns sharply and starts climbing in earnest, gaining cca. 2,500' in 3 miles. To say it's steep and long is an understatement. At least some of it is in the bushes and under the trees, so the exposure is not terrible. It was still very hot and there was no wind, so it was tough going. We knew this is likely to be by far the hardest day of the trip, so we steeled ourselves beforehand and just kept going.
Pate Valley from above
With all the photo-, snack- and rest breaks, it took the better part of four hours to do the 4.5 miles from Pate Valley at 4380' to the junction up at 7,780' where the trail splits to go to Rodgers or over to Pleasant Valley. This is a surprisingly green and lush area, with no flowing water, though. There were a few parts where the trail went through (and almost got lost in) very thick growths of fern, looking amazing in the afternoon light. Past the junction, we had to climb a bit more, but it was a gentle and short incline, and then we descended into Pleasant Valley. It's very wet and even boggy in some places, and the main lake - Table Lake - is off the trail and from above it did not look like easily accessible or very friendly to camping.
Descending into Pleasant Valley
Matterhorn Peak, the Pitue Creek drainage and Pleasant Valley
So we kept going, cresting another hill, then descending to Piute Creek. There was a lot of water in the creek, but still plenty, and we finally made camp at 8pm, a bit north of the crossing. It was late, we did 16 or 17 miles with over 5000' of gain, most of it in the sun, and we were drained. Soaking out feet in the cold water felt like medicine (and it was).
We tried our best to go to sleep early and - not surprisingly - practically fainted in the tent.
Day 3 – Pleasant Valley to Bear Valley
Having known full well day 2 will be very tough, the plan for day 3 was to take it easy and only go around 7-8 miles to the lake on the far side of Bear Valley. We didn't set any alarm and woke up at 8am, pretty well rested after last day's effort. We took it very slow and only left the camp at 11.
Climbing out of Pleasant Valley is somewhat similar to the climb out of Pate, but it's much, much shorter, not so steep, and way less hot, being higher up. There are great views up the Piute Creek drainage with Matterhorn Peak in the distance. If all goes well, that's where we will be in two days. After a mile and a half or so, we were up in the trees at the junction where you can either go down towards Hetch Hetchy, or continue on up over the mountain and eventually down to the PCT. This is where we went.
This high forest is very nice, with the trail climbing slowly among the trees and passing by a small lake and a few meadows. The last meadow before the crest is a huge expanse of beautiful wildflowers, so dense that we even lost the trail for a few minutes. On top, it's a quasi-pass with amazing views of Bear Valley below and the rest of the Sierra further beyond.
Above Bear Valley
The descent is steep and rocky, then it turns into very thick vegetation and a bog-like, but very beautiful place leading into Bear Valley. We saw only very little water here, and only a few halfway decent campsites, but the plan was to go past anyway, about another mile to a nice, big unnamed lake that is technically not Bear Valley anymore, but some maps label it as such. Past the valley proper, there's a small lake, then another brief incline, and a short descent to this unnamed lake sitting in mini-cirque, just on the side of the precipice that leads down into Kerrick Canyon. We called it Nobear Lake, as there were no bruins around, regardless of the name of the place.
Em relaxing on the still-warm rocks at Nobear Lake
It was a bit windy, but the water was perfect, and we found that the nice little cove right next to our campsite was pretty well shielded from the wind. So I took a quick swim, then showered with soap well away from the lakeshore. It was around 4pm, and there was nothing to do other than setting up camp, enjoying the surroundings and relaxing. We haven't seen a human since Pate Valley.
The wind started subsiding and the air got nice and cool, but not cold. Around sundown, we climbed the hump on the north side of the trail to get a new view of the place and were treated to all sorts of colors reflected on the rocks and the sky.
After sunset in the Sierra
The evening was crystal clear with quite a few meteors, as the peak of the Perseids was imminent. I took a barely-OK photo of the milky way around 9pm, even catching one meteor. The real deal would have come later, but there was no way we could stay up much longer.
Mountain, Milky Way, meteor
Day 4 – Bear Valley to Peeler Lake
Another day, another 12 miles to go. We tried to get up at 6, but with our usual sloth-like speed, we left camp at 8:30. The first short section dropped very steeply into Kerrick Canyon, descending almost 1,200' in half a mile. I dropped, too, literarily. There was a moment where I was not paying attention and I tripped on a fallen branch right at the moment where I couldn't brace myself with the hiking poles. I fell on my knee, then rolled to the side, and that was it. The knee hurt a bit, but otherwise I was fine, as was the camera hanging on my chest.
On Bear Valley trail, approaching the PCT
At the junction with the PCT, there was a pretty big tent village with at least 20-25 people in different groups, getting ready to hike north. From there, we only followed the PCT for a short 3.5 miles, and never met anybody else. Where the PCT turns to climb towards Seavey Pass, we left it and went straight, following the trail up in Kerrick Canyon.
Lunch break was in the forest next to the creek, not much past the junction. We spent a long time, cooked soup, and we realized my knee started bleeding a bit where I hit it, so while I disinfected the wound, Em washed the blood from my pants.
Em facing back down Kerrick Canyon from where we came
Past this point, there's a short climb and the trail enters the next section of Kerrick Canyon. This is sheer beauty and awesomeness. It's one of the nicest place we've ever been to, hands down. It's a wide, green meadow-canyon (for the lack of a better word) with the creek meandering in the middle, beautiful rocks towering on both sides, and amazing views both up and down the canyon.
Kerrick Canyon, looking north with Cirque Mountain in the back off center
The elevation gain in 6.4 miles is only around 500', so with the clear weather and a gentle breeze blowing, it was perfect hiking in a perfect place. Of course, we didn't make very good time because of all the times we stopped for photos, but in 2.5 hours, the junction to Peeler Lake was in front of us.
In Kerrick Meadows, just past the Peeler Lake Junction
Before arriving the Peeler lake, there was a sign announcing that we left Yosemite National Park and entered the Hoover Wilderness of the Humboldt Toyabe National Forest.
Peeler Lake is a pretty big, gorgeous lake nestled between Crown Point and Cirque Mountain. It's also a good emergency exit, as Twin Lakes and civilization is only a 7-mile hike downhill. When planning the trip, I kept this in mind, in case something's really wrong. We would be pretty far away from the car, of course. We were in good shape, though, no serious aches and pains.
Our first look at Peeler Lake. This is a very nice vista point a bit off the trail.
The lake has only two areas suitable for camping, and one of them had huge "no camping" signs. We were sure that we'll have company, having seen a few people in the last hour (and even one tent on the far side of the National Park sign). To our biggest surprise, nobody was there, and nobody came for the rest of the day.
The camping area had an amazing "private" beach with soft sand and great views of the lake. It was 5pm, at least three hours of daylight still ahead of us, so like the day before, we just relaxed. I took a quick dip, but it was windy, and I hate getting myself wet when the wind is chilling me like a Popsicle afterwards. We even retreated to the tent for a catnap to get out of the wind for a while.
The beach at Peeler Lake.
Like it's often the case in the mountains, the wind died down a bit towards the evening. I did some fishing, but other than hooking one which got away, I didn't catch anything. Dinner was eaten on the shore, sitting on a fallen tree and looking at the water and sky getting darker by the second. Then Em made sage tea with a tiny bit of tequila, and we just sat there, sipping away.
The night was uneventful, a bit chilly, but quiet and calm.
Skies above Peeler Lake.
Day 5 – Peeler Lake to Matterhorn Canyon
One day, two passes. Let's see how that will work. We left our nice little spot at Peeler Lake and headed down towards Twin Lakes for about a mile, then turned right on the trail leading to Rock Island Pass and Mule Pass. We started climbing again, passing very scenic Robinson Lake and even-more-scenic Crown Lake.
Passing Crown Lake.
The trail splits not much past Crown Lake, the right fork going to Rock Island Pass, the left to Mule Pass. We took the latter and stopped for a snack break just past the junction.
From there, some more climbing in the boulder field (the trail is very well done, though), past another really cool lake, and then finally, on to Mule Pass with great views of the Sawtooth Ridge, including Matterhorn Peak. We were a bit concerned, as the weather forecast our friend sent us mentioned the possibility of smoke in the area. Thankfully, as far as we could see, there was none.
Em just below Mule Pass. Burro Pass is off center from the middle. Kind of hard to explain where. I don't want to ruin the picture by putting on arrow on there.
Another short break on top of the pass, and we entered Yosemite National Park yet again as soon as we started descending. This high valley between Mule and Burro passes is the headwaters of Piute Creek, and it's a very, very cool place, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Just below Mule, the trail is very steep, we didn't envy the people who just met earlier and had to climb up there. It crosses one fork of the creek, then descends some more, making a sharp left turn and climbing again before coming to the next fork.
Break at Piute Creek
This place is a dense pine forest, but a while ago, a huge windstorm felled hundreds of trees, and it looks like a disaster zone. The trail has been cleared since, but the damage is mindboggling. I definitely wouldn't want to be around when something like this happens.
We went off the trail a bit, found a very nice spot next to the water and took a long lunch break, cooking soup and soaking our feet in the creek. Then it was upwards again towards Burro Pass. The grade is much nicer this way, and there's was a surprising amount of water everywhere. Even a small waterfalls adorned the creek.
Sawtooth Ridge from between Mule Pass and Burro Pass
The last meadow before leaving the tree line is just epic with all the greenery and Sawtooth Ridge looming above with silvery rocks. I couldn't stop taking pictures.
It was past 4pm by the time we crested Burro Pass, which is unmarked, but very obvious.
Em on top of Burro Pass
From there, the vista to Matterhorn Canyon opens and one can see all the way down to the point where the canyon curves slightly. I studied the map and had a feeling the first decent campsite will be somewhere around that curve. Now, standing there, it looked like it will work out, there was an obvious spot down below where the trees grew in a thicker grove in the middle of the canyon. I pointed that out to Em, predicting that if all goes to plan, that's where we'll camp.
Looking down into Matterhorn Canyon
The first few hundred feet from the pass were pretty steep, but then it became much more gentle. It was perfect hiking again, with few words spoken, a photo break now and then, but otherwise just the serenity and rhythm of going downhill on a great trail in a great place. Just as it looked on the map, we were pretty far away from the water and there were absolutely no campsites for quite a while. However, my hunch was correct: as soon as we reached those trees, we were right next to the creek and there was a really nice campsite, a bit too exposed to the trail for my taste, but there was nobody around, so set settled down. It was almost 6 o'clock and back north, the lowering sun hitting the Sawtooth Ridge just looked amazing.
The view towards Sawtooth Ridge up Matterhorn Canyon
We were pretty tired, but after having failed to catch any fish for the last two days, I promised Em trout for supper. First, though, we did an inventory of our food. We packed out everything onto the tarp and looked over the stock. Everything was there and intact, we both agreed we could easily last another 4-5 days, and we only had three days to go.
So, having taken care of that, I set out to fish. The creek was perfect, with nice little pools harboring hungry brook trout. It took only half an hour to catch six fish that were decent enough in size to eat. I threw back a few I deemed to small and that weren't hurt by the hook. We ate them as a snack, not as real dinner, that came only later.
Our camp in Matterhorn Canyon
Then we had a nice staring match with a deer who came really close and started licking the place where we peed. It sounds gross, but it's the reality of the high country. Many animals, such as marmots and deer, are so deficient of minerals that they get it from whenever they can. They lick your pee, chew on your sweaty straps (backpack, hiking poles, etc.) and do whatever they can to get salt and other nutrients.
The night was still and chilly, and we kept hearing animals moving about, but I'm sure it was the deer. We left the empty pans on the bear canister, but the alarm never went off.
Walking down Matterhorn Canyon towards the PCT in the morning
Day 6 – Matterhorn Canyon to McCabe Lake
It was a cold and clear in the morning, and the sun was still way behind Whorl Mountain when we left. The first section took us down to the PCT, meeting it in the dense forest. We took the obligatory photos for the Adventure 16 challenge, as this was the beginning of our continuous 16+ mile segment, then we started up towards the Virginia Creek junction. The first mile or so is pretty steep uphill, ascending about 1,000'. Then it evens out a bit and all of a sudden, there's Miller Lake. It was a bit windy, but we took a quick lunch break and soaked our feet again, then continued down to Spiller Creek, where I had my second mishap of the trip.
Enjoying the cool waters of Miller Lake
The famous spot where I met the raging waters of Spiller Creek
Before that tumble on the way down from Bear Valley, I never took a fall on the trail. I like gazing around, but I'm always very mindful of where I'm stepping. I was sure it won't happen again for a while. Of course I was wrong. When we got to Spiller Creek, I just merrily started crossing the creek, stepping on each stone with not much caution.
The third rock rolled out from under my foot, in my eagerness I had way too much momentum, and ended up falling into the creek, landing on my side. The water was very shallow, it could not have been more than 4-5" deep. My right shoe filled with water, the right side of my pants got wet, but that was not a real problem.
While lying in the water, I was laughing so hard, I couldn't get up with the heavy pack. Em, seeing I'm not hurt, also started laughing, and she tried to help as much as she could, somehow dragging me in the water for a foot or two and then stabilizing me when I was getting up. In the meantime, my other shoe filled with water, too, and the bottom of my pack got submerged for a while. Spare clothing and the tent were in that part of the pack so the question was how wet everything got.
Judging by the weight, not very much, so we decided not to unpack, but to get to our destination as soon as possible. It was only around 1pm.
We stopped quickly, I wringed the water from my socks then went on to the junction with the Virginia Creek trail. Going up there is supposed to be very nice, too, maybe we'll do something that way next time.
The junction has a few camp spots and we heard other people mention that they intend to camp here tonight. Our plan was to hike up from the canyon, then take the side trail to McCabe Lake and camp there, mostly because it looked very nice on photos and there was a good chance we'll get away from the crowds.
Climbing out of the canyon is a short grind, then there's the junction and another 2 miles and 700' to the lake. By the way, many maps say less than two miles, but the sign says 2, and in that's what it is in reality. The grade is gentle and the surroundings are very nice, so we didn't mind. By this time, my pants we already dry and with the wool socks I almost didn't feel they were soaking wet.
On the shore of McCabe Lake wiht Sheep Mountain in the back
Oh, going out of the way for this lake was worth it. It's really, really cool. Sheep Peak towers above it and the shore is covered in thick, lush vegetation. We saw there's a big camp area right at the outlet, empty at that time, and it looked like there are more to the north, on the other side of the creek. We kept on the south side, mainly because it looked a bit less windy. After skirting the lake for a few hundred yards, we met trio with a few llamas, who said they have to depart early because some llamas are sick, and there's a nice camp spot up in the trees, we should take it. In the end, we walked some more and found a much better site a bit further up.
A chilly wind was blowing all the time, and there were some clouds, but it was mainly sunny, so we put out all my wet stuff to dry. It turned out the tent did not get wet at all, my spare socks and my long-sleeve Capilene 2 did soak up some water, but they, along with the worn socks and the shoes, were dry in an hour or two with all that wind and sun.
Camp at McCabe Lake
We did some laundry well away from the water, and hung the shower in the same vicinity. I took a dip in the lake first but then the wind started blowing like crazy when I got out. I had no towel handy and I was really suffering for what seemed like minutes — it felt like I was being frozen solid.
Em had a memorable episode, too. When she took her clothes off to shower, for a few seconds she was prancing around in the soft grass, dancing and enjoying the fresh air and the sun. She was just being silly in a cute way. She was also stark naked. After dancing around for a while, displaying all her charms, we realized some people arrived to the big campsite at the outlet, and they were standing on the shore, watching us from (I'd guess) 300 feet away. I'm sure they had a nice time. Of course, Em was laughing her naked butt off and quickly retreated behind the tree.
Relaxing on the lakeshore around sundown
Then I was off fishing. There wasn't much movement in the beginning, but around 7, the trout became really active and I caught several in a few minutes. They were nice and big, too. There was a local osprey who I swear came up to us and started telling us off about eating his fish. When I was dealing with the fish, he flew all the way from the other side of the lake directly to us, circled us few times, and yelled for a long time.
Rainbown trout from McCabe Lake
This time, we ate the fish with the real dinner and had another sage tea (with tequila, of course). It was still pretty windy and it just didn't want to die down. This was August 12, peak of the Perseid meteor shower, and as unpleasant it was, the sky was clear, so we tried laying out for a while in the sleeping bag to watch the meteors. We saw exactly zero in about an hour, which is highly unusual, but what can you do? Wind always makes Em a bit grumpy, and I wasn't the happiest camper either, so though we planned on staying up late, we went to bed at 10:30pm. The wind kept shaking the tent, making sleeping a bit hard for me, but then the day's effort got the better of me and I awoke to the merry sound of the alarm at 6.
McCabe Lake in the morning
Day 7 – McCabe Lake to Glen Aulin
We had a choice to make that day. For starters, we wanted to get to Glen Aulin to see how crowded it is, and depending on the conditions there and how we feel, either stay there or hike out and go home.
Getting back to the PCT was 2 miles and then 7 more to Glen Aulin in Cold Canyon. This is another very scenic place with perfect hiking going downhill all the way. The PCT is a real freeway here, with very obvious signs of huge traffic. In some places, there are 2-3 lanes, with some being blocked off with tree limbs by ingenious trail maintainers.
Cold Canyon - the PCT freeway with blocked lanes
It's mostly forest and meadow, with almost no water. While planning this, I thought we could camp there, but everybody advised against it for lack of water. They were right, there was some water in stagnant pools of creek beds, but I'd drink that only in an emergency.
There's a very steep and rocky section right before descending into the Grand Canyon, and then before we knew it, we arrived at Glen Aulin.
Down into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne to Glen Aulin
The main area around the water faucet was very crowded, with a big boy scout group and several families. We went past the little hill (behind the toilet), and there are dozens more sites there, few way too exposed, few high up in the hill, thus far away from the water, but we found a really cool place close to the creek, with great seats around the fire ring (which we were not going to use anyway). We decided to stay there and enjoy another night.
Our spot at the Glen Aulin backpacker's campground
It was only 1pm, and we got there just in time, a lot of people arrived in the hour after us. I also wanted to check out the restaurant/store, I read that you can have dinner there in the communal tent with the cabin guests and other hikers. The sign said they'll open at 1, which became almost 2, and then the guy told me they're full for dinner, but I have to talk to his boss later, maybe they can accommodate us. Then I learned the dinner costs $57 per person for a simple chicken meal. I know this is the backcountry, and they have to bring in everything by mule, but still, that was way too much. We hand plenty of food left, so we didn't even try to eat at the restaurant.
White Cascade and the beach at Glen Aulin
There was the whole afternoon to kill, so we went down to the "beach", a very nice area next to the cabins, where a pool is formed under a waterfall named White Cascade. Many people were bathing and loitering around there, so we joined them and had a nice time. Then a quick nap in the tent, snacks, some more walking around, and it was dinnertime. We drank the last sips of the tequila – we had a grand total of 8 ounces on the entire trip.
The day before, we befriended some cool guys who were on a two-week trip. They showed up at Glen Aulin and they confessed they're pretty much running on fumes, with only a few scraps and energy bars left. They were hiking out next day, too, so it wasn't a very bad situation, but we had plenty of food left, so we gave them a few pita breads and a sausage. They fell over it like hungry wolves.
Em loading her backpack early in the morning
Day 8 – Glen Aulin to Tuolumne Meadows and L.A.
We decided we'll try to catch another concert in the evening. Crazy, right? We woke up a bit before 6am, got ready as fast as we could and started hiking uphill towards Tuolumne. It was a very nice, cool morning, with almost nobody on the trail and the going was easy. We were hurrying, but still took a few photos, including with some nice deer grazing. In Tuolumne, where the river was slow and wide, we could see that there's far less water than only a week ago. Looked pretty sad.
Morning light above the Tuolumne River drainage
In two and a half hours, we were at the car. After changing quickly, we got in and left the park at 10:30am. The canyon above Lee Vining was full of smoke, as it turned out some idiots left a fire burning around Walker Lake and it developed into a pretty serious wildfire. I heard a police officer saying mentioning that it could threaten a large residential neighborhood in the long run, but I think nothing really bad happened in the end.
Down from Tioga Pass, Mono Lake in the distance, the Walker Fire's smoke in the air
A friend highly recommended the restaurant at the Mobile station around the 395-120 junction, so we stopped and picked up food to go: hot chicken wings and a swordfish sandwich. Em is really good at feeding me and herself while I'm driving, so we did just that, practically inhaling the food. Fancy backcountry meals or not, we always miss real food after even a few days. The wings were a bit too sour for Em's taste, but I adored them, though usually I'm not a fan of wings. The swordfish sandwich was excellent, with the meat grilled to perfection and a fantastic chipotle sauce on the side. We both loved it.
Again, trying not to break the speed limit very badly, we tried to hurry, and though there was more traffic than coming up, we got back to L.A. around 4:30pm. Quick shower, quick dinner, and off we were again to the Hollywood Bowl, listening to the L.A. Philharmonic play only 12 hours after we were still miles in the backcountry.
This was the longest trip we've done so far, about 88 miles altogether in 8 days, with a cumulative elevation gain of at least 15,000'. However, besides that very hard day #2, most days were paced very well, and we never had a really hard time. Also, my knee didn't start hurting like on the Two Kings Loop, I'm not sure why, maybe because I was way more careful.
Yosemite is absolutely, unbelievably gorgeous, and we'll go back there, but where the next adventure takes us, I don't know yet.
More (way more) pictures in the full gallery
The PCT in Cold Canyon, looking north