Glen Aulin

Pop quiz. I hiked to Glen Aulin today because it provided one of the few trails in Tuolumne that:

a) wasn’t covered with snow

b) didn’t possess hip-height stream crossings

c) did not have mosquitoes

d) promised roaring waterfalls

And the answer…………….all but d) did not have mosquitoes are correct!

In the over fifteen years I’ve been hiking in the Sierras, I have never used bug repellent—until this year. Being a New Englander, the occasional mosquitoes one encounters in California is nothing to the swarms that descend upon the hapless hiker in the east (yes, I am exaggerating to a point). My father, when he visits, loves California’s “bug free environment” (his words). This year, the abundance of water has also provided a fruitful breeding ground for the bloodsuckers, and I have the battle scars to prove it.

Tuolumne%20River.jpgI did get a reward for being feasted upon. The waterfall at Glen Aulin poured into the basin with such force that it caused a surf to hit the shore near the abandoned high sierra camp. The water has transformed the landscape this year, reminding its neighbors that it is not always gentle in it travels. The river has burst at the seams, pouring into meadows and over granite, using both as clay as it shapes its surroundings.

For those of you who may have read my article about Jim Snyder in the last issue of Yosemite, I waded through a boggy meadow to take a photograph of the arch he helped design and build over thirty years ago, the first true Roman arch constructed in the backcountry. It provides hikers with a dry path where the river typically overflows. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“No one on the crew had actually built an arch, but this didn’t deter them in the least. Jim simply read books on nineteenth-century stonemasonry, assigned a mathematically talented crewmember to figure out the exact geometric patterns, and then they carved the granite by superimposing models over the rock. As Jim remembers, it was incredible when they assembled the arch and realized ‘that it had worked just like in the books. No cement was needed—it was just unbelievable.’”

Glen Aulin

Being Irish, I felt a certain duty to check out the valley in Tuolumne whose name came from the Gaelic tongue (Gleann Alainn is the traditional spelling). Glen Aulin always seemed out of place in a region with landmarks named for western explorers and scientists, and with Native American terms and references to obscure (and not so obscure) anecdotal legends. (The naming of Lost Bear Meadow is my favorite obscure story. A little girl, Shirley Miller, was lost for three days in the park. When her rescuers finally found her she replied, “I am not lost but the bear is lost. He went away and got lost.”) Glen Aulin seems more appropriate to a landmark in a Tolkien tale or the Irish countryside than Yosemite. But then again, Yosemite does have Ireland Lake.

I’ve avoided in my travels the more popular Tuolumne hikes like Sunrise, Volgelsang, and Glen Aulin, preferring to seek out areas of more solitude. For my first “test hike” after rupturing a disk in my back, I decided to take a more populated route in case my back decided to be a poor sport. And I had heard of the beautiful waterfalls in Glen Aulin and wanted to see them for myself.

Although my back did not cooperate, and I hiked with a fair amount of pain, my reward was watching the Tuolumne River flow by me gracefully as I strode along the trail, and seeing the personalities of Tuolumne and California Falls, and White Cascade. I stopped by the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, and gave a message to the manager of the camp, Tom, a friend of Steve (our President). Tom told me stories of his travels around the globe and asked me to scold Steve for not including the position of the S.F. Giants in the standings.

I camped near California Falls, and sat near the river, watching the land and its inhabitants prepare for sleep. A deer walked into my camp noiselessly, gazed at me for a moment, and continued on her search for a bed. Fish jumped out of the water, searching for their evening feast, competing with the bats overhead for the unlucky insects.