Tuolumne Grand Tour

The last two days have been a sort of "grand tour" of Tuolumne and the east side for me. We opened our Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center yesterday, and I conducted staff training and helped set up the store. One of the rites of summer: stocking Junior Ranger Handbooks and Yosemite Road Guides on our shelves in the high country. If you are in the area, please stop in at the visitor center and say hi to our dedicated staff: Jesse, Gretchen, and Jean. I treated them to a Tioga Pass Resort (TPR) lunch with the requisite piece of pie (we had blueberry!) to show our appreciation for their hard work.

The key word in Tuolumne is snow! After finishing at the store, I headed out to Gaylor Lakes. The beginning of the trail had patches of snow, but most of the ascent was clear, but wet. When I arrived at the crest a snowy world returned. A wind-formed cornice hugged the ridge to the southeast, so I strolled over to Gaylor Peak, which was relatively free of snow. My ascent to the top of the peak was rewarded with a view of frozen Gaylor Lakes blanketed in white, with the severe Sierra Crest standing guard in the background. The lake peeked out of the snow in a few areas with turquoise eyes, but the white hue dominated most of the basin.

That night I stayed in Lee Vining and fulfilled another rite of summer: dinner at the Whoa Nellie Deli. For those of you have not yet partaken in the fine cuisine served in the Mobil Station-run, don't walk! I feasted on lobster taquitos and the best clam chowder I've have ever tasted (no small claim coming from a native New Englander!). Matt, the master chef and a die-hard baseball fan, advised me that the Red Sox's chances this year probably weren't good.

Before returning to my hotel, I drove to Mono Lake and strolled on the boardwalk thought the tufas and willow trees. The evening quickly became (dare I use the overused word magical? I think I will) magical. I walked alone in the late dusk, with the wind singing in the trees and a symphony of birdsong accompanying the full moon. The tufas stood like sentries watching the passage to the lake. On my way back to my car, I noticed the swings in the picnic area. Being the sole inhabitant of the park I thought why not? For what seemed like hours I swung back and forth, reaching my legs to the sky as if I were about to leap over the still, blue-grey lake. The moon bounced back and forth in my sight.

Next day I munched on a bagel as I drove back into the park, readying myself for an excursion up Mt. Dana. The last inaugural rite of summer: my annual hike to the top. Mt. Dana embodies everything I love in a mountain climb: soft, velvet meadows, blooming flowers, and an imposing yet non-technical summit. No ropes, clips, or any gear required. Jack Kerouac said that you can't fall off a mountain, which I can't see as being universally true, but you certainly can't fall off of the north side of Dana. It's a big boulder pile. My scramble up 1,000 feet of rocks at least make me feel like I've done something worthy, even if a technical climber might scoff at the class 1 ratings the ascent to Dana holds.

Beth.jpgAlthough several large snowfields covered some areas, unlike the surrounding peaks buried in a blanket of white in view, most of the mountain was snow-free. Last year when I hiked this trail, the cornflowers were blooming; this year the vegetation is scarce. Spiders, however, were the most ubiquitous lifeforms I saw on the hike. Small gray, black and one almost greenish creature were scurrying among the rocks and over the snow.

At the summit I met a few Yosemite veterans. Rich, who worked in the Bay Area, got his first glimpse of Mt. Dan when he was sixteen and vowed that he would climb it. Although he had accumulated an impressive list of mountaineering and rockclimbing accomplishments in the over twenty years since that day, this was his first ascent of Dana. I watched as he strapped on his telemark skis and boldly and gracefully descended down the east face. I am way too chicken to even think of such a feat, but I admired his confidence. Another hiker, Marcos, had made the ascent to Dana's summit many times. His father had taken many of Carl Sharsmith's classes and was a lifetime YA members.

My descent went quickly, aided by the large snowfields I had avoided on my climb to the top. After donning my rainpants, I sat down and used the snow as a giant slide. The snowcups were small, the snow was soft and I'm sure my fellow hikers heard my cries of delight as I sped down the mountain.

Mt. Dana

Beth.jpgTuolumne has opened! And another hiking season in the high country begins. Mt. Dana provides a great welcome to the higher elevations and I usually make it my inaugural hike in Tuolumne. It’s short (less than six miles round trip), strenuous (an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet) and propels you into the beautiful alpine landscape and atop the park’s second highest summit fairly quickly (depending on your hiking speed!).

Due to a craving for pancakes, we begin late in the morning but the sky holds no troubling clouds. "It’s all uphill from here," I keep joking as we walk. Shad kneels down to get a photo of a field of corn lilies waving their green leaves at us. He’s become more confident in his photography since his rolls of film have come back from the developer without the fix-it stickers attached.

We pass a small rock decorated with an orange paint spot and I relate to Shad the story behind this strange spot. The late ranger, Carl Sharsmith, established this trail in the 1930’s and led wildflower walks up to the Dana Plateau. At one point, he was ordered by his supervisor to paint blazes marking the trail up to Dana. He disagreed with the directive but was forced to comply. So he painted the orange spots only on small rocks, and when his supervisor left, he marched up the trail and turned all of the rocks with the orange blazes over.

After boulder jumping up to the summit, we find only one other party at the top. Proving the small world theory true, a member of the group happens to be William Alsup, a board member of the association. We enjoy the panoramic view together and between the five of us we are able to identify most of the landmarks: Mono Lake, the White Mountains, Saddlebag Lake, Mt. Conness, Cathedral Peak, Echo Peaks, Mt. Ritter and Banner (just barely) Lembert Dome, Mt Hoffmann and Mt. Lyell.

Since it’s early in the season, the scurry down the mountain is accelerated by the large snowfields. We slide down with our raingear, laughing as we go, bumping and falling over suncups. And our pace is also quickened by the motivating factor of a Tioga Pass Resort homemade piece of pie.

Endnote: Shad consumed a rather large slice of chocolate cake; I opted for the apple pie.