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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yosemite Part Two - Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is in the less-visited northeast section of the park. These high altitude Meadows and domes lie among the tributaries of the Tuolumne River.

The lower altitude meadows in the area are at about 8,000 feet elevation. That's the beginning of minor nosebleed territory for me.

K and I took different hikes. My group took an out-and-back hike along a portion of the Muir Trail from Tioga Pass Road past Cathedral Peak and on to Cathedral Lake. Kathleen's group followed a portion of the trail further East, for a less strenuous hike through Lyell Canyon, along the Lyell fork of the Tuolomne River. Her walk was through a series of small streams and expansive alpine meadows.

West of Tuolumne Meadows, the Tuolumne River was dammed to form the Hetch Hetchee Reservoir, which inundated a valley said to be as spectacular as Yosemite Valley itself. John Muir died around the time this project was conceived. Some say he died of a broken heart. Although this gigantic reservoir is the primary supply of water for San Francisco and its neighboring communities, the Restore Hetch Hetchee Movement has had a healthy following for years.

Perversely, from its inception this movement has been a hobby horse of anti-green conservatives. The Reagan administration couldn't resist an issue where San Francisco Liberals would scream foul (apparently, San Francisco liberals like their water more than John Muir's legacy) at a Federal effort to improve the environment on the backs of left coasters rather than the usual southeastern coal miners and western ranchers.

Enough about political backstabbing. Back to the main story.

On the way to the trail heads, both parties stopped at Olmstead Point, a turnout with another scenic view of meadows overlooked by several peaks and domes. The marker credited Frederick Law Olmstead with “designing the park”. That lead to a continuing shtick about how Disney turned Olmstead's design into reality. In actuality, I suspect (but I am not sure) Olmstead's contribution was in laying out the roads and paths in Yosemite valley, which are absolutely great. People can start at the Yosemite Village hotel area, cross the street and walk about 200 yards on the path to Yosemite falls and feel like they are in a natural setting. Olmstead was a genius at that. Even Central park feels like a walk in the country if you don't look up. I think he uses a lot of unnecessary curves and minor trail obstacles to get the effect.

My hike started with a long first mile and a half, walking through wooded trails gaining about 1,000 feet in altitude. It was tiring at that altitude. The forest on the slope was beautiful, despite the fine, dry "California moon dust" that coats most California trials, as well as most hikers in September. I walked alone for a while, between the advanced and rear guards. The quiet on this slope in the morning was noticeable. This was a pleasantly wooded slope, but nothing really caused me to take any pictures.

The next mile was through relatively flat but undulating terrain and a boulder field that looked like it may have been formed as an alluvial fan following an ancient flood, but I couldn't see an obvious place from where the flow would have come.

At this point, we were walking by the base of Cathedral Peak. Unlike John Muir, we didn't climb the peak. We were near 10,000 feet altitude at its base, and the climb is rated technical (although Muir probably just ran up the mountain using his bare hands and feet) . For me, physical exertion loses its appeal at that kind of altitude. When we left the wooded area, we were directly under this amazing peak.

John Muir had a lot to say about Cathedral peak and Cathedral lakes in "My First Summer in the Sierra"

". . .the wonderful mountain called Cathedral Peak is in sight.

From every point of view it shows marked individuality. It
is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from living rock,
and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral
style. The dwarf pines on the roof look like mosses. I hope
some time to climb it to say my prayers and hear the stone
sermons. . . "

We passed a great example of fire succession, a new forest probably 20 years after a fire.

We descended to a meadow that seemed a little boggy, with Cathedral peak looking down on us. The ground cover vegetation was a rusty color. With the peak in the background, this spot made a perfect backdrop for portraits.

After I did it, everybody wanted in.

The meadow gently descended into a boggy marsh between the peak and a shelf of nearly horizontal rock that gently sloped to cathedral lake.

I found this Jeffrey Pine that made me think of a photo by Ansel Adams.

This was a beautiful place to have lunch. There's nothing like an alpine lake. These are part of the panorama surrounding our lunch spot.

We returned by the same path. Although we were on our own in the morning, we ran into several backpacking groups climbing the rise during our decent in the mid-afternoon. It seemed to me they would not get to their campsites until around 6:00 PM. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

On the slightly puffing and gasping walk up the slope, I hadn't noticed the very large peak behind me and across a large meadow. I don't know what caused the crevasse in the rock face. Perhaps a tremor unloosed a boulder that scraped its way to the base.

K's hike through Lyell canyon is an example of the inspiration in nature for traditional Japanese gardens. Since I wasn't there, it's just the pictures.

Including the about 90 minute drive form Yosemite Valley, mostly on the death-defying Tioga Pass Road, this was a pretty long day. I only had about one half hour to clean up for dinner. Oh, the strain of rouging it!

Coming soon: Vernal falls and a few surprises.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Mea Culpa.

What I called an alluvial fan is obviously a glacial moraine.

I caught this error myself.

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