Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River

June 10, 2014 

Once again I'll be driving through Yosemite National Park to Tioga Pass Road to arrive at the Lambert Dome Trailhead. This hiking adventure will follow the Tuolumne River as it maneuvers through the canyons, descending to Water Wheel Falls.

This 18 mile round trip should show Clem Bingham, Fred Cochran and I some of the most magnificent falls in Yosemite National Park. Even though the west side of the Sierra Mountain Range has a minimal snow pack this season, the east side still displays its blanket of white above 10,000 feet. Cathedral Peak and Echo Peak offer a beautiful white back drop above the blue reflection of the Tuolumne River.

From the parking area we'll hike a one lane dirt road roughly one quarter of a mile until the Parsons Lodge Cabin comes into view. Our trailhead is located on the right just before this stone structure. We'll follow this almost flat trail to the Young Lakes Junction, but continue toward Delaney and Dingley Creeks. We found a log to cross on Delaney Creek and with Dingley we managed to cross without removing our boots.

Next our trail crosses the Tuolumne River assisted by twin wooden bridges. From this point we'll start our descent of 940 feet into one of the deepest gorges in Yosemite National Park.

Tuolumne Falls will be the first of five major falls on this trek. It is displaying roughly 70 feet of white water cascading to the rocks and pool below. Another 150 feet of elevation drop on this switch back trail to White Cascade Falls. Its height of 50 plus feet of raging water will lead us to the separate bridges that boarder the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

The camp was still closed for the season, so we had a choice of campsites for our base camp. Today we dropped 740 feet in elevation and hiked 5.9 miles.

The following morning we started our hike descending 3.3 miles to the Water Wheel Falls. Within the next 10 minutes we dropped to the tree covered Glen Aulin dry camp which was to be our base camp if the Sierra Camp was not available.

Descending another 200 feet we arrived at Mattie Creek. Mattie Lake which feeds this stream is hidden from view above the mountain face to the north. This ribbon of water cascading a few hundred feet down the mountain's face has created a delta which flooded our trail for the next 200 plus yards. Following this underwater trail was quite easy even with the water depth varying between ankle and knee-deep. The sections cut from the trees that have fallen across the trail previously helped create our visual pathway.

Once through the delta and now following a dry trail, I heard another roaring sound of water cascading from an elevated location. Could this be our introduction to California Falls? Looking through the trees reviled another area of ragging white water called California Falls. At this point the Tuolumne River slips down at a 35 degree angle toward LaConte Falls. Another long tapering falls descending over huge boulders than twist and turn until arriving at the longest and steepest falls called Water Wheel Falls at 7,000 feet.

Water Wheel Falls descends over 800 linear feet to create a spectacular circle of water striking a huge boulder before descending to the valley below. My personal comment is — this is an adventure that one must complete and bring your camera. I can now see why John Muir stated this was one of his favorite adventures.

After descending 900 feet today and verifying those remarkable true stores of this exceptional adventure, it is now time to return to base camp. We arrived back at camp around 3:30 that afternoon, which in turn allowed us time to relax and prepare for our finial departure the next morning.

The Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp had set aside three large fire rings for those hikers to share a campfire during the evening. Around 7 p.m. a few of us gathered around one of those rings to share our personal hiking adventures. There were two young ladies from Oakland California, Ansley West and Wenxin Zhang that had completed the same hike down to Water Wheel Falls.

While listening to their comments, behind us concealed in the dark away from the light of our campfire came a loud growl. Immediately flashlights were focused into the direction of that sound that penetrated the darkness. At first in the distance only two eyes were reflecting from our flashlights. Then a silhouette of a large animal appeared moving in our direction. Before I could react, from around the campfire came this blood curling scream. One of the ladies introduced a great defense maneuver. That high pitched sound altered the intruder's intentions and the bear changed directions then disappeared into the darkness of the forest. Needless to say we departed from the campfire and retreated back to our tents. Luckily the bear never returned, but I still slept with one eye open that night.

We departed the following morning, returning by the same trail trekking up stream along the Tuolumne River. We arrived at the parking area around 3 p.m. with memories of another successful adventure in Yosemite National Park.

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