Entering the Tioga Pass Road
The Tioga Pass Road was open this late in the winter one other time. In 1999 it was open for a week before closing on January 1, 2000.
We decided on a four day getaway to get a winter glimpse of Yosemite. Having visited in the fall, we were hoping to do some day hikes in the northern sections of the park near Tuolumne Meadows. A winter storm could close the Tioga Pass Road at any time, often for 6 months or more. This was a rare opportunity to drive this road and avoid the bulk of the winter tourists, who gravitated toward the Yosemite Valley and Badger Pass Ski Resort. Since we didn’t have snowshoes, we were hoping to find some accessible trails. With maps and GPS in hand and bundled for the 25 degree temps, we hit the Glen Aulin trail near Lembert Dome. What a pleasant surprise to find mostly snow covered trails. The last time it snowed was from a November storm. Due to the frigid nights, it was a hard, crusty snow and the trail was easily discernible due to the footprints of those that had gone before.
Easily discernible until we hit the first frozen creek that is. The Glen Aulin trail starts out following the Tuolumne River which was partially frozen as it meanders around the meadows. The creeks that normally fed it were frozen solid, or were they? Not having any experience crossing frozen water, we diverted upstream to a narrow crossing, found a fallen log and quickly lost the trail. We discovered more frozen streams and creeks and the white landscape with granite bolders made for a serene, beautiful view.
First of many frozen creek crossings
I discovered my maps of Yosemite with well marked trails, had grids that were approximately 1000 meters square. My GPS provides coordinates that when plotted on these maps gets you to within a few hundred meters. A trail that is 2-3 feet wide, and covered in snow with 200 ft conifers obscuring most landmarks becomes very hard to find. Oh well, we had plenty of daylight, warm clothes, lots of water and a chance to work on my land navigation skills. Ok, so my map skills have atrophied, but I knew that most creeks empty into a river. Well sometimes they end at a waterfall. Mary, who has learned to trust my bumbling ways, patiently followed me as we picked our way through deeper snow and 20% bolder covered grades. After an hour , we found Dingley Creek, did our best attempt at the balance beam (log) and ended up on the trail again. A quick lunch and we were headed towards Tuolumne Falls, the new objective.
We came to a cliff face and lost the trail again. We knew that we had to get down to the river, so we did some bouldering and dropped down about 40ft. It was fun and scary at the same time. Afterwards, I thought, “thank you Lord for keeping us safe.” We made it to what was Tuolumne Falls with a neat footbridge. The river was completely frozen at this point and we could hear gurgling under the ice.
The shadows were getting long and we hoofed it back. Mary, who is like a horse heading back to the barn on the return leg, missed the bear tracks and scat. She did keep me on a good pace and the trip back was uneventful.
Lessons Learned: 1. You will often get lost when hiking. Keep your wits about you and don’t panic. 2. Unbuckle your backpack straps when crossing water, even if it is frozen. A pack can pull you under. 3. Hiking is more fun if you do it with someone that you enjoy.
January 31, 2012 | Categories: Camping, Hikes in the Sierras, Hiking, Hiking and Camping Tips | Tags: Backcounry hiking, crossing frozen creeks, Glen Aulin, hiking winter navigation, lost while hiking, map skils, PCT in Yosemite, Sierra winter hiking, tuolumne falls, winter hiking, Yosemite winter, Yosemite winter hiking | Leave a comment