Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Day 9: Unicorn Hike

Having spent a relatively relaxing day in Mammoth, we decided that we were recharged enough to try another climb.  So, we headed out from camp toward Elizabeth lake, which is at the foot of the mountain known simply as “The Unicorn”.  The hike from the campground was a bit of a way, with moderate elevation gain. As we hiked, we met a river that flows out from Elizabeth lake.

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The lake was beautiful, especially with The Unicorn hovering at its shore.  Unfortunately, the fact that its so close to the campground means that its a relatively easy target, so there were 3 or 4 families there other than us.

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As you can see it the picture, The Unicorn is a two-peaked mountain.  Peaks in Yosemite that were under the glaciers were shaped into rounded shapes, while those which stuck out above the glacier had their sides torn away, causing sharp peaks.  This leads me to believe that the “rump” of The Unicorn (on the left) was under the glacier and hence rounded, while the “horn” (on the right) stuck out above the glacier.

After a quick lunch, Dad and I headed out towards the mountain while Mom and Trish stayed at the lake.

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When Dad and I climbed Ragged Peak, we had with us FRS (Family Radio Service) radios.  These walkie-talkie-like devices have a range of about 2 miles.  So, we were able to talk to the folks down below and let them know where we were.  Unfortunately, a six fpot high target is pretty hard to see when its a couple miles away.  I solved that problem by taking a signal mirror on the ascent of Unicorn, so that I could flash them with the mirror to let them know where I was.

About half way up, I turned and saw that Lembert Dome was in the sun, while surrounding forest was in the shade from the clouds above.  While Lembert looks quite intimidating from the campground, it didn’t look like much here.

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As we got up higher, we could see the lake from Unicorn:

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As we continued up, we were high enough that we ran into tiny snow fields in places where the rocks provided just enough shade for the snow to stay frozen from day to day.  That’s Unicorn’s “horn” above.

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Since we were so close, I decided I would attempt to summit the rump, while Dad would wait in the saddle. The 3-way communications got pretty interesting as I ascended.   While it looks quite smooth from a distance, in reality the rump is made up of at least 3 layers deep of ottoman to golf cart-sized rocks.  The higher I got, the larger the rocks got, and the more perilous it became.  The ridge narrowed to about 20 feet wide.  I wasn’t in any danger, but looking over the snowfield at tiny Elizabeth Lake below was enough to make me start shaking.

On the snowfield, the snow was a light pink hue.  Called “watermelon snow”, it is caused by some sort of microorganism that lives in the snow.  Don’t eat it!

Finally, I got to the top.  Strangely, there were a dozen or so butterflies fluttering right around the peak.  I have no idea what they were doing there; there were no flowers from which to feed, etc.  Maybe they were just tourists.  Here’s a picture from the rump towards the horn:

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In addition to the butterflies, there was quite a bit of marmot scat in amongst the rocks.  I had visions of running into a Bubonic Plague-infested Marmot, becoming delirious, and falling off the mountain (Hey, it could happen!)

Finally, I carefully picked my way don to the saddle, where Dad was waiting.  Here’s a group shot, with Cock’s Comb and Echo Peak in the background.

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When we started down the mountain, we had to be a little careful – Unicorn has several cliff structures running along its face.  In order to be sure we came down the same way we came up, we used our GPS to retrace our steps. Here’s a picture of Dad coming down the mountain, with the “Rump” in the background:

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In this picture, you can see how the mountain descends for a while and then drops of steeply.  If we hadn’t stayed to the left, we would have gone over the edge:

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At last we got to the bottom.  Before heading back to camp with Mom and Trish, I got a last picture of the mountain:

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Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Day 8: Goin' to Mammoth
Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Day 10: Pothole Dome hike

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