Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Days 11 and 12: Pothole Dome and Lyle Meadow hikes

Friday morning, we decided to go back to Pothole dome since Trish had missed it the day before.  This time, we went on a guided ranger walk.  The ranger told us all about Plutonic Granite, Dikes, and other interesting geologic features.  Since Dad knows so much about Yosemite geology, he would add stuff that the ranger had missed.


Later that day, the four of us walked from the campground, along the Merced river to Lyle Meadow, where there are several bridges across the river.  We sat there for a while, then Mom and Dad left to take showers at the lodge, while Trish and I lingered for a while.  I got a picture of Unicorn and Tricia while she did some drawing:


On the way back, I got a neat picture of a dead tree:


Mom and Dad left for home that afternoon.  Trish and I stayed in the campground.  On Saturday, we walked on a trail that skirts the edge of the campsite, first along the south edge of the campground, and then back along the Merced river.  We sat on the river bank for about an hour, watching a small trout that was hunting for food in the water right at our feet.  I think we named him Skippy….

Saturday night, we went to a ranger talk about the prominent figures that made Yosemite National Park what it is today.  It was very interesting.

Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Day 10: Pothole Dome hike

Thursday was a relatively relaxed day.  Trish stayed back at the RV and relaxed.  Mom and Dad and I took the free shuttle up to Olmsted Point.  There, we walked up a small nature trail, and could see into Yosemite Valley from the “back side”.

On the way back, we got off the shuttle at Pothole dome.  We ate lunch on the dome’s face, and Mom and I climbed to the top.

Rather than take the shuttle, we decided to walk from Pothole dome back to the campground on a trail north of the road.  This turned out to be longer than expected, and Mom was very sorry she had only worn her tennis shoes.  It was a very beautiful walk, though.

That evening, we went to a very interesting ranger talk about glaciers, ice ages, and global warming.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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:


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.


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:


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:


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


Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Day 8: Goin’ to Mammoth

The day after the backpack, we decided to go into town.  Because we had left a light on in the RV from Friday to Saturday night, the RV battery was completely dead, so to take a shower or read at night, I had to use jumper cables to hook our truck’s battery to the RV electrical system.  A fellow staying next to us told us about getting a solid state isolator, and how this might solve our problem.  So, we decided to go to the town of Mammoth to see if someone could install such a device in our truck.

With Trish and I in the truck and my parents in their Toyota, we headed east out of Tuolumne.  After about 30 minutes, we had crossed Tioga pass and headed down into the town of Lee Vining.  Since the town was too small to have anyone who could install the isolator, we headed South another 30 minutes or so to the town of Mammoth.

While Trish and my parents did laundry at the laundromat, I headed to the pay phone.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find anyone in town who knew what an isolator was, much less how to install one.

After the laundry was done, Trish and I spent quite a bit of time at the visitor center in Mammoth, watching the Belding Ground Squirrels, and playing with the huge Ponderosa Pine cones.  Eventually, we got back in the truck and headed back to Tuolumne.

After a couple weeks of playing with the battery after we got home, I determined that there was something very wrong with that particular battery – I couldn’t get it to hold more than about a 20% charge, and the battery would boil over when I tried to charge it, since it could never get up the voltage that the charger considers “full”.

Anyway, that’s how the day went.  You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Tuolumne Meadows Vacation, Days 6 and 7: Young Lakes Backpack

On Sunday, Mom, Dad, Trish and I set out on our three day backpacking trip to  Young Lakes.  We left the Tuolumne Meadows campground at around noon.  We walked along highway 120, the main east-west road through the meadows.  After a quarter mile or so, we got to the trail that would lead us across the meadows and into the mountains.

After a couple miles, we hit a tee in the trail – to the left, the Glen Aulin High Sierra camp.  To the right, the trail to Young Lakes.  We continued on.  On the way, we passed a group of people on horseback, on the two-hour tour from the Tuolumne Meadows stable.

Up and up we climbed.  As we went up in elevation, we passed through different ecosystems, each with their own plant and animal profiles.

About 6.5 miles from the beginning of the trip, we got to a fork in the trail.  Here, the two trails which lead to Young Lakes meet.  One was the trail we came up, the other is the trail that comes from the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge via Dog lake.  We stopped 50 feet or so up the trail and decided to have a snack.

Just as we got out our food, mom looked back and noticed a bear looking at us from about 75 feet way!  We quickly packed up our stuff and moved on.  Everyone suddenly seemed much less tired as we left “bear junction”.

As we came out of the draw we were in, we ended up on he south side of Ragged Peak.  At over 10,000 feet, Ragged Peak towers above the Young Lakes at its feet.  From the south, it didn’t look all the impressive.

Finally, we got to the lowest of the three Young Lakes.  We set up camp about 100 yards from the lake.

As in the campgrounds, there is a bear “problem” in Yosemite.  Years of tourists and backpackers not properly storing their food have led to bears becoming accustomed to human food.  Mother bears teach their cubs how to break into cars.  In the campgrounds, campers are told to keep all their food in a bear box, a kind of iron foot locker.  In addition, most people put sheets or blankets in their cars so that the bears don’t see anything inside.  While at the campground, a family camped next to my parents left an empty cooler inside their car.  Bears are smart, and know that coolers often contain food, so at 2 am a family of bears broke into the car and tore open the cooler.

Bears in the back country know that humans mean food, too.  Backpackers used to hang their food from a rope in a tree, but about half the time it was done incorrectly, so that bears could get the food.  Now, backpackers use “bear cans”, large plastic cylinders which flush locking hardware, to store their food.  The Yosemite backpacker has to always be alert and aware of bears in the area.

To avoid the bears, which tend to walk along the lake shore, where berries a plentiful, we camped around 100 yards from the shore.  From the lake, the view was incredible.  With virtually no pollution in the backcountry, we could easily see the lake bottom.  Since its at the foot of Ragged Peak’s glaciated face, rock ground to dust under the glaciers weight washes into the lake.  This dust, suspended in the water, gives the lake water a dark blue hue.   From this angle, Ragged Peak was very impressive, and we got to see alpine glow on it (this occurs when, for the valley, sunset has occurred, but the mountain tops are still in the sun). In the bottom picture, you can see the moon.

We cleaned up after dinner.  The meal area is put 150 feet or so away from the tent area, so that, if food is spilled, the bears will not be drawn to the area.  After eating, dishes are washed off and left out, so that the bear does not have to destroy packs to get at them.  All the food, and toiletries, etc. which have a scent (toothpaste, bug repellent, etc.) are put in the bear cans.

Although we were not visited by bears that night, we heard people yelling in the middle of the night.  The next morning, we found bear scat very close to our campsite.  We decided it would be best to go back, rather than stay an extra night. While bear attacks are fairly rare, we didn’t think it was worth the risk.

That morning, a beautiful panorama unfolded before us across the lake.  Ragged peak (far right of panorama) looked more ominous than ever.

On a whim, I suggested that we attempt to summit Ragged Peak.  As you can see in the picture, we would have to walk around the lake, then climb around the two glaciers to get to the saddle.  A direct assault on the peak (to the right in the picture) would then be possible.

Mom and Trish decided to stay down below, while Dad and  would attempt the climb.

Getting around the lake was fairly easy, but the climb was pretty tough.  The ascent to the saddle was quite steep, and we were climbing over a ten foot deep layer of basketball-sized rocks.  I took a picture:

At last, we reached the saddle.  We were already pretty high up.  The view across the other side was pretty spectacular.

On top, there was a cleft in a rock where a piece of wind-blown wood had been trapped.  In the shade, flowers grew as well.

Everywhere there was a little shade, or the land angled such that rain water would be concentrated in a particular spot, plants tenaciously hung on to life.

The ascent of the peak was steeper than the climb to the saddle.  This time we were climbing through scree, a term used to describe a mountain face (called a ‘field’) covered with small rocks.  In our case, the scree was about 10 inches deep, and the rocks were pea sized.

When we got towards the top, there was a ridge of sorts.  The ‘peak’ itself was a 30 foot high, 4 foot diameter spire.  We scrambled to within 10 feet of the top, but there was no safe way to go any farther.  Looking down from this perilous perch, I was able to see all three Young Lakes:

Dissapointed, we made our way down to the ridge, and then down the slope to the saddle. From there, we got quite a view away from Young Lakes:

We also saw a marmot in amongst the rocks 20 of so feet from us.  I was surprised at how large this cat-sized mammal was.

At the saddle, we ran into two guys coming up from Young Lakes.  All either of them had was a small water bottle.  We were pretty surprised. We talked to them for a while, and discovered that they were the people we had heard yelling the night before.  Since they felt that “bear cans are just too heavy”, they tried to hang their food in a tree.  Of course, the bear got their food, but they chased the bear away, so they got most of their food back.  Its people like that that build within bears’ minds the relationship between people and food, and make bears dangerous in the back country.

Eventually, we got down from the mountain.  We broke down our camp, put all of our gear on our backs, and headed back towards Tuolumne Meadows.  On the way back, I took another picture of Ragged Peak from the north, and Trish took a picture of me.

Coming down was quite bit easier than going up, and we made better time.  We didn’t run into any bears on the way down.  After what seemed like forever, we made it back to the campground.