The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is a rugged, wild and remote corner of Yosemite National Park. I completed this point-to-point adventure in 2010 and couldn’t wait to return this year. In 2010, we did the trip in July, but due to the unusually dry winter season resulting in meager snowpack, the trail was snow-free and we found similar water volume this year in late May as we did in mid-July 2010. Due to the fact that White Wolf campground and lodge were not opened yet, we decided to leave the car at Lukens Lake which added a few extra miles to the trip, bonus over the standard 50k distance (~33 miles total). Complete photo album here.
The first part of the route is gorgeous with great views of the Echo Range and the domes of the Tuolumne Meadows as the Tuolumne River graciously meanders through the grassland and forest. The river quickly transitions to rapids and waterfalls and once in the canyon the views are simply spectacular with granite and water everywhere. There are numerous major waterfalls with the highlight in my opinion being Waterwheel Falls.
What I forgot from 2010 is the arduousness of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. First, while it is mostly downhill from the Tuolumne Meadows into Pate Valley 21 miles downstream, it’s impossible to really open up the stride for any significant length due to the rugged, rocky and technical nature of the trail. Moreover, deep inside the canyon the trail becomes faint and difficult to follow at times due to its remote location with blow downs and other obstacles. Finally, and this is the real kicker, once at the bottom of Pate Valley one must ascend 4,000+ ft from the canyon floor all the way up to the rim at White Wolf/Lukens Lake. While this is a point-to-point, the net elevation loss from Tuolumne to Lukens Lake is only a couple hundred feet. The big climb is due to the fact that there is no trail outlet from the bottom of the canyon with the river flowing into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Thus, the only option is the grueling climb at the end of the day. Fortunately, the weather on this trip was cool which helped immensely, but this climb can be hot, exposed and buggy on a typical summer day, especially the lower portion.
Complete photo album here.