Favorite Spots: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

As part of an ongoing series, we feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, a deep canyon in the northern section of Yosemite National Park, is a favorite spot of Jeanne Haegele, who lives in Yosemite and works in the marketing department.

Jeanne and Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

The first thing you notice when you visit Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, is how similar it is to Yosemite Valley—except that you have it all to yourself. It’s almost eerie. At some points, it’s more than 4,000 feet from the valley floor to the rim of the canyon, and there you are at the bottom. Alone in the vastness.

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Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

You have this amazing canyon pretty much to yourself because it’s hard to get to. The only way there is by backpacking, and it’s a challenging trip. Around 28 miles in total with lots and lots of uphill.

I visited Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne late last summer on a four-day backpacking trip with my boyfriend. We started from White Wolf and descended down some 3,700 feet into the canyon, where we met up with the Tuolumne River, our companion for the rest of the hike. We camped that first night in Pate Valley and the next morning, we started our uphill journey along the river, which would end about 23 miles later at Tioga Road, via Glen Aulin.

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Going up all that way up was challenging, but it was also spectacular. Around every turn, we discovered a new, sparkling-clear swimming hole or a massive and mysterious rock formation. A favorite was Muir Gorge, where Cathedral Creek, Register Creek, and another small stream join with Tuolumne River in a maze of cliffs. Like so many places in this canyon, it felt like a sacred spot.

There were also numerous waterfalls. Next to the trail, Waterwheel Falls and Conte Falls spilled down the rock—sometimes gently and sometimes furiously—in cascades that seemed endless. Since we were following them steeply uphill on a hot afternoon, they felt even more unending. But they were beautiful every step of the way.

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Photo by Navin Rajagopalan

Once at Glen Aulin, we were met by another huge waterfall. It was a wonderful sight and reminded us that we were close to the end of the journey. Well, sort of close. We still had 5 miles to go, but after we climbed out of Glen Aulin it was mostly flat until we emerged at Tioga Road.

And then we really were done—and feeling good about completing a hike full of so much beauty.

Boots near Glen Aulin Falls

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Climbing the Leaning Tower

As part of an ongoing series, we feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. The Leaning Tower, a granite feature located next to Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley is a favorite spot of Marta Czajkowska, who lives and works as a photographer in Yosemite Valley.

“One of my most favorite places in Yosemite Valley is the Leaning Tower. Frequently overlooked, the Leaning Tower rises to the right of Bridalveil Fall. A stupendous overhanging tower of flawless granite. The tower is known to climbers as the “The steepest wall in North America”. That steepness is what makes it so remote. There is no hiking trail and advanced technical rock craft is required and tested if you want to conquer it. The lower part of the Tower overhangs an average of 110 degrees, while the upper section averages about 95 degrees – making it one of the world’s most continuously overhanging granite cliffs. It’s just a little too steep and a little too long to be an easy day climb.

Climbing a rock that’s that overhanging means three things:

1. Exposure. More often than not when you are climbing the Leaning Tower you are hanging in space. There is little below you but air.

2. Hard work. The less contact with the rock, the more physical it is to climb. This is when we start talking about Gravity with a capital G. You can REALLY feel it.

3. Safe Falls. If you happen to be falling down, it’s best not to encounter anything on your way. Overhanging cliffs are the safest for falling.

The magic of climbing the Leaning Tower is that the route starts already half way up the face. It’s like a shortcut. The other thing is that these extremely hard and overhanging sections are interspersed with huge and lavish ledges. One of them is so big and comfy, that it was christened “Ahwahnee Ledge” – encountering a ledge that size feels as luxurious as staying at The Ahwahnee. Right before the real summit there is another huge ledge, called “Dano Ledge” after Dan Osman, a climber known for his boldness and vision. Hanging out on Dano Ledge, watching a sunset – life does not get any better!”

The Leaning Tower has been named since 1883. At 6500 feet elevation, the tower rises 2500 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley. Across the valley from Yosemite’s giant stone monolith, El Capitan, the tower was also known as “Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah’s Citadel”, based on the Native American name for El Capitan.

Marta also wrote about her climbing experience at the Leaning Tower on The Cleanest Line blog for Patagonia in 2013.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Mirror Lake

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. Mirror Lake, at the base of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley is a favorite spot of Gena Wood, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. Gena spends a lot of her time climbing, cycling, and hiking. Mirror Lake is one place that always draws her back for more. “I never thought I would find myself saying that Mirror Lake is my favorite spot…at first. With each return visit I find myself in a trance. I am mesmerized by the rock faces around me. I am fascinated by the constant change you can watch happen throughout the year. I always want to go back.

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After work I ride my bicycle up the steep hill to the top, knowing the reward will come not only when I make it to the top but also when I get to ride down the hill. As I huff and I puff my way up that hill, I just know it will be worth it. When I make it to the top, it is worth it. I feel at peace. I am surrounded by Mount Watkins, Half Dome, Washington’s Column and North Dome

I stare up at Half Dome with a view unlike any other. I think about the hikers who’ve made it up the cables. The climbers who have made it up the sheer vertical face. I am inspired.  I feel small; There is something bigger out there. As the sun begins to set people start to make their way down the hill. California Quail make a run for it, out of the willows and across the rocks. Deer search for food. The setting sun makes Half Dome glow. Alpenglow swallows the mountains around me. I am left alone, engulfed in happiness. This is home.”

The name Mirror Lake is truly a misnomer. Mirror Lake is actually overflow water from Tenaya Creek. As Tenaya Creek becomes drier, Mirror Lake follows suit. During the spring and early summer, Mirror Lake appears to be a lake, reflecting the granite surrounding it. When dry, Mirror Lake still gives reflections, personal reflections, a place take in the beauty around you. Regardless of the season, Mirror Lake is great place to explore. 

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Higher Cathedral Spire

View from the summit of Higher Spire, looking toward Yosemite Falls (left) and Sentinel Rock (right).

View from the summit of Higher Spire, looking toward Yosemite Falls (left) and Sentinel Rock (right).

The “Favorite Spots” series features the favorite places of Yosemite National Park community members and park visitors. Theresa came to the park on an extended rock climbing vacation in 2003, and still hasn’t left. Although she also loves to hike and explore the Yosemite backcountry, it’s no surprise that wild, airy places are among her favorites.

“Whenever someone asks me what my favorite spot in Yosemite is, the first place that comes to mind is usually the one that I’ve been to most recently. The fresh memories are so vivid and clear, and Yosemite is full of jaw-dropping places. Still, if pressed, I’d have to admit that over the years, the summit of Higher Cathedral Spire often ends up rising to the top of the list.

If you look across the meadow from El Capitan, there are two long slender fingers of rock rising up to the left of Middle Cathedral Rock, Lower Cathedral Spire, and above that, Higher Cathedral Spire.

Middle Cathedral with Higher and Lower Spires to the left.

Middle Cathedral with Higher and Lower Spires to the left.

Part of the appeal is that this summit is challenging to get to. Unlike the summits of more vaunted cliffs like El Capitan or Half Dome, there are no hikers’ trails to the summit. Technical rock climbing skills and gear are required, which means my partners and I have almost always had the summit all to ourselves.

On the other hand, it’s relatively accessible and only a moderately difficult climb. The easiest route to the top is 5.9 on the climbing scale where beginners often start out on 5.6 and the hardest climbs in the world are currently going at 5.15c.

From the top of the spire, you get a magnificent birds-eye view of Sentinel Rock, the top of Yosemite Falls, Royal Arches, and of course, El Capitan. The summit is also the perfect size. Big enough that you can relax, walk around a little, and even take a nap, yet still small enough to give you the feeling of being on top of the world.”

Climbing on Higher Cathedral Spire

Climbing on Higher Cathedral Spire

Higher Cathedral Spire was first climbed in 1934 by Jules Eichorn, Bestor Robinson and Dick Leonard, in the era when climbers were just beginning to explore Yosemite’s cliffs with ropes and gear.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Tuolumne Meadows

Lembert Dome rises above the Tuolumne River, flowing northwest towards Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco. Photo by Kenny Karst.

Lembert Dome rises above the Tuolumne River, flowing northwest towards Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco. Photo by Kenny Karst.

An ongoing series, “Favorite Spots”, will feature the favorite places of Yosemite National Park community members and park visitors. Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country is a favorite spot of Kenny Karst, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “Of all of the special places there are to roam in Yosemite National Park, my favorite is Tuolumne Meadows.  On the north side of the meadow, the meandering flow of the Tuolumne River is perhaps one of the most peaceful places on earth, with abundant wildflowers in the spring, and visiting fauna throughout the year.  Tuolumne Meadows is also the home of special trailheads into the backcountry, including Elizabeth Lake, Cathedral Lakes, the High Sierra Camps north and south, and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.  Yes, this meadow is magical.” Kenny often provides photos for the Yosemite DNC Instagram account (@yosemitednc) known as “Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite”. To view all of Kenny’s photos on Instagram, search hashtag #kennyslunchtimewalk or check out the Pinterest board, Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite.

The word “Tuolumne” often foils park visitors’ attempts at proper pronunciation on their first trip to Yosemite’s high country. Named after a tribe of Native Americans who lived on the banks of the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, these high alpine meadows received their current name by 1863. Today, Tuolumne Meadows is accessible via the Tioga Road in Yosemite for roughly six months of the year due to winter snow accumulation at such high altitude. At 8600 feet in elevation, Tuolumne Meadows offers a cool alternative to summer heat as well as views of some of Yosemite’s most famous peaks: Mount Dana, Cathedral Peak, and Mount Conness. This area of the park  is often cited as a favorite spot by park visitors, and services include lodging at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, camping at Tuolumne Meadows Campground, a visitor center and wilderness permit center as well as other services: Tuolumne Store and Grill, USPS Post Office, Tuolumne Meadows Stable for trail rides, an outpost of the Yosemite Mountaineering School and a gas station.

We’re collecting more pictures and stories about favorite Yosemite spots. Keep checking back for more.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Benson Lake

Photo by Harry Vanderburg

Photo by Harry Vanderburg

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. Benson Lake in Yosemite’s backcountry is a favorite spot of Harry Vanderburg, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “Benson Lake in northern Yosemite is my favorite backpacking destination north of Tioga Pass.  It’s sandy beach is the largest in Yosemite and at an elevation of 7,600 ft the warmer temperatures make it perfect for swimming or a layover day lounging on the sand.  Twin Lakes, just east of Bridgeport and outside of the park boundary, is the closest trail head.  It’s 18.7 miles to Benson Lake but most backpackers do a 40 mile loop, spending the first night at Peeler Lake and passing through Matterhorn Canyon on the return trip.  Fishing is good for Brook and Rainbow Trout.  I was lucky enough to see a couple of White Pelicans taking advantage of the good fishing!”

Photo by Harry Vanderburg

Photo by Harry Vanderburg

Photo by Harry Vanderburg

Photo by Harry Vanderburg

Benson Lake is located at 7580 feet in the northern wilderness of Yosemite National Park and is known as ‘The Riviera of the Sierra’ due to its wide sandy beach. The lake – filled with rainbow and brook trout – was named after Harry Coupland Benson, an army officer stationed in Sequoia and Yellowstone National Parks in addition to acting as superintendent in Yosemite from 1905 to 1908.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: El Capitan Meadow

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Photo by William Neill

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. El Capitan Meadow in Yosemite Valley is a favorite spot of professional photographer William Neill, who has lived and worked in Yosemite. “One of my favorite locations in Yosemite is El Capitan Meadow. Yosemite’s high country wilderness is epically beautiful, but I don’t get out there as I once did when younger. However, this meadow is by the road, and accessible to thousands of visitors all year around. Over the past 35 years that I’ve lived in and around the park, I often stop for a short walk to gaze at the soaring cliffs of El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks, and wonder at the graceful oak trees. Favorite seasons are autumn and winter, especially when in the fog or fresh snow!”

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Photo by William Neill

El Capitan Meadow

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Favorite Yosemite Spots: The Mural Room at The Ahwahnee

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Photo by Richard Nowik

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. The Mural Room at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley is a favorite spot of Lisa Cesaro, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “The Mural Room is indeed one of my favorite spots in Yosemite National Park. The rustic hammered copper fireplace, dark wood paneling and stunning mural depicting the park’s native flora and wildlife make this room a great retreat after a long hike to enjoy a glass of wine or read a book. I really appreciate the attention to detail in the design of The Ahwahnee to complement the surroundings of Yosemite, which is one of the reasons I consider this hotel the crown jewel of the national park lodges.”

AHW-Mural-Room---2005The Mural Room, also known as the Writing Room, is located on the ground floor of The Ahwahnee, just off the Great Lounge before the Solarium. The mural is a toile pente (painted linen) created by Robert Boardman Howard for the hotel’s opening in 1927. The fifteenth century style of the mural features the native flora and fauna of Yosemite National Park in a pattern of flowering plants with animals large and small, serving not only as historic decor, but also as a nature guide to Yosemite. The Mural Room also features a unique corner fireplace with a hammered-copper hood and the only oak floor in the hotel’s public spaces. Refurbished in 2011, the Mural Room’s historic furniture was designed to connect hotel guests to the grand scale of the architecture of The Ahwahnee in an intimate setting.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Tenaya Lake

Photo by Kenny Karst

Photo by Kenny Karst

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors.Tenaya Lake in Yosemite’s high country is a favorite spot of Linda Eade, who lives in El Portal at the park’s west gate and has worked in Yosemite Valley for 42 years with 33 of those years as the Research Librarian for the National Park Service. “I’ve been asked this question many times and my response is always Tenaya Lake. Not only for the beauty of the area, but because every year I would take my girls [daughters Kelly and Ellen] to spend the day at the beach on Tenaya Lake just before they went back to school. It holds cherished end-of-summer memories for me.”Tenaya_Lake_beach

Tenaya Lake is one of the most accessible high alpine lakes in the Sierra Nevada, but that doesn’t prevent it from also being one of the most beautiful. This stunning location is often first glimpsed by the park visitor as they head east on the Tioga Road (Highway 120) toward Tuolumne Meadows. Vividly blue and nestled amongst pines and shining granite, Tenaya Lake beckons road weary travelers to keep exploring – and provides a cool place to swim on a hot summer day. Named after native Chief Tenaya, the east beach of Tenaya Lake is the focus of an extensive restoration project funded by the Yosemite Conservancy. The shoreline and wetlands will be restored, native Willows will be planted and access to the beach will be designed to protect this restoration.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Vogelsang

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Photo by Christy Dudley

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Photo by Christy Dudley

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. The area near the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in Yosemite’s backcountry is a favorite spot of Christy Dudley, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. “The High Sierra Camps are known for their beautiful locations, and Vogelsang is no exception. The hike in from Tuolumne Meadows is not easy as the slog uphill seems to go on forever, but as you approach the camp, Vogelsang Peak slowly comes into the horizon. Before you know it, you are walking in to the camp surrounded by towering granite peaks on either side and sweeping views down the valley. As you continue on toward Vogelsang Pass, the trail takes you right by Vogelsang Lake. While it is difficult to move on from this beautiful spot, you are rewarded with another great view from the top of the pass of Gallison Lake. I found this vantage point particularly special, as it is not every day you get to see the beginnings of the mighty Merced River.”

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Photo by Christy Dudley

At 10,130 feet of elevation, the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp is the highest of Yosemite’s five backcountry camps. Vogelsang camp, lake, peak and pass were all named for a California Fish and Game commissioner sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, but the name itself may be singularly appropriate. In old German, Vogelsang means “a meadow in which birds sing”. Vogelsang High Sierra Camp is located at the base of Fletcher Peak, known for its vivid display of alpenglow, and provides a comfortable base to explore the surrounding beauty of the high Sierra.