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.

Water and Cliffs

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

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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. 

Veterans Commemorate September 11 in Yosemite

Cody Elliot on Royal Arches

Cody Elliot on Royal Arches Photo: Paradox Sports

In the days leading up to September 11, Yosemite proudly hosted some of the most “can-do” people you could ever meet. 15 veterans from across the country came together in Yosemite to challenge themselves, to find community, and to honor those that have served our country during the events of September 11, and beyond. Paradox Sports, an organization dedicated to helping people discover what is possible post-trauma, led the way, supported by partnerships with the National Park Service, Yosemite Search and Rescue (YoSAR) and DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite.

During their visit, different veterans participated in a number of significant ascents and activities in Yosemite, including visits to the summit El Capitan, Royal Arches, Ranger Rock, Sierra Point and many more. Afterward, DJ Skelton, one of the co-founders of Paradox Sports, and himself a disabled veteran, was generous enough to give us some additional insight into these significant ascents.

We’re so excited to have Paradox Sports make the trip to Yosemite! Can you tell us why you chose Yosemite for this special September 11 climb?

Paradox Sports was founded by two rock climbers, Timmy O’Neill and myself. It seemed fitting that we did an event based on climbing/hiking in one of our National Parks. There is really only one park in the US, or world for that matter, that is iconic for rock climbing, Yosemite National Park. Although we provide opportunities for ALL types of disabled Americans, we wanted to dedicate a series of events to disabled veterans. When looking at what date to pick, we thought it was fitting to do an event on the anniversary of Sep 11th, 2001. That day and our Paradox Sports have a lot in common. The tragic events that occurred on Sep 11, 2001 involved some horrific scenes that caused permanent damage to both lives and communities. However, that day, despite the tragedy, fostered an environment that bonded our Nation stronger than it had been in decades. A positive growth occurred in the aftermath of the traumatic wake. Paradox Sports thrives on building communities based upon that post traumatic growth that occurs in our disabled athletes. One can become stronger in spite of the traumatic event rather than the negative outcomes so prevalently found in media stories of disabled and wounded warriors.

Paradox Sports veterans and volunteers met with National Park Service Rangers prior to their ascents.

Paradox Sports veterans and volunteers met with National Park Service Rangers prior to their ascents.

The trip is about so much more than just summiting Half Dome. What are some of the other activities you participated in, for example some of your collaborations with NPS?

Not everyone enjoys climbing. Although climbing tends to be the focus of many of our events, we enjoy helping people set all types of goals in the outdoors. In Yosemite we climbed, hiked several classic hikes (Sentinel Done, Taft Point and Sierra Point), swung off of the Alcove Swing on El Cap, swam in the Merced River, and enjoyed the hidden gems that Yosemite nature has to offer. We also have a couple special events that capitalized on the impressive support from the NPS, DNC, YoSAR [Yosemite Search and Rescue], and local population of the park’s residents. DNC hosted a meet and greet with the park’s leadership and key volunteers to meet our Paradox participants on our first night in the park. It was held at the Curry Lodge Pavilion. It was such a warm welcome to our crew and it really solidified feeling like family…part of a larger community. Our last night, the evening of the 11th, we held a campfire celebration of everyone’s successes at our campground at Yellow Pines. Many of our guides, YNP officials and leaders, DNC employees and friends of Yosemite gathered for an evening of celebration, war stories, and reflection of the days’ trials and tribulations. Paradox Sports also ties in stewardship to our event to respect and honor this incredible National Park. We equip participants with gloves, trash grabbers, and trash bags to pick up litter on every hike and approach to the climbs that we visit.

Are there special logistical considerations that you have to take into account when organizing a trip like this one?

There are many. Approach hikes to the rock walls and descent paths from the summits tend to be more our crux than the climbing itself. In fact, it’s sometimes easier to do the climb for our disabled participants than it is to hike in and out. Heat is also our enemy, as it is for most people who play in the outdoors. Sweaty stumps for our amputee population causes discomfort and hardware issues with the prosthetic limbs. Prosthetic limbs and eyes falling off during a climb also poses a unique threat, not only to our climbers, but those climbing, hiking below. It is also getting harder to cook for this next generation. Everyone seems to have some special diet, gluten free, allergies to fruit and nuts, vegans, people who only eat meat…lol.

Veteran Timpson Smith leading high up on El Capitan Photo: Chris Guinn

Timpson Smith leading on El Capitan
Photo: Chris Guinn

Tell us a little more about what inspired you to co-found Paradox Sports and what the organization’s goals are.

I was severely wounded in Nov 2004. At that time, the hospital scene and rehabilitation environment was pretty grim. I saw these very active young adults, who once played hard in the outdoors, feeling trapped by their severe injuries. I wanted to create an environment that would inspire our wounded warriors and disabled Americans to get excited about playing outdoors again and setting goal-based activities. So many organizations were conducting adaptive sports events, but one would have to cater to the organization’s calendar of events. I wanted to create events that empowered our participants to define life on their own terms again. Paradox Sports would help them learn their new normal in outdoor activities, provide assistance in instruction and adaptive equipment, but most of all, provide unconditional inspiration and support to get back out in this thing called life and explore, grow, push beyond these perceived limitations. Come play once or twice, but then we don’t want to see you again. We want you planning family vacations on your own and going on hikes, climbs, etc with friends on your own timeline, not ours. Hah…not a very good business model, huh?!!!

The goals in Paradox Sports are simple, to build and sustain community-based adaptive communities that foster post-traumatic growth through goal-oriented outdoor activities. By goal-oriented I mean, not just go climb a rock, but to set a goal of climbing a specific route. To not just go kayak, but to kayak down the entire Colorado river at the floor of the Grand Canyon! As we hold ourselves to similar standards, we want our participants to continue to grow, and prosper in life however they wish to define success. Paradox Sports acts as sort of a stepping stone for these disabled individuals. Helping them gain confidence and get connected to the broader communities so they can eventually become self sufficient and independent again, regardless of the severity of their injuries.

Participant Cody Elliott works the crack at Manure Pile

Climbing strong

What is the most rewarding part of working with Paradox Sports?

The most rewarding part of working with Paradox Sports, for me, is watching this idea that I once had many years ago grow life and momentum and move in directions that could never have been conceived in the beginning. Seven years later, every event creates this energy that inspires and ignites the human spirit of all involved and changes people’s lives. It absolutely changed my life and attitude on dealing with traumatic events with permanent lasting effects in my physical and mental state. To see that impact and the enthusiasm of our volunteers, who make accomplishing our mission possible, is emotional for me, the most positive kind of emotion!

What are some of the other events or activities that you have coming up? And how do people get involved with your organization?

Paradox Sports’ has three Paradox Rocks events in October. They are weekend programs with camping and rock climbing at the Shawangunks (aka the “Gunks”) in New York Oct 3-5, Rocktoberfest at Red River Gorge in Kentucky Oct 10-12, and Shelf Road in Colorado Oct 17-19. We also have an ongoing adaptive climbing club we run at three different climbing gyms in the Boulder and Denver areas. There are several ways to stay up to date on our events:

– Sign up for the Paradox Sports monthly newsletter
– Check our calendar
– Follow us on social media: Instagram | Facebook
– Follow our blog
– Check our individual program pages

Top 5 Things to Do in Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Kenny Karst.

Tioga Road is open for the summer and the weather is fine in Yosemite National Park. With so many options to choose from, how do you decide where to go and what to do during your visit? Certainly any area of Yosemite can provide experiences filled with wonder, but one area in particular provides the opportunity for a summer filled with memories of the High Sierra: Tuolumne Meadows. Located on Tioga Road CA 120 at an altitude of 8000 feet, the Tuolumne Meadows area is inaccessible in winter when the road is closed. This limited accessibility creates a short but sweet summertime window of opportunity to visit high alpine meadows and streams, along with some of Yosemite’s highest peaks. Though services are available in Tuolumne Meadows, the High Sierra views are unobstructed.  In addition to camping and tent cabin lodging, Tuolumne Meadows has a visitor center, wilderness center, store, a grill restaurant, a gas station, a stable and an outpost of the Yosemite Mountaineering School. The following top five list of things to do in Tuolumne Meadows gives you an overview of this stunning slice of the Sierra Nevada in Yosemite.

1. Hiking: Tioga Road is littered with trailheads that can take you deep into Yosemite’s backcountry or offer simple sightseeing. Soda Springs and historic Parsons Memorial Lodge, Lembert Dome, Mount Dana, May Lake, Pothole Dome, the John Muir Trail, Cathedral Lakes, Twin Bridges, and Elizabeth Lake are among the hiking options in this area. These high-elevation hikes range from an afternoon stroll along the Tuolumne River to Twin Bridges to traversing the Sierra Nevada on the John Muir Trail.

2. Camping: Tent cabin lodging and family-style dining is provided at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and the Yosemite High Sierra Camps. Traditional camping can be found at the national park system’s largest campground in Tuolumne Meadows. Camping allows you to experience the Yosemite landscape up close with opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, fishing, swimming and more. But no matter where you lay your head in the High Sierra, the access to the night sky filled with stars will fill you with wonder.

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

3. Dining at Tuolumne Meadows Grill: Menu favorites include burgers & fries, veggie chili, breakfast, and ice cream cones. You won’t find a dining room at the rustic Tuolumne Meadows Grill, but you will find tasty take-out options after a long summer hike in the high country. Picnic tables are available outside the restaurant and store, where you can trade adventure stories with other hikers and climbers.

4. Photography: Tuolumne Meadows are beautiful alpine meadows riddled with wildflowers in the summer, Tenaya Lake is an easily accessible alpine lake with sand beaches made for summer swimming, Mount Dana provides amazing views of the Sierra Nevada at 13,000 feet of elevation, the Tuolumne River carries snow melt from the High Sierra to points below and the night sky is brilliant with exceptional opportunities for night sky photography.

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Tenaya Lake. Photo by Kenny Karst

Tenaya Lake. Photo by Kenny Karst

5. Trail Ride: Take a day trip on a mule at the Tuolumne Meadows Stable and visit Tuolumne View on the Young Lakes Trail, an ideal lookout point for Cathedral Range, Johnson Peak and Mammoth Peaks or take a half-day ride and visit Twin Bridges on the Tuolumne River just above Tuolumne Falls. If you can’t bear to leave the beauty behind, commit to an extended backcountry experience with a saddle pack trip to one of five High Sierra Camps (or take the 50 mile loop and visit them all!).

Sunrise High Sierra Camp

Sunrise High Sierra Camp

This article was published in the Yosemite in Focus newsletter for the month of June. Get stories about Yosemite delivered right to your email inbox every month by signing up here: Yosemite Newsletters.

Top 5 Spring Hikes

Mist Trail Hiking

Hiking through the mist of Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail    Photo: DNC P&R at Yosemite

Mist Trail

One of the most popular trails in the park, the Mist Trail passes two of Yosemite’s famous waterfalls, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. In the spring this trail earns its name when it comes close enough to the waterfall to douse hikers with spray. Bring a rain-coat and prepare to get wet! Also, keep your eyes open for rainbows (spraybows) when the sun hits the mist at just the right angle. If the water seems chilly, the open granite slope at the top of Vernal Fall is a great place to soak in the sun and dry out a little.

The round-trip hike to the top of Nevada Fall is 7 miles with roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain, but the great thing about this hike is that there are so many ‘destination’ views on the way that there is an out-and-back hike along this trail for almost anyone. By the time you’ve reached the first views of Vernal Fall from the footbridge (~0.8 miles from the trail head), you’ll have already passed views of Illillouette Fall and Yosemite Falls. Continuing on, the top of Vernal Fall is 1.5 miles in, with spectacular misty views of the waterfall in between. Plus, of course, those with permits, might continue on to the summit of Half Dome.

A note of caution: all too often this trail is the scene of accidents involving wet rocks and slopes leading down to the river. In high-water years, the water polishes the granite banks of the river, making them unexpectedly slippery, and the power of the water catches many by surprise. Be safe. Stay on the trail, and out of the water.

Lower Yosemite Fall and Upper Yosemite Fall

Upper and Lower Yosemite Fall

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from the Lower Falls Trail    Photo: Chris Falkenstein|DNC P&R at Yosemite

 

Lower Yosemite Fall is a 1.1 mile loop across from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. It follows a paved trail, perfect for strollers, to a bridge at the base of lower Yosemite Fall. In spring, when the water fall is at its largest, mist from the Lower Fall blows out over the bridge, leaving hikers feeling like they are on the bow of the Maid of the Mist. (Another favorite for those looking for a quick, and relatively easy walk is Bridalveil Fall. A short, paved half-mile walk from the parking area brings you to the base of this waterfall. Again, expect spray in the spring.)

Upper Yosemite Fall Trail is not a continuation of the Lower Fall loop. Instead, this (7.2 mile round-trip) trail starts behind the Camp 4 Campground, and climbs steadily to Columbia Point which provides a birds-eye view of Yosemite Valley. Then, the trail contours around to reveal incredible views of the upper fall, and middle cascade. Continue up to the rim, and keep your eyes open for a steep, exposed stair that leads down to a viewing area. If you’re still feeling adventurous, continue a short distance on to Yosemite Point for even better views of Half Dome and the valley below.

Mirror Lake/Meadow – Snow Creek Trail

Mount Watkins reflected in Mirror Lake

Mount Watkins reflected in Mirror Lake    Photo Kenny Karst|DNC P&R at Yosemite

A relatively flat one-mile hike from bus stop #17, Mirror Lake packs a lot of scenery into a short walk. Not only is it located below the iconic Half Dome, but during the spring months, the meadow fills with water to form a shallow lake reflecting the near-by cliffs, including Mount Watkins. When the dogwoods bloom in late April and May, their showy white blossoms decorate the banks of the river as well.

Those interested in a longer adventure might be interested in continuing up the Snow Creek Trail, which is one of the quietest trails leading up out of Yosemite Valley. The trail is steep – like all trails that climb up out of Yosemite Valley – and is bathed in sunshine. That makes it warm going during the summer months, and a perfect early-season hike when the temperatures are still cooler. Enjoy the hike as an out-and-back after finding a scenic sunny spot for lunch. The super-fit might consider extending their trip to Indian Rock (5.8 miles past Mirror Lake), or North Dome (9.3 miles past Mirror Lake). A 14+ mile loop descending the Upper Yosemite Valley Fall trail to the Valley floor is also an option.

Chilnualna Falls

Cascades on the Chilnualna Falls Trail

Cascades on the Chilnualna Falls Trail    Photo: Theresa Ho

Yosemite Valley doesn’t hold the monopoly on great spring hiking. The Chilnualna Falls trail in Wawona is 8.2 miles round-trip, and relatively steep, but rewards hikers early on with views of roaring cascades, and a variety of wildflowers along the trail.

With a starting elevation of about 4000 feet, this trail warms up early in the year, and can provide great hiking even when there is still snow at higher elevations. It begins by following Chilnualna Creek for about a half mile, and then cuts back and forth through the forest allowing scenic glimpses of the Wawona area.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Hiking in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Hiking in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias     Photo: DNC P&R at Yosemite

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is a must-visit destination in any season. A visit to the most massive trees on Earth, trees that were already ancient when the Roman Empire fell just shouldn’t be missed.

There is an interpretive sign that says that Giant Sequoias need a lot of water. You may not be able to see that evidence if you visit in summer or autumn, but a spring hike through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias quickly illustrates that point. Sequoias seem to thrive in low places where water collects or runs.

The Mariposa Grove Road opened early this year, giving those of us who can visit in the spring a larger window to explore in relative quiet. From the Mariposa Grove Parking Lot, you can visit the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel tree in the Lower Grove in just over a mile (2.2 miles round trip) of walking, passing many other notable trees along the way. However, if you have the energy, be sure to visit the Upper Grove as well. The collection of sequoias close to the nature center, although un-named, is simply incomparable. The walk to the upper grove is about 5-6 miles round trip.

Bonus: Hite Cove

Poppies and Goldfields on the trail to Hite Cove.

Poppies and Goldfields on the trail to Hite Cove    Photo: Theresa Ho

Hite Cove isn’t really in Yosemite National Park, but the wildflower display there is so spectacular in the spring time, that we’re going to include it here anyway. The trailhead is located off of Hwy 140 near Savage’s Trading post, and the hike is about 8.4 miles round trip to Hite Cove, which was once a mining town and where you can still see old mining equipment and foundations. However, the fields of wildflowers that the area is famous for, begin within the first few hundred feet.

Half Dome Interim Permit Program Extended

Half Dome permits will once again be required seven days per week to hike the iconic granite monolith that crowns the east end of Yosemite Valley. However, the system for getting these permits has evolved into a double lottery system. The preseason lottery applications are due in March and will be awarded in early April. If you don’t get in on the preseason lottery, there will also be a daily lottery that you can apply for two days prior to the hiking date. More details on the Yosemite NPS website and in the press release below.
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