The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and Falls
Sunset at Tioga Pass.
A Rocky Start for a Short HikeThe Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and Falls, June 2004 Hiking up the Yosemite Tuolumne River, starting at the Hetch-Hetchy Ranger Station and ending at Tuolumne Meadows.
There is a lot of up and down (mostly up) on this trip from the Hetch Hetchy Ranger Station, as can be seen with this profile. Nearly the first 10 miles can be knocked off by starting at White Wolf.
Who Should Do This Hike?: Without a doubt, beginners or those hikers short on time should start this hike from White Wolf. It is only about three miles from White Wolf to Harden Lake, with nearly a 4 to 1 loss in altitude (-672 foot loss), and with an early start, getting to Pate Valley in one day should be very do-able. Some conditioning should be done before starting this trip, because getting to Pate Valley in one day involves a loss of 4480 feet over 10.2 miles, which is very hard on the knees. If this is a problem, start later and camp a Harden Lake. Without a doubt, the drop into Pate Valley is the crux of the hike, and will punish your legs. Hiking out of Pate Valley to White Wolf should be avoided. Give your legs a break and rest often.
Gluttons for punishment should go by the hot dusty Hetch Hetchy route to Rancheria Falls and Mountain to Pleasant Valley where a drop of 4000 feet into Pate Valley awaits them beyond Pleasant Valley. Much of the trail is in poor unmaintained condition (with some minor route-finding thrown in), with one major stream crossing (Piute Creek) and long stretches of waterless trail. Getting to Pate Valley on this route involves 25 miles with 8365 feet of gain and 8000 feet of loss.
Those with a little extra time looking for route-finding challenges should start at the Hetch Hetchy Ranger Station and head for Harden Lake. That is the route described here and a map of that route is below. A GPS would help.
From White Wolf, this trip can be done in a hard three days, a moderate four days, or an easy five days.
The first leg of our trip in yellow. A harder way would be to go around the north end of Hetch Hetchy through Pleasant Valley. An easier way would be a start at White Wolf, which is near Harden Lake (right edge).
DAY 1, ~ 6+ Miles and 2000 feet of gain.
This was a car shuttle trip (a vehicle at Tuolumne and Hetch Hecthy Ranger Station), so I met Dave at a Tioga Pass campground the evening before the day we were to start the hike. A weak storm front was supposed to pass through, but when I got to the car-camp, it was already cold, gray and blustery. Already there were ice flakes pinging off the tent.
After making a few bear-like noises to freak out anybody in the vicinity, I moved my gear into the tent Dave had set up and later made dinner on the nearby picnic table.
A view of the Tioga Pass area from one of the organized campgrounds. On the left edge you can make out the line of Tioga Road. Not hard to figure out why they name RV's after this place.
It was too cold to stay outside for long, so we headed into the tent to lay up with a book in comfort and warmth.
After lights out and well after dark, a couple moved in next door not 10 feet away, set up their tent, and proceeded to have a noisy "romantic encounter". Despite the unexpected entertainment, I managed to get to sleep. During the night I heard the pelting snow on the tent.
Your guide on this trip, me.
The storm had blown in with a noisy vengeance, and we greeted a morning of snow and wind. We decided to go down to Lee Vining for breakfast in my 4 by 4 and headed out. Unfortunately, as we got lower and the snow turned to rain, large rocks began to slide onto the steep grade, and a large one slid out onto the road in front of me. I thought I gave it enough room going around the bolder on the left without wildly correcting, but my calculation was substantially off and my right front tire rolled over it and blew out. We were stuck. Help came along, and a guy heading for Lee Vining picked up Dave to get a tow-truck. Later, we were towed into Lee Vining, the tire was repaired, we got breakfast (in Mammoth), and we headed back to Tioga Pass (which for a while that morning was closed). After packing up, we dropped off Dave's truck at Tuolumne Meadows and headed for Hetch Hetchy for a very late start of our hike.
At Hetch Hetchy, we found out the quota was full for the trail we wanted (the Hetch Hetchy/Rancheria Falls trail), so we settled for the little used Smith Meadow trail from the Ranger Station to Harden Lake. We got our permit, parked nearby, and finally hit the trail.