A 6 day trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Agnew Meadows in the Californian Sierra Nevada.
Day 1 Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Canyon
There we were (my husband and I and our friend Chris) in Tuolumne Meadows, just about ready to swing on our backpacks and start out for our 6 day trip. We planned a leisurely backpack via the John Muir Trail and the River Trail to Agnew Meadows, and hoped this would give us more time for photography and exploring/enjoying our camps. This time, we had tried to learn from our previous experiences and had planned time to acclimate to the elevation (living below sea level in the Netherlands makes that tough for us!). We had spent a couple of days in Tahoe with good friends, had spent a couple of nights at the tent cabins in Tuolumne Meadows, and had done some day hiking to high elevations. Though not fully acclimated, we were over the “headache” and “dizzy” stage.
A tent cabin at Tuolumne Meadows
So now, everything was battened down in our packs, we’d even resisted the urge to pack in that extra little bag of leftover snacks, and we were ready to go. The sun was shining but the temperature was pleasantly cool. And then, it all went wrong. Ton hoisted up his Jansport pack and “crack”! A quick examination to find the source of that ominous sound revealed that the piece which attached the hip belt to the pack had broken off! Closer examination revealed what poor construction was hidden under the seeminly sturdy aluminum and ripstop nylon: the actual attachment between the hip belt and pack was really just a thin round piece of flat plastic , sewn on to the belt with thread! The thread had not given way, but the plastic had cracked through and separated from the belt.
Hipbelt cracked off of frame
This looked pretty ominous: our permit to enter at Lyell Canyon was only valid for that day, and this looked like a problem which would not be resolved quickly. Not very hopeful, we decided to go to the folks at the main desk of Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (the tent cabins) and see if anyone there had any good suggestions. Several people immediately took interest in our problem and one of the staff – Hillary – came to our rescue. She suggested the backpackers’ universal fix-all: Duct tape. Using what seemed like about 20 yards of the two inch side stuff, she propped the hip belt against the pack in its original position. When we discovered that the other side of the belt was also about to give way, she gave that side the same treatment. For extra insurance, she wound about another 20 yards of duct tape around one of our water bottles to use for any needed repairs in the field. We weren’t sure if this would hold up, but everybody there agreed that at least it made Ton look really hard core!
20 yards of duct tape to save the pack
Despite the delay, we managed to start off reasonably early and headed down the trail. It had been a very heavy snow year but we were at the end of 3 weeks of very hot weather, so we weren’t sure what to expect. From the parking lot, we headed through forest to our first views of Tuolumne Meadows just beyond the Lodge and campground. Here various streams meet and flow over large expanses of granite , and there are deep, clear blue pools under the bridges. It is such a beautiful place that, if it weren’t for all the people there, you’d put down your pack and not bother to go further. We followed the trail back into the trees until we had made the turn into Lyell Canyon itself. From here until the end of Lyell Canyon, the trail more or less parallels Lyell Fork. The trail sometimes winds through the trees, and sometimes in the open through the broad meadow. Our travel was easy, as there is little altitude gain all the way to the end of Lyell Canyon and much of the trail is easy-on-the-feet duff.
Expanses of granite and pools at Tuolumne Meadows
Luckily, the snow in meadow had already melted and the wildflowers were out, particularly in dampest pockets.Picture perfect. Of course, that meant the usual onslaught of mosquitoes were there as well. But Ton’s pack was holding up well, the scenery was magnificent, and, for the moment, life looked pretty good despite the usual first day adjustments to carrying the weight of the full pack.
We took a snack break along a stretch of Lyell Fork where the water was tumbling and sliding over large sheets of smooth granite. The water swirled and plunged its way downstream while we lounged on warm flat granite beide the water .
Resting in Lyell Canyon
We were soon in the vicinity of Potter Point, where we had already decided to stop for the night to have the afternoon and evening to be able to enjoy Lyell Canyon. At this elevation, there are still plenty of trees on the sides of the meadow, and particularly near the area where Ireland Creek’s outlet meets the Lyell Canyon floor. It took a bit of time to find the “right” camping place: well above and out of sight of the trail, not tromping down fragile vegetation, and the right granite “furniture” for sitting and cooking. Everyone complains about the John Muir Trail being such a crowded “freeway”, but after we camped down a bit away from the trail, we didn’t see anyone and felt like we had the canyon to ourselves. Of course, there were plenty of mosquitoes to keep us company. But we stilled managed to walk along the river at sunset, and saw beautiful reflections of the canyon and trees in the calm pools.
Stream by camp site
Reflections of the canyon in the calm pools
> Day 2
© Ton van der Laan & Sue Goldberg