Tuolumne Meadows (PCT Halfmile 942.7) to Return Creek (956.2)
(13.5 miles, +1,700/-1,800 feet).
My buddy MixMaster and I were originally planning to do a 60 mile loop in Yosemite that would take us from Tuolumne Meadows up the PCT, down Rodgers Canyon, and then up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
But then came the Tablelands.
Since then, we’ve kind of gotten hooked on the ‘high’ part of ‘High Sierra’.
So rather than changing our permit, we decided to use our Tuolumne trailhead to explore two canyons (Matterhorn and Spiller) and try out a class 2/3 cross-country pass (Matterhorn Pass).
But to get there, we needed to first do some miles on the good old PCT.
We made the mistake of showing up at the permit office a little bit after 11am (when they take everyone who has been waiting for first come-first serve permits) so we would not be able to get to the trailhead until 12:30pm.
But we had the good fortune to spend some time in line talking to 71 year-old Richard, who was also doing some cross-country passes. MixMaster and I were both a little nervous about class 3 downclimbing, so it was nice to hear an experienced hiker tell us not to worry, “there’s always a way down.”
Permit in hand, we drove the last mile to the trailhead and set off into cloudy skies. It was muggy and gray, but come on — it’s Yosemite!
We took our first break by the Tuolumne on a massive granite slab.
We eventually made our way down to two giant waterfalls that were still raging in September after our big snow year.
At Glen Aulin we got a beautiful view of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and saw the wreckage of a bridge to a High Sierra Camp that has had to remain closed this year.
From Glen Aulin we started climbing the PCT through a beautiful forest.
After a few miles we came to a wonderful meadow below Elbow Hill.
As we dropped into Virginia Canyon we started to hear thunder in the distance growing closer and closer. There really weren’t any good camping spots on this steep section, so we picked up the pace to get to Return Creek. There were a few other people camping there, but we found an established site that was out of view and earshot.
Just as we set up our tents it started raining, so we ducked inside for a few minutes. There was more lightning and thunder, but the rain never got heavy. Soon it petered out and we were back out cooking some dinner.
As the storm receded, we saw a faint but lovely rainbow and then watched the setting sun come out for the first time all day to play in the subsiding storm clouds.