Tuolumne Meadows – Again!

This Year's Mountain Run

It was just a little later in the year, two years ago that I ran a nice loop from and to Tuolumne Meadows. Last year at this time I was running the Ute 100. This was a lot closer to home and much more enjoyable! It’s a little closer than going to the East Side, it’s up high, the scenery is great, and there is some infrastructure around to add convenience factor. This makes it a pretty ideal place to go for a long day on the trails when seeking good views. The following is a quick report from my jaunt up there this year…

The Particulars

Destination: Cloud’s Rest, Little Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Lake
Trail Head: Sunrise Trail from Tenaya Lake
Distance: ~31 miles round trip, ~7,100 cumulative elev gain
Remoteness: Varies from heavy traffic to moderately remote
Motivation: Beautiful views of Yosemite Valley from above in the Cathedral Range
Notes: Permits not needed for day use, secure campsite a couple days in advance early in the morning

The Report – August 17-18, 2019

Once again David was with me. Once again we stealth camped with our hammocks in what we agreed will be known as “our spot” if we just do this one more time in the next year or two. We stopped at Saddlebag lake to check out the views up there. That’s such a beautiful basin and in fact, David and I explored it in 2013 and did some cross-country near North Peak, over into the McCabe Lakes and back. That’s a good basic kind of outing to get into a little cross country and rock scrambling. It’s serious but easy to navigate and not far from resources such as Saddlebag Lake Outfitters or Tuolumne Meadows. It’s also a way to stealth into the park legally!

Saddlebag Lake
Saddlebag Lake
Lee Vining Creek Area, Tioga Peak
Lee Vining Creek Area, Tioga Peak

Anywhoo… all was chill up there. The water in Saddlebag is such a perfectly clear turquoise that changes to deep blue, making a bold contrast to the warmer tones of the rock that surrounds the lake. We day hiked a bit near Lee Vining Creek. That’s another pretty little basin. It was full of water and brook trout. Climbers could be heard whooping from somewhere up above, maybe White Mountain or one of the many nearby rock faces.

I set out for my run early Sunday morning. David was, as always, an awesome and supportive friend to have along. I got a hot breakfast and freshly ground gourmet coffee at the Sunrise Lakes trailhead thanks to his culinary prowess and kindness. He would get to day hike, relax, and hammock around. With that, I was off. I decided to run the loop counter-clockwise to get over Cloud’s Rest early in the day thus avoiding the possible (but not forecasted) Sierra afternoon thunderstorms, also avoiding slogging up that steep trail from the opposite direction in the heat of the day. That bit may have been failed logic though as I’ll get to eventually.

David is the Man!
David is the Man!
David and I before I set out
David and I before I set out

Both days, I bumped into a couple of Bay Area runners, Celia and Pat. They had been peak-bagging the previous day, Conness and maybe others. If you two are out there reading this, drop me an email! When you meet people in the mountains, there’s a high chance they are awesome. I think these two were such people! I wished them well for their adventure, then set on my way. The trail from Tenaya Lake up to Cloud’s Rest is ok. It get’s rocky with big step up’s, but it was no problem getting up there. A group on top happily greeted me as one of the first to visit in the morning. They were from Connecticut very stoked about the scenery; rightfully so! We took photos for each other, then I headed down the trail towards Little Yosemite Valley.

Cloud's Rest View
Cloud’s Rest View
Tourist Photo Op
Tourist Photo Op
Tenaya Lake in the Distance
Tenaya Lake in the Distance

This trail begins very precipitously with steep, narrow steps covered in sand and decomposed granite. Not the kind of thing you run down. After a couple hundred feet it turns into a pretty nice, if not technical, trail that I found to flow as I cruised down greeting hikers headed up from the Valley. The trail surface becomes very sandy at the bottom and this made running up Little Yose Valley a tiring affair. I was happy to get back on the rock again as the trail ascended higher up Echo Creek, but again the trail surface presents challenges. The engineered trails are wonderful, but not conducive to running on. I mostly hiked up the uneven rock, admitting that I wouldn’t be running a lot anyway as my heart was pounding from climber higher. I thought it would be a good idea to make my climb back up to Sunrise Lakes via the longer (~13 miles up uphill) and “more runnable” trail vs. the shorter and steeper trail up Cloud’s Rest. This turned out to be bad logic. Maybe if I was acclimated to running at high elevation it would have worked, but the further I went, the hotter it got, the higher up I was, and the more tired my legs were getting. I had also been low on water and rationing it for most of that climb. Lots of grinding.

Trail Engineering
Trail Engineering
The Feeling of Freedom
The Feeling of Freedom

I saw very few people on the trail coming up Echo Creek Canyon, those I did were surprised to see me and cautioned about the “big climb”. I was thinking, yeah, I’ve done most of it by now, if I can only get myself back over that 9,700 ft ridge I can finally get some water. When I finally did, I was really happy! The meadow near Sunrise High Camp is gorgeous. There was fresh cold water in the stream there and a million mosquitoes. I didn’t mind them though, I hadn’t seen a mosquito all day and I let them have at me while I guzzled a filter full of fresh, cool water. Then I refilled both my bottles and for the first time of the day, I decided to sit down in the shade with no purpose other than to just rest and take in the view for 15 minutes. It was needed recovery time. This point of the day was the highlight for me (the view from Cloud’s Rest is great, but I am a sucker for a good alpine meadow).

Wildflowers were Great!
Wildflowers were Great!
Beautiful Meadow View
Beautiful Meadow View

Then I was moving again with 6 miles to go. I would soon be back on trails that I had covered earlier in the day. I was looking forward to running down them, but as it turned out, those step-ups and rocks that I came up in the morning made for some really rough downhill. It is like running down a moderately organized rock pile. I did my best and shuffled the last couple of miles in where I was close enough to my estimated finish time that David was set up in his hammock waiting to greet me.

Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake

It was a harder push than I imagined it would be. I rested with some chips and beer at Tenaya Lake and took a quick dip in the clear cool water. To my surprise, the water was not freezing! My body was exhausted though and I couldn’t stay in long. The long drive home was still ahead. I am really grateful to have days like these and to be able to enjoy some quiet moments in life with a friend or two. I wonder to myself now what I’ll be up to at this time next year. The unknowing of the future is what makes it worth waiting for. -JD

Jacob D Written by:

Dad, Runner, Student, Berserker, Questionable Partner... on my path to living an exceptional and real life.