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Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Hiking, backpacking, running, biking, climbing, rafting, and other human-powered activities in Yosemite National Park

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Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby DAP » Sun Aug 02, 2020 8:58 pm

Greetings,
We are planning a trip (my wife's first backpacking trip) in about 3 weeks departing Ten Lakes trailhead and camping at Grant Lake and exiting Tuolumne Meadows via Glen Aulin. We are planning on 4 days/3 nights. The question I have is about water access along the trail from Ten Lakes to GA. I was thinking we would camp the first night at Grant Lake and spend the next day exploring/day hiking around the Ten Lakes area and then pack the following day. I have never been to this area. Does anyone know how accessible water is along that route this year? I would prefer not going all of the way to McGee Lake as that is about 16 miles and given it is her first trip (we are in our 50's but in decent shape and training) I would like to keep this leg around 10-12 miles but I am just not sure about water access along the way. The other option is to camp the first night at Grant and then pack up to one the Ten Lakes cutting 3 - 4 miles off of the route if we had to go to McGee. I just got back from a trip in Kings Canyon and the high country is very dry as many have already commented. One of the lakes were camped at 10k had no inflow or outflow (I have been to this lake probably 4 times in 14 years and this is a first). The only positive was there were not many mosquitoes. Thank you.
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby Phil » Mon Aug 03, 2020 6:16 am

Ok, so let's see. I'll just run it through from start to finish.

On the way up, you're first water will be at the junction of the Ten Lakes x White Wolf trails, about 2.3 miles in from the trailhead. Beyond that, you might still have some outflows on the slope just below Half Moon Meadow. Obviously, lower Grant Lake. Then, obviously, Ten Lakes, with lake #2, and eventually #6, both being trailside. Past that, South Fork of Cathedral Creek. On the way up to Tuolumne Peak, a trailside tarn roughly 3/4 of the way up to the pass. On the way down the east side of Tuolumne Peak, the pair of tarns. Beyond that, you go dry; there will be no water in the area of the junction of the May Lake Trail, so if you need it, you'll have to divert down the Murphy Creek Trail and hit Poly Dome Lakes. Several miles down the May Lake > GA Trail, you'll do a big descent and hit water at Cathedral Creek. Past that, McGee Lake. From there to GA and then to TM, it's all the Tuolumne River, and you have no worries.

Please clarify this statement:

DAP wrote: The other option is to camp the first night at Grant and then pack up to one the Ten Lakes cutting 3 - 4 miles off of the route if we had to go to McGee.


McGee is all the way down by GA, en-route, and I'm not aware of an on-trail way around it. Are you talking about cutting Grant Lakes from your itinerary?
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby balzaccom » Mon Aug 03, 2020 6:38 am

Yeah---I am a bit confused about your route. If you want to spend one night at Grant Lake, and then at least one night at Ten Lakes, that makes for a long last two days--about 23 miles. So 6 miles on the first day to Grant. Then only 3 or so to get to Ten Lakes and explore. Then 13 and then 10? Why not just save the shuttle and hike back out to Ten Lakes trailhead? I know you would be seeing some of the same terrain, but it always looks different from the other direction.
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Aug 03, 2020 7:25 am

The thing about this is, you're saying it's her first trip. But you're planning a 10 mile day. First backpacking trips are hard enough without long miles, and 10 miles is long for a newbie. I could see going to Ten Lakes in a day, spending a layover day, climbing back up the pass and going over to Grant Lakes, spending another layover day, and hiking back out - generally among backpackers the consensus for a newbie on a first trip it should be one night, short miles, and easy as pie, particularly if you want the person to go backpacking with you again.... But maybe you know something I don't and she's been running stadium stairs with a backpack, or at least day hiking with it?

I'd consider a shorter loop with a newbie. I could see dropping a car at the May trailhead and coming out via May Lake, which is pretty darn spectacular. Could split the loop into shorter days by camping along the creek before the hitch over/around Tuolumne Peak.

Heck, right now, with all the pandemic pounds? I don't think I would want to do 10-12 mile days. And I've done 15 milers in the past. And I backpack every month, year round, in normal circumstances. Going for four days myself on Friday - short, short lazy days, with fishing pole. And I have well worn boots that don't blister my feet, I have my gear down below 30 lbs, and my food down to a science so it all fits in a tiny bear can.

But, you know your wife better than I do...
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby DAP » Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:32 pm

Hi Phil, Thank you for your response. Do you know if you can camp at/near either of the trail side tarns on the way up/down Tuolumne Peak and if you think they will have water this late in our dry year?

Also, to "clarify" my Ten Lakes comment - I was trying to convey that we could camp at Grant Lake our first night and then camp at one of the Ten Lakes on the second night in order to reduce the mileage to McGee on the 3rd night. Or maybe we should just plan on camping at one of the Ten Lakes for two nights and explore from there and go down to Grant lake on a day trip?


Phil wrote:Ok, so let's see. I'll just run it through from start to finish.

Hi Phil, Thank you for your response. Do you know if you can camp at/near either of the tarns on the way up/down Tuolumen Peak trail side tarns, and if you think they will have water this late in our dry year?

Also, to "clarify" my Ten Lakes comment - I was trying to convey that we could camp at Grant Lake our first night and they camp at one of the Ten Lakes on the second night in order to reduce the mileage to McGee on the 3rd night. Or maybe we should just plan on camping at one of the Ten Lakes for two nights and explore from there and go down to Grant lake vs. moving each day?

On the way up, you're first water will be at the junction of the Ten Lakes x White Wolf trails, about 2.3 miles in from the trailhead. Beyond that, you might still have some outflows on the slope just below Half Moon Meadow. Obviously, lower Grant Lake. Then, obviously, Ten Lakes, with lake #2, and eventually #6, both being trailside. Past that, South Fork of Cathedral Creek. On the way up to Tuolumne Peak, a trailside tarn roughly 3/4 of the way up to the pass. On the way down the east side of Tuolumne Peak, the pair of tarns. Beyond that, you go dry; there will be no water in the area of the junction of the May Lake Trail, so if you need it, you'll have to divert down the Murphy Creek Trail and hit Poly Dome Lakes. Several miles down the May Lake > GA Trail, you'll do a big descent and hit water at Cathedral Creek. Past that, McGee Lake. From there to GA and then to TM, it's all the Tuolumne River, and you have no worries.

Please clarify this statement:

DAP wrote: The other option is to camp the first night at Grant and then pack up to one the Ten Lakes cutting 3 - 4 miles off of the route if we had to go to McGee.


McGee is all the way down by GA, en-route, and I'm not aware of an on-trail way around it. Are you talking about cutting Grant Lakes from your itinerary?
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby DAP » Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:35 pm

This definitely is an option (out/back to Ten Lakes Traihead). I have packed through TM once on my way back from the "grand canyon" of Yosemite and recall that it was very scenic and relatively flat so I thought my wife would enjoy it.....

balzaccom wrote:Yeah---I am a bit confused about your route. If you want to spend one night at Grant Lake, and then at least one night at Ten Lakes, that makes for a long last two days--about 23 miles. So 6 miles on the first day to Grant. Then only 3 or so to get to Ten Lakes and explore. Then 13 and then 10? Why not just save the shuttle and hike back out to Ten Lakes trailhead? I know you would be seeing some of the same terrain, but it always looks different from the other direction.
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby DAP » Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:44 pm

Forgot to ask if you think the South Fork of Cathedral Creek will have water this year and if there is camping along there? Again, thinking about shortening the mileage between Ten Lakes and McGee.......

Phil wrote:Ok, so let's see. I'll just run it through from start to finish.

On the way up, you're first water will be at the junction of the Ten Lakes x White Wolf trails, about 2.3 miles in from the trailhead. Beyond that, you might still have some outflows on the slope just below Half Moon Meadow. Obviously, lower Grant Lake. Then, obviously, Ten Lakes, with lake #2, and eventually #6, both being trailside. Past that, South Fork of Cathedral Creek. On the way up to Tuolumne Peak, a trailside tarn roughly 3/4 of the way up to the pass. On the way down the east side of Tuolumne Peak, the pair of tarns. Beyond that, you go dry; there will be no water in the area of the junction of the May Lake Trail, so if you need it, you'll have to divert down the Murphy Creek Trail and hit Poly Dome Lakes. Several miles down the May Lake > GA Trail, you'll do a big descent and hit water at Cathedral Creek. Past that, McGee Lake. From there to GA and then to TM, it's all the Tuolumne River, and you have no worries.

Please clarify this statement:

DAP wrote: The other option is to camp the first night at Grant and then pack up to one the Ten Lakes cutting 3 - 4 miles off of the route if we had to go to McGee.


McGee is all the way down by GA, en-route, and I'm not aware of an on-trail way around it. Are you talking about cutting Grant Lakes from your itinerary?
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby DAP » Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:49 pm

Very good advice about not pushing it. I am an ex-Infantry guy so I need to make sure not to push it too much or she will never go again......which after all of these years of me going with our kids/cousins/uncle/friends and almost 30 years of marriage, I am surprised she is trying it. I guess that is what being cooped up does.

AlmostThere wrote:The thing about this is, you're saying it's her first trip. But you're planning a 10 mile day. First backpacking trips are hard enough without long miles, and 10 miles is long for a newbie. I could see going to Ten Lakes in a day, spending a layover day, climbing back up the pass and going over to Grant Lakes, spending another layover day, and hiking back out - generally among backpackers the consensus for a newbie on a first trip it should be one night, short miles, and easy as pie, particularly if you want the person to go backpacking with you again.... But maybe you know something I don't and she's been running stadium stairs with a backpack, or at least day hiking with it?

I'd consider a shorter loop with a newbie. I could see dropping a car at the May trailhead and coming out via May Lake, which is pretty darn spectacular. Could split the loop into shorter days by camping along the creek before the hitch over/around Tuolumne Peak.

Heck, right now, with all the pandemic pounds? I don't think I would want to do 10-12 mile days. And I've done 15 milers in the past. And I backpack every month, year round, in normal circumstances. Going for four days myself on Friday - short, short lazy days, with fishing pole. And I have well worn boots that don't blister my feet, I have my gear down below 30 lbs, and my food down to a science so it all fits in a tiny bear can.

But, you know your wife better than I do...
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby Phil » Mon Aug 03, 2020 6:04 pm

So the standard Ten Lakes > GA/TM trip is usually done over 3 days. +1 for Grant Lakes, +1 for any intermediate stops.

Answering your questions first: Yes, there will be water in South Fork of Cathedral, and the tarn(s) on the west slope of Tuolumne Peak will have water, as will the two tarns on the east slope. The east slope tarns tend to get crowded. The lower one closest to the trail has sites, but the better ones are at the upper lake....if they're not all taken. The west slope tarn visible from the trail (trailside) is basically one or two sites. Drop down (invisible from the trail), and the second has more area, and more sites. Not a lot, but more. You won't see either of them on the map, but a sat image will show you if you can zoom down. I have coordinates....somewhere, but don't count on me finding them. You'll know it when you see it. Great view! You'll also find sites tucked in all along South Fork of Cathedral. A really nice one at the back of the valley where you make a hard left and realize you're about to start climbing.

On to your movements: Yeah, you probably don't want to ruck march the wife, so even a couple extra days might actually make her want to do it again and be worth it, as well as give her nice camping with bite-sized distances. Seriously consider it, and you should still be able to pull your food with just one bear can.

Besides all that, Grant Lakes are pretty nice. Lower is where the sites are. Upper is cirqued in pretty good, with scroungy sites. Best sites at the lower lake are back in the rocks to the west, and on the north end. South end has a couple, but they're cross sloped and not the best. Day hike the upper lake. And if you get down to Ten Lakes basin, Grant Lakes are not "down", they're decidedly up; back up the switchbacks to Ten Lakes Pass. Another thing about getting to Grant Lakes is a shortcut; at Half Moon Meadow, cut magnetic east, staying about 200-300 meters right of the slabs you'll see and into the treeline. Unhitch your hip belts and climb. It's steep, but you would climb to that height anyway, and this'll shave a couple miles off the day. Just make sure she's stable. You'll box out at the Grant Lakes trail, so no wandering off course and missing it.

At Ten Lakes basin, try Lake #1 off to the left and over the rise, or go right and hit Lake #3 (they run counterclockwise). Lake #4 beyond is mediocre camping, Lake #5 is further up canyon and will give you more seclusion and better ground. Don't settle for lousy sites! Good ones require some recon, and they're to be had: Lake #3 inlet from Lake #4 is a good one, with a nice view. Except for one site toward the Lake #3 outlet on the west bank, that whole side is a "bowling alley of death" from the cliffs above, so skip it. Lake #1 is also pretty cool. Lake #2 is trailside, and it's where everybody lazes out and camps, skip it.

After you leave Ten Lakes, if you want to give the wife a break, seriously consider shortening the day and spending the night along SF Cathedral Creek. Huge descent, gentle incline all the way up the gorge, and it's a good place to stop so that you can do the climb up to Tuolumne Peak the next morning. If you want to push on, keep going, but do consider those west slope tarns instead of the ones on the east slope (that do show on the map). Some things to think about.

On the way out, you can also consider Poly Dome Lakes. Hike back for the best sites at the further lakes (check your map). Some sites at Cathedral Creek, but you'll have to scout them out. Skip McGee if you were thinking about it...it's nasty this time of year, and you might as well just hit GA at that point.

...in a nutshell....
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby DAP » Tue Aug 04, 2020 12:59 pm

Phil - This is awesome information. Thank you so much for taking the time to compose this detailed response. Now I just need to confirm the Ten Lakes numbering system so I don't screw that up........

Phil wrote:So the standard Ten Lakes > GA/TM trip is usually done over 3 days. +1 for Grant Lakes, +1 for any intermediate stops.

Answering your questions first: Yes, there will be water in South Fork of Cathedral, and the tarn(s) on the west slope of Tuolumne Peak will have water, as will the two tarns on the east slope. The east slope tarns tend to get crowded. The lower one closest to the trail has sites, but the better ones are at the upper lake....if they're not all taken. The west slope tarn visible from the trail (trailside) is basically one or two sites. Drop down (invisible from the trail), and the second has more area, and more sites. Not a lot, but more. You won't see either of them on the map, but a sat image will show you if you can zoom down. I have coordinates....somewhere, but don't count on me finding them. You'll know it when you see it. Great view! You'll also find sites tucked in all along South Fork of Cathedral. A really nice one at the back of the valley where you make a hard left and realize you're about to start climbing.

On to your movements: Yeah, you probably don't want to ruck march the wife, so even a couple extra days might actually make her want to do it again and be worth it, as well as give her nice camping with bite-sized distances. Seriously consider it, and you should still be able to pull your food with just one bear can.

Besides all that, Grant Lakes are pretty nice. Lower is where the sites are. Upper is cirqued in pretty good, with scroungy sites. Best sites at the lower lake are back in the rocks to the west, and on the north end. South end has a couple, but they're cross sloped and not the best. Day hike the upper lake. And if you get down to Ten Lakes basin, Grant Lakes are not "down", they're decidedly up; back up the switchbacks to Ten Lakes Pass. Another thing about getting to Grant Lakes is a shortcut; at Half Moon Meadow, cut magnetic east, staying about 200-300 meters right of the slabs you'll see and into the treeline. Unhitch your hip belts and climb. It's steep, but you would climb to that height anyway, and this'll shave a couple miles off the day. Just make sure she's stable. You'll box out at the Grant Lakes trail, so no wandering off course and missing it.

At Ten Lakes basin, try Lake #1 off to the left and over the rise, or go right and hit Lake #3 (they run counterclockwise). Lake #4 beyond is mediocre camping, Lake #5 is further up canyon and will give you more seclusion and better ground. Don't settle for lousy sites! Good ones require some recon, and they're to be had: Lake #3 inlet from Lake #4 is a good one, with a nice view. Except for one site toward the Lake #3 outlet on the west bank, that whole side is a "bowling alley of death" from the cliffs above, so skip it. Lake #1 is also pretty cool. Lake #2 is trailside, and it's where everybody lazes out and camps, skip it.

After you leave Ten Lakes, if you want to give the wife a break, seriously consider shortening the day and spending the night along SF Cathedral Creek. Huge descent, gentle incline all the way up the gorge, and it's a good place to stop so that you can do the climb up to Tuolumne Peak the next morning. If you want to push on, keep going, but do consider those west slope tarns instead of the ones on the east slope (that do show on the map). Some things to think about.

On the way out, you can also consider Poly Dome Lakes. Hike back for the best sites at the further lakes (check your map). Some sites at Cathedral Creek, but you'll have to scout them out. Skip McGee if you were thinking about it...it's nasty this time of year, and you might as well just hit GA at that point.

...in a nutshell....
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby Phil » Tue Aug 04, 2020 1:33 pm

You are more than welcome.

As I mentioned, the numbering sequence runs counterclockwise, beginning at the northernmost lake, closest to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. At the head of the switchbacks at Ten Lakes Pass you'll get a full view of the layout from #s 1-4. You can also use the high ground to do some preliminary spotting for potential areas of where you might like to set up camp. After the climb up from the trailhead or Grant Lakes, you'll find this not only beautiful, but motivational. Five is up canyon, and six is trailside further to the east. The remainder are just off in random places that you don't really need to worry about. You'll have plenty to do with what's close in. From this standpoint, and given that it's your wife's first trip, balzaccom's suggestion as doing the trip as in out-and-back isn't a bad idea at all. Just that is a great trip in and of itself....and it does indeed save you a shuttle ride back to the car.
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby gmgriffin9 » Wed Aug 12, 2020 11:24 am

Hi. I'm planning something close to this trip in reverse in a week (May Lake TH to Ten Lakes) and learned a lot. Thank you! :D

I'm curious about those tarns described on the east slope of Tuolumne Peak. Any ballpark estimate of how many miles from the May Lake - Ten Lake trail intersection with the spur trail to Murphy Creek Trail? I know the trail is steep from that junction and I don't want to overdo it on my first day. South Fork CC from the May Lake TH for first night camp seems really long but I'd like to get farther than Raisin Lake (which would leave a very long day to eastern Ten Lake).

I'd sure appreciate any advice.
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby Phil » Wed Aug 12, 2020 5:21 pm

Can you see the tarns on your map? From the May Lake trailhead to the Ten Lakes trail junction is 3.5 miles. The climb up toward Tuolumne Peak and the tarns I would put at roughly another 3 miles. It's not particularly steep, just a steady, hefty climb. All dry, not much cover, pretty hot in August.

Raisin Lake is a jaunt, but it's a nice place to camp. Last water all the way up to those tarns, unless there's any flow from the spring on the Murphy Creek side of that little pass, but you might as well just grab your water at the lake since you're there. The time that you hit the trail at the May Lake trailhead and your pace should be your determining factors in how you break down the hike, ie: earlier, go for it; later stop at Raisin and catch the climb when it's cooler the next morning. I would be hauling 2-3 liters depending on temp and time of day.

What I wouldn't do is try to push through past SF Cathedral Creek during the afternoon. That next climb is hot, way exposed, and it's about 1800 ft of big, long switchbacks. Either direction through Ten Lakes, those eastern tarns are pretty much where everyone lays up for a night. That's handy, but it also tends to make it way crowded.
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby gmgriffin9 » Thu Aug 13, 2020 8:49 pm

Phil--Thank you! This is exactly what I needed to convince me not to bail on my plan.

Both my ancient Trail Illustrated map and the one that accompanies Schaffer's guide show the tarns. I just didn't trust any kind of measuring interpolation off the maps with the switchbacks shown (and unshown). ~7 miles from May Lake TH to those tarns sound perfect. I appreciate the warning about the tarns being crowded for camping. I'm headed out on weekday, so maybe it won't be so bad. Regardless, I'll take the crowds if it's the only water between Raisin and SF Cathedral this time of year. And I'll definitely fill up at Raisin before starting up toward Tuolumne Peak.

Phil wrote:Can you see the tarns on your map? From the May Lake trailhead to the Ten Lakes trail junction is 3.5 miles. The climb up toward Tuolumne Peak and the tarns I would put at roughly another 3 miles. It's not particularly steep, just a steady, hefty climb. All dry, not much cover, pretty hot in August.

Raisin Lake is a jaunt, but it's a nice place to camp. Last water all the way up to those tarns, unless there's any flow from the spring on the Murphy Creek side of that little pass, but you might as well just grab your water at the lake since you're there. The time that you hit the trail at the May Lake trailhead and your pace should be your determining factors in how you break down the hike, ie: earlier, go for it; later stop at Raisin and catch the climb when it's cooler the next morning. I would be hauling 2-3 liters depending on temp and time of day.

What I wouldn't do is try to push through past SF Cathedral Creek during the afternoon. That next climb is hot, way exposed, and it's about 1800 ft of big, long switchbacks. Either direction through Ten Lakes, those eastern tarns are pretty much where everyone lays up for a night. That's handy, but it also tends to make it way crowded.
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Re: Backpacking From Ten Lakes to TM via GA and water access

Postby Phil » Thu Aug 13, 2020 9:38 pm

No problem. As you read in one of the earlier posts on this thread, there are those other two tarns on the west side of the peak as well; one you see trailside, the other hidden. See how you feel and what the situation is at those eastern ones, but these others are also an option. The last push up beyond the eastern tarns is pretty steep, and I would roughly put the next set about another half mile or so below the pass. Not mapped that I've ever seen, but the satellite image will show it if you track the trail and crank down on the terrain. If you have it in you and can put on the extra miles, down at the creek has some nice sites, and I doubt it's going to be crowded since it's sort of in between. In a week you should be fine with water in SF Cathedral, but see if you can either get in touch with someone at the wilderness office or find someone that just came out to verify. You're not a happy camper without enough water to make that climb out of the gorge.
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