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[Yosemite]

Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel Falls

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

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Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel Falls

Postby HenrySavage » Tue Jan 10, 2017 11:59 pm

Hello everyone,

Hoping to bring my wife in late June on her first ever Yosemite backpacking trip. Provided we get the permit we will be traveling from Tuolumne Meadows on the Glen Aulin trail heading toward waterwheel falls. Plan is to make it up to the Glen Aulin area the first night. I am wondering if anyone has suggestions on a good spot to camp around here for the first night. I have read up a bit and it sounds like McGee Lake is not ideal and that my best option would be to camp alongside return creek. Curious if anyone has any insight or suggestions?

Second question I have is does anyone have any experience camping further down the trail in the direction of White Wolf from Glen Aulin. I have never hiked on this specific trail and I am wondering if anyone has ideas on good places to set up for the night near any of the major falls. I imagine that being in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River will prevent us from venturing too far off the trail, (unless we want to do some serious climbing) so I guess I'm just looking for anything off the beaten path. We are looking to do either 2 or 3 nights in this general area and we would love to camp near any of the major waterfalls and still not encroach on the Glen Aulin HSC since we will not have permits to stay here. I'd love to hear back if anyone would like to help us out. Thanks a lot, we certainly appreciate any feedback.

-Henry
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby Phil » Wed Jan 11, 2017 4:04 am

Hi Henry,

There are a few big factors involved with that route that you need to be aware of:

First of all, June is going to put you into some high water- great from the standpoint of the falls complex being at peak, but generally problematic in terms of trail conditions along the trail where flooding, and often passage itself is concerned. This is up to and including rangers often closing the trail completely because of conditions not far both above and below Glen Aulin, crossing Register Creek, and Pate Valley.

Secondly, since the pass-through is generally done as a route beginning at Soda Springs in Tuolumne and ending at White Wolf, you have a 3700 foot climb at the ascent to WW. It's a great route, but that climb from Pate Valley is rough. Depending on your wife's ability and attitude, that could be a show killer for her on the trip, and again in terms of her ever wanting to go out with you again.

Because of the latter, many, many people do the route in the opposite direction and begin at White Wolf. That climb is somewhat notorious.

Being her first trip, while the GCT is a great hike, I would seriously consider starting her on a trip that's easier, and maybe even just an overnight. For this one, to allow for contingencies, I would give it 3 nights, 4 days.


As far as camping goes, you're right, McGee Lake is horrible; severely limited sites, heavily mosquito infested...a slight uphill detour that's not really worth the extra effort unless you're clamoring to see it. Instead, even with the pass-through, I would add an extra night and hold up at the campground behind the Glen Aulin HSC for night 1 in order to allow your wife a better entry experience with at least a few niceties and a better selection since the choices get limited for quite some distance beyond. And just to clarify, with a pass-through permit, you ARE allowed to stay at the campsites up behind the HSC under your permit, but without the pass-through, you're limited to ONLY staying at the sites there and nowhere else.

Now, technically, while there are some campsites downtrail from GA, you're not supposed to use them until you pass a mile beyond the camp, which puts you at or past California Falls (they do patrol it, and they will cite you if you get caught). You'll find a few places that are directly trailside for the most part, but you're also correct in that the gorge is narrow, which means that wandering back from the trail isn't really an option. This is true for pretty much the entire trail in the upper areas. Your options before about La Conte/Waterwheel Falls is to go toward the river, deal with some mud and thick vegetation, and see what you can find, or just take what's obvious...a couple that are okay, but the one that really resonates is at California Falls itself, right next to the trail. Nice site in terms of size and basic function, but right next to the trail, and you're going to have to go downriver a ways in order to get water, because the rapids are right there, the rock is insanely slick, and you will die if you go in. Best to go down to La Conte or Return Creek for the night for better site selections, then do a shorter second day and spend the next night in Pate Valley in order to be prepared for an early start on the climb. Do not start that climb late in the day...be smart and hold up! In Pate, also do be aware that bear activity is heavy, and that they can be aggressive (pushy) at times, so proper food storage is absolutely critical! Fantastic area with lots of great sites on both sides of the river though.

After Pate and the majority of the climb, your final night should be along Morrison Creek. Depending on how you guys are feeling, there are some sites about 1/4 mile up and off the trail to the right from where you actually cross the creek, but the better ones are at the top of the creek a few miles up. Steep trail through thickening canopy, then level slightly with the cover opening up a bit, and passes a fairly obvious granite wall about 20' high on your right. A great creekside site to the left, but also a number of sites right above that wall, and even more over the rise tucked into the west face with incredible views down the length of Hetch Hetchy.

Final day: about another 600' of climb and about 5 miles out to White Wolf. Stay the night at the backpacker's camp if the campground is open (probably not, and no main campground = no backpacker's camp),YARTS bus back to the car at Tuolumne late afternoon/early evening (check the 2017 schedule)....
Last edited by Phil on Wed Jan 11, 2017 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby balzaccom » Wed Jan 11, 2017 9:38 am

A couple of other thoughts:

it's not clear from your initial post if you're planning to hike the whole Tuolumne Canyon through to White Wolf or just an in-and-out to Glen Aulin and beyond. From the post heading, it sounds like your permit is a Glen Aulin Pass through to Waterwheel Falls? If it's a pass through, you won't be allowed to camp at Glen Aulin, and as Phil suggests you'll have to hike at least a mile beyond it. But there are two Pass-through permits for Glen Aulin. One goes down the canyon, the other goes up Cold Canyon. If you got (or change to) the latter, you can also hike up past the Glen Aulin Backpackers Campground one mile, and camp along the Conness Creek Canyon. Lovely area. Only a very rough use trail to guide you, but you can't get lost if you stay on the south side of Conness Creek. Just follow the use trails through all of the campsites at Glen Aulin, and continue on up the canyon from there...

There will be a ton of water in June. Campsites in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne will be somewhat limited, and the trail may well be under water in places. It won't be dangerous water, more like standing water, but be prepared to wade some sections of the canyon.

For another trip idea in this area, check out our website--in my signature line. We hiked up Conness Creek all the way to Roosevelt Lake, then out through Young Lakes. We did this in mid-June, and the bugs were really quite overwhelming at Upper Youngs Lake.
Check out our website and blog at: http://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby HenrySavage » Wed Jan 11, 2017 12:13 pm

Hello again,

Thanks for the fast response folks. Wife and I really appreciate all of the great info. Sorry if I was unclear before (and I was) but we are trying to do an out and back starting in Tuolumne Meadows and coming back to the same place we started where our car will be parked near the trailhead. We want to see Waterwheel Falls and camp near beautiful waterfalls in the canyon but we don't want to do the entire trail to White Wolf. We were planning on going June 30th, so later in June but obviously no way of telling what trail conditions will be like. To me this sounds like an amazing area to hike but maybe not the most ideal area to backpack for the type of trip we are attempting. I have backpacked in the 10 Lakes Basin area, Cathedral Lakes area, and Young Lakes area when I was younger and I may just default to one of these areas instead since I am familiar with them. Any suggestions would be warmly welcomed.

So just to summarize what I've believe I've gleaned from your excellent info so far:

We can camp at the HSR camp in a specific backpackers area reserved for pass through permits holders i.e. Not the tent cabins reserved for folks who have won the lottery for said HSC?

Any other camping we may attempt must be done outside a one mile radius of the GA: HSC and will be limited to what is available near the trail due to the nature of the canyon?

Please let us know if you have any other feedback or suggestions and I will do my best to report back after our trip to help out anyone attempting a similar trip.

Again, I really appreciate all the help. Thank you.
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby balzaccom » Wed Jan 11, 2017 4:01 pm

Nope--you've got it wrong. If you have a pass-through permit you have to pass through Glen Aulin. You cannot camp in the backpackers campground there. That campground is reserved for those who have a Glen Aulin (NOT PASS THROUGH) permit.

So either down the Tuolumne a mile towards (or beyond) Waterwheel Falls, or up Cold/Conness Canyons a mile. That's for your first night. The second night, all bets are off and you can camp anywhere you like, including Glen Aulin, but not in the area between Glen Aulin and Tuolumne Meadows...as that area is closed to overnight camping.

It's a lovely area, should be really spectacular that time of year. Have fun.
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby Phil » Wed Jan 11, 2017 5:47 pm

My mistake entirely. Sorry for the bad info. I thought I remembered being told otherwise by wilderness rangers a couple times, but you cannot officially stay at the HSC backpacker's camp with the pass-through permit. I have a call in to confirm one way or another to be sure, and from experience, I've never been given grief when staying there with a pass-through myself (asked to show permits twice, and I only ever get pass-throughs) but Balzaccom is absolutely correct in that the extra distance down to La Conte/Waterwheel is no big deal, and it is a much, much nicer area. However, as Balzaccom also points out, if you choose to, you do have the option to spend the night at the GA backpacker's camp on your exit, which isn't such a bad thing if it's not insanely crowded.

If you want to shave some miles on the way to Glen Aulin, instead of the normal way in from Soda Springs, for a unique and less crowded route, try the use trail that begins just up above Pothole Dome and comes out right next to the bridge up above GA. Plenty of parking at the trailhead, it's easy to follow, well marked, and it's what the camp employees and wilderness rangers use to save time.
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby HenrySavage » Thu Jan 12, 2017 2:38 pm

Hey Phil, thanks for the suggestion on the trail starting at pothole dome. So I am on google maps right now trying to determine where this trail starts. From what I can tell the PCT trail or Glen Aulin trail starts out on the east side of the tuolumne river. Eventually it looks like the Glen Aulin trail crosses over to the westside of the Tuolumne river via a footbridge. I am assuming this is the point we would be shooting for to cut some distance off the trail and meet up the the PCT. If this is the case than I am assuming again that the trail you are proposing starts out on the west side of Pothole dome and travels to the North West to meet up at the footbridge. Looks like an awesome shortcut but I am a bit concerned about traveling cross country with my wife. Is this trail marks with a trailhead and if you have traveled this trail before would you considerate it an easy trail to follow? I am trying to view everything on google maps right now and while I can find the easy to follow Glen Aulin trail via satelite imagery I cannot seem to find anything even resembling a trail that starts on the west side of pothole dome. Completely understand if you all are tired of answering my long winded questions but once again I really do appreciate this amazing feedback and I will try to report back to help others.

-Henry
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby Dave_Ayers » Thu Jan 12, 2017 5:43 pm

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Last edited by Dave_Ayers on Fri Jan 13, 2017 12:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin Passthrough /Waterwheel F

Postby Phil » Thu Jan 12, 2017 5:48 pm

Hey Henry,

Yes, that trail is just to the west of Pothole Dome. I would say that it's hard to miss the parking area- left side of the road with a large pull out, but no bear lockers, so if you need to store anything or empty the car, you'll have to do it probably down by the Cathedral Trailhead, which is closest. There's no trailhead sign that I recall, but it's well worn and shoots straight up the hill. Very slight rise, then mostly gentle downhill or flat all the way to that bridge just above Tuolumne Falls. It's not showing up on the sat image because it's mostly under thick canopy, but it's by no means randomly cross-country, just a fairly well kept secret, so no worries about the wife. Only one point at which there might be a moment of slight confusion, but it's not a big deal: After your first gentle downhill from the trailhead you're going to veer LEFT and come across a short area of granite and a small brow at the edge of a small seasonal creek. Stay left. If the trail isn't immediately evident, just follow the drainage, and it's weird, you'll see a brownish grey discoloration on the rock that basically acts like an arrow pointing you in the right direction, then you swing hard RIGHT down about 100' of steep section, then it's flat and easy to follow all the rest of the way. The trail itself is, again, well worn, and it should save you roughly 3 miles as opposed to the conventional route. And even if you were to miss anything, that end of the meadow is marshy with standing water on your right, so just skirt it at the base of the hill on your left, keep heading north/northeast until you hit the Tuolumne River and follow it downstream to the bridge, and you can't go wrong.

So yeah, from the description, I think you can figure out that I've been on it a time or two. But really, it's a good trail that's easy to find and follow.
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