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First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadows

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First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadows

Postby benshih » Fri Jul 13, 2018 5:44 pm

Hi all,

I thought I had correctly planned out a backpacking trip for 7/23-7/28 but I was just told that my permit was invalid. I made the stupid rookie mistake of thinking that I can hike along a road. Apparently this requires obtaining a new permit. The Reservation.gov website allowed me to make the reservation with the beginning and ending trailheads so I thought I was in the clear, but the ranger told me that this was wrong.

So now I am stuck without a Yosemite reservation and would appreciate your suggestions and advice.

One thought is that I can arrive one day early and obtain a first-come-first-serve permit at Tuolumne Meadows. The first question is - how early should I expect to arrive at the station if I want to obtain a permit? It opens at 11am but when should I go and wait?

In terms of the route, we want to go from Tuoloumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley. It seems that there are a number of trails for this. Do you have any recommendations? In the first-come-first-serve situation, what might be a good trail that has a better chance of staying available?

Happy to share more details if helpful. Thank you so much for any ideas!
Ben
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby Phil » Fri Jul 13, 2018 6:29 pm

First, what were your original entry and exit trailheads? Salvage may or may not be possible with some sort of tweak.

Other than that, for your intended route, TM > Yosemite Valley, you have several entry trailhead options, all of which are popular and heavily impacted. They are: Cathedral Lakes, Sunrise, Rafferty Creek, Lyell Canyon.

The next rookie mistake you're about to make is the TM Wilderness Permit station opening time. It's not 11am, it's 8am. That's when the first-come, first-served walk-up permits for that day become available. Past that time, 10am is when reserved permits that are cancelled/abandoned for that day are voided and become available to others. After that, the 11am+ slot is when permits for the following day's entries become available. People line up early in the morning, and the popular trailhead permits can literally be gone as fast as they can verify availability and write them. Some people even try to spend the night, but if you lay down, you can be cited for illegal camping. Bring a chair. They may boot you, they may let it slide. But keep in mind that if you have no permit, and you are booted, you have nowhere legal to go except to get in the car and drive until morning, because sleeping in your car is also illegal.

As a last resort, you can try something like Murphy Creek > May Lake > Sunrise > Happy Isles. You'll add at least a day, but crossing the road is legal, which is what you'll do, whereas, as you discovered, walking along it is a big no-no. This option would make you technically legit, but it's a workaround, and they know it, so they may not give it to you. Worth a shot though.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby benshih » Fri Jul 13, 2018 7:21 pm

Thanks, Phil.

The original entry point was Bloody Canyon (AA03) from the Inyo National Forest and the exit point was Happy Isles - Yosemite Yalley (YOS1). Again, Recreation.gov allowed me to choose these points.

I should also clarify that I am not part of the backpacking group but am running support, so I have some flexiblity.

My thought is that I could leave on 7/22, stay overnight somewhere around Yosemite (legally), and drive to the TM Permit station early the morning of 7/23, to obtain a permit for 7/24.

The actual backpacking group would still do Bloody Canyon on 7/23, and I would pick them up on 7/24 at Dana Meadows where they exit and drive them to TM to start backpacking their new route. Does this make sense? Is there a better approach / alternative?

Technically, when can I start waiting? Can I show up at 5am, for example, and just hang out with a book?

Sorry for all the newbie questions and thanks so much for your help!

Ben
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby Phil » Fri Jul 13, 2018 10:17 pm

Check your maps for a trail or an xc route that keeps you off the road. If you can do that, YNP will honor Inyo's permit under the rules. No need for another permit from YNP itself, inclusive of all the way to Happy Isles. Don't let on anything about the car either, but FYI, if you are in the car and shuttling your group to their next trailhead, getting in the car also voids your wilderness permit. And technically, if your group has also left the wilderness and gotten in a car in order to go to another trailhead, without another permit, they're also not legal according to regulations.

You might be able to come in xc from Gaylor Lakes or above Saddlebag Lake, then either hike via the trail or drop down past Roosevelt to Young Lakes trail, then on to TM. I'm not sure where you were planning to leave the trail system and ended up hiking the road with your original route plan.

But, if you do end up not wanting to/being able to make that work and find yourself at the TM wilderness office, getting there at 5am will be fine with them. Size it up, hang out if you have to, and if there aren't any permits for the same day to the valley available when they open at 8am, keep hanging out or hike until the cancellations or the next day's permits open up later in the morning.

But yeah, that car part could be a killer. You better check this one out.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby benshih » Fri Jul 13, 2018 10:35 pm

Thanks, Phil.

When I was looking at the map originally, I thought the group was able to cut up to Gaylor Lakes. Thanks for the feedback on this. We will consider this option.

At the same time, I've started to look at Desolation Wilderness as another destination with more availability. Great to have so many options in Northern California!

Cheers,
Ben
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby balzaccom » Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:49 pm

I'm confused. If you are coming into Yosemite NP via the Mono Pass trail, why wouldn't you just cross country along the west then south side of the Dana Fork to Tuolumne Meadows and continue your hike, connecting to the Lyell Canyon/Rafferty Creek trail by the two bridges? That connects you directly to the JMT--and you can follow that all the way to Happy Isles, if that's what your current permit says.

As for the permit office, we arrived there at 11 am on a Friday morning to get a next day permit, and even though we were about 25th in line, there were only TWO trailheads that were full by the time we got to talk to a permit office. Of course, if you have a larger group, the odds are against you.

same day permits? Those are much more of a crapshoot---thanks to those of us who get our FCFS permits the day before...
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:14 pm

balzaccom wrote:I'm confused. If you are coming into Yosemite NP via the Mono Pass trail, why wouldn't you just cross country along the west then south side of the Dana Fork to Tuolumne Meadows and continue your hike, connecting to the Lyell Canyon/Rafferty Creek trail by the two bridges?


He's not wrong. However, you can't camp inside park boundaries along that route, until you are four miles from the trailhead up Lyell Canyon, so that would be a pretty long day of hiking. In the Mono Pass/Parker Pass area, you either have to be at Sardine Lakes or up the trail over Parker Pass to camp, and there's no camping in Lyell until four miles up the canyon.

Unless - you go to Helen Lake, cross country over the ridge into Kuna Basin, and camp. Then wend your way down to the trail in Lyell Canyon. Take the trail to Vogelsang and work your way over to Merced Lake, wander on down to LYV and on out Happy Isles as per usual. The reason you can make the reservation is there are legit routes. Crossing the Kuna Crest into Kuna Basin is not terribly technical - stick to the ridge to the right side of the lake, work your way over the crest.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby Phil » Sun Jul 15, 2018 7:23 pm

I assumed that the easiest way was to go over the pass and end up in Mono Meadows, cross the road, xc to Gaylor, then just follow the trail on down to TM. If that was his route, other than making it easier, I don't get the road being a factor other than just walking across it.

The biggest thing I'm confused over here is being support, but suddenly scrubbing the entire group's trip because he can't get his permit approved. Doesn't seem very written in stone if the whole group is now going to Desolation. I mean, even if you have to camp at Upper Sardine and have a 15 or so mile day to get legal again at say Cathedral Lakes or Ireland Creek, so what, it's not tough terrain, and you gotta do what you gotta do if it keeps your itinerary intact. Hit it, take a break for a day if you need to, but you still end up at Happy Isles.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby balzaccom » Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:08 am

It wouldn't have to be that long a day. With a permit like his original permit, couldn't you spend one night at the Tuolumne Meadows backpacking campground? JMT through-hikers do that, and I don't see his route as any different....
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:50 am

Thru hikers have a different set of rules than backpackers, I think. The general consensus for backpacking wilderness permits is that leaving the wilderness voids the permit. Thrus have a window of less than 24 hours outside the wilderness, likely to permit resupply options. Which does not explain how in some of the books thrus have written they are able to fly home for a wedding, come back, keep hiking where they left off, but I would suppose it would be possible to just pick up another thru hiking permit for their re-entry point.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby Phil » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:09 am

Thru-hikers and others with permits issued by another agency aren't allowed to use the backpacker's campgrounds without a new permit issued by YNP.

Last week, we picked up a woman hitchhiking down in the valley that was doing the PCT and wanted to go ahead and wrap up the last little bit of the JMT since she was in the park already. She had to get a permit to not only finish her route down and go up to HD, she had to have it in order to secure her couple nights up at Tuolumne while she waited for resupply. I already knew the rules were different, but she said they were fierce about enforcing them, and that a lot of the PCTers were burning up permit space in order to have a place to stay. Said the drill was common knowledge. But, I would imagine that the JMT people would be the exception since they're still en-route. Not sure, but it makes sense.

...she only had two t-shirts..... :lol:
Last edited by Phil on Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby benshih » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:24 am

First, thank you all for your suggestions and comments. I only wish that I found this forum earlier and discovered the permit issue earlier. Believe me, I did not want to change this plan and abandon Yosemite and am quite disappointed about that. But with less than a week left to plan, having never done this before, and being concerned about a safe and smooth experience, we discussed this as a group and felt that it was best to do something else. I didn't want the boys to be interrupted on their trip by a park ranger and be forced to stop because their permit was wrong.

All of this started when the ranger I called to confirm our permit stated that it was invalid. Not having any experience in this, I simply took her word for it. A number of you have suggested alternate paths that would seem to be alright, and I really appreciate that. I will check them out on the map and think of them for next time. And thank you (balzaccom) for the feedback about your experience waiting in the morning at the permit office as well.

One other comment about the Bloody Canyon permit and entry trail head. The group was actually required to camp outside Yosemite, so the original thought was to camp and be well rested for the next morning, so they could have taken a long hike to get to the next campsite if needed, to some of your comments (AlmostThere and Phil).

With that said, a few follow-up questions -
- What would happen if you were stopped without the right permit in Yosemite? I am assuming you would be forced to stop your trek at minimum. Is there a financial penalty as well or something else on top of that?
- Are you indeed allowed to cross country if there is no official trail? Looking at the map for Bloody Canyon, the trail ends at Tioga Road at Dana Meadows, but some of you seem to be suggesting that the group can actually keep going? This is again what we originally thought, but the ranger denied that approach. This is the map I'm looking at - https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DO ... 337622.pdf.

Thank you all again! This is a really helpful discussion.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:37 am

benshih wrote:
With that said, a few follow-up questions -
- What would happen if you were stopped without the right permit in Yosemite? I am assuming you would be forced to stop your trek at minimum. Is there a financial penalty as well or something else on top of that?


You'd be fined, walked out of the wilderness - possibly tossed out of the park. It's happened quite a bit by now I'd guess, because there are lots of people who take their chances.

- Are you indeed allowed to cross country if there is no official trail? Looking at the map for Bloody Canyon, the trail ends at Tioga Road at Dana Meadows, but some of you seem to be suggesting that the group can actually keep going? This is again what we originally thought, but the ranger denied that approach.


I go cross country all the time. I think rangers tend to err on the side of caution with people. I've been lectured and warned by rangers when I've said I intend to do some segment of a trip off trail until I comment that I was a SAR volunteer who trained others with a compass, at that point they shift gears and smile, and provide other useful information. Their usual is to have people who don't have any real competency trying to bite off more than they can chew, and so their standard is to encourage people to stay on trail and decrease the impact on the high country. If everyone went wandering around off trail there'd be far too many trails (cf: any lake with a well worn fisherman's trail around it, the top of Dana with all those little "trails", any other really mega awesome popular walk-up peak...)

I would rather go cross country above treeline and off the meadows. Wandering through the meadows along the Dana Fork could be more work, potentially, as fallen trees and the hummocks in the grass make walking difficult. Also it's not durable surfaces, and walking in meadows leaves impact that the park doesn't want. Going up the ridge over the Kuna Crest has the potential of getting you into boulder hell unless you are willing to take the "long way" instead of shortcutting straight up - but these options are obvious from across the lake. We've been up that ridge day hiking and retreated again. I had some idea of doing it overnight and going up the peak Amelia Earhart to see the view, but have yet to do that.

Week before last I was cross country in Sequoia - avoiding a long elevation loss and climb back up by going across the Tablelands to Pear Lake. Done that multiple times as well. Did not get a lecture from the permitting ranger about that. If you look up the superintendent's compendium for Yosemite, you will see that the cross country group size limit is 8 people - it's very likely that if you have more than that, this is the reason you are expected to stay on trail....
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby Phil » Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:13 am

If stopped (and very likely in that area) the declared trip leader is written the $300 ticket and the entire group is escorted out by the ranger. Trip over.

The other thing is that you also have limits on group size in the regs at YNP. For travel on established trails, this is 15 people. For what we all proposed with any cross country, that number drops to 8 people. From what you described, ending in Mono Meadows and crossing the road up to Gaylor Lakes is probably your best bet if it's under that number, but then you have to consider the whole group's ability to push through without choice in order to again get to somewhere it's legal to camp. Also, once you go over Mono Pass and start heading down, you're in the Dana Fork drainage, and there is no camping allowed in any of it at all. To cut the day shorter mileage-wise, you would end up needing a new permit from YNP in order to stay at the Tuolumne Meadows backpacker's camp. Because of the trail quotas imposed and the popularity of all trails out of the TM area, the bigger the group, the lower the odds of that...big time....you got kids that can't pull it off, too bad, they walk till they drop because they have to for you to stay legal.

The thing is, too, I think you'll find that Desolation is just as impacted, and just as restrictive in its trail entry and travel regulations as Yosemite.

I feel bad for your predicament. With a small group, it's easy to wing it, but advance planning and logistics for a big group before you even get on the trail is a whole other dynamic. For this trip, on such a short timeline, it might be best if you try to rejigger your route and try to stay on the trail system at Inyo, and then hit Yosemite some other time. But, if your group is small enough to allow cross country travel, play with the map, bounce it off the wilderness office, go for it knowing knowing what you'll have to do in order to make it work and keep everyone safe.
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Re: First come first serve wilderness permit Tuolumne Meadow

Postby Phil » Mon Jul 16, 2018 11:59 am

Let's see what else we can do here with a few questions:

What's your group size, ages, experience? What's their leadership like? How long do you want to be out; minimum/maximum, how hard or easy does it need to be, what do you think your least capable kid can do in a day on miles?

Maybe instead of focusing on what's increasingly looking like it has to be forced to work, we can try to help you find what could end up actually working better without any hassles or caveats to worry about.
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