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This was an insane "cleanup" hike, there were a total of 18 miles of new (to me) trail segments left in the area (Parker Pass to Gem Lake, Donohue Pass to Ireland Creek), each of which would be a long out and back day hike (25 and 32 miles) and I dislike out and backs anyway. So I came up with the idea of a long open loop, 37 miles. Two cars, allowing an open loop and camping somewhere pleasant, then, a couple days before the hike my second dropped out.
Being too stupid to cancel the trip, I instead modified it to work as a solo. Drive to the upper trailhead, stash camping gear and hiking stuff in the bear box, drive back to the lower trailhead, park, walk up to the upper trailhead, camp there, stash camping gear in the bear box, hike down to the lower trailhead, drive back to the upper trailhead, pick up camping gear, drive home.Map(s) of perambulations below.
Due to a glut of sudden oligations, I made a late start, and got to the area late in the afternoon, missing the last shuttle up to the trailhead, rather than driving up Friday night and sleeping at some elevation. The walk up from Tuolumne Meadows was uneventful, the lower part on the Gaylor Lakes Trail was typical climbing in forest, the upper part, along the Tioga Road was, well, road walking (ugh!), although I was mostly reading Heyer there. Too bad I didn't know about the Old Tioga Road trail uphill of the road, that would have been much nicer.
Set up camp near the Parker Pass trailhead. Too warm, too much sleeping bag, altitude insomnia, dozed and napped til I woke up hard a little after 4am, realized that I might as well get up and hit the trail. Packed everything up and stashed it in the bear box. Set out at about 4:30am under a brilliant half-moon. Walked by moonlight to near the Parker Pass/Mono Pass split. The above image is not yet sunrise at Parker Pass. Hiking well, although the climb up to Koip Pass was not fun. No urge whatsoever to do any peak bagging there. Nice views and sunrise at Parker Pass. red light on red rocks, wow!
Alger Creek is on the dry side, but it is a pretty canyon. Saw my first people there, fishermen around the lower lakes, 12 miles from the trailhead. Approaching Gem Pass, the trail is mostly downhill, you climb maybe 100 feet to get over the ridge. The drop to Gem Lake (1400' below) is tree covered, mostly viewless and disheartening...since you spend the next 7.5 miles regaining that elevation...Donohue Pass is only 600 feet higher. The Rush Creek basin is, pleasant, if you enjoy artificial lakes (Alger, Gem and Waugh are all dammed). and the trail takes an uneven course passing the unnatural shorelines. Past Waugh Lake, you join the JMT/PCT, and other hikers become a common sight. At the Marie Lakes junction, I crossed paths with Jim Keener, thru-hiking the JMT (currently, 2004, off the PCT due to illness). On the level and the normal upgrades I was feeling fine, but the lack of sleep killed me on the big climb up to Koip Pass and the not so big climb up to Donohue Pass, I was going slower than the backpackers there, and pretty much hating it. Drank my reserve Red Bull on the way up.
Took a break there, mini-nap. The drop down to Lyell Canyon was interesting, passing some nice little lakes and meadows in the cirque there, although the rough and overused trail was not much fun to my tired feet. Once I got down to the floor of the canyon, though, it got boring. Or, perhaps, I was just too fried (from lack of sleep) to enjoy it. Beautiful glacial canyon, rocky ridges on either side, forest partway up, flat meadow with the stream meandering through it . . . for mile after mile after mile. All the same! Mind you, this was beyond mile 30. So I put the hammer down and made about 3 1/3 mph on the flats out to Tuolumne Meadows. Obviously the body was willing, but mentally, just fried. Got to the car at 5:43pm, just two minutes shy of 24 hours from when I left the car the day before.
Drove up to the upper trailhead to retrieve my gear and the all important ice chest with sodas and Red Bull. Drove back to San Francisco, although with a couple nappish type stops. Coming down 580 into Hayward, the lane lines turned into alligators (but I still knew I needed to drive between them), so I downed my last Red Bull and made it into San Francisco in good order. Was very very bitter at work the next day, but not terribly sore.
Part One: Tuolumne Meadows trailhead to Parker Pass trailhead. 5 miles, half on the somewhat rough Gaylor Lakes trail, half on the side of the Tioga Road. Total ascent about 1000'. Bunny Hike Rating: 2.86 x 5 = 14 + 10 +0cc = 24
Part Two: Parker Pass trailhead to Tuolumne Meadows trailhead. 37 miles, all on good trail, except for some rough spots on the west side of Donohue Pass. total ascent about 5650'. Bunny Hike Rating: 3.0 x 37 = 111 + 56 +0cc = 167
Overall: Tuolumne Meadows trailhead to Tuolumne Meadows trailhead. 42 miles in 14 hours out of 24. Bunny Hike Rating: 3.0 x 42 = 136 + 66 +0cc = 192
The weather was clear. Temperatures were moderate, although Lyell Canyon warmed up rather more than was pleasant.
Maps (65K TH topo). Route in blue, fuchsia, crimson and purple
Detail map (615 x 597, 111K) - Fine detail map (854 x 830, 202K)