Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sierra High Route (Day 4)

Day 4 - Cony Crags to Great Sierra Mine (19 miles)

Half Dome through the trees
Trail day!  Roper sent parts of the Sierra High Route onto normal trails where otherwise a cross-country route couldn't be accomplished or it didn't make sense. This day we would travel on the largest section of all trail along the entire route. And it was a good thing for us as we had some serious miles to make up if we were to get back on track to finish in 7 days. The last section from Tioga Pass to Twin Lakes is possibly the most technical stretch in some respects and we wanted to leave plenty of time for that.  We were carrying an eighth day of food, just in case, but would rather not push the limits. 

Leaving camp we continued along the ridge for a short distance before a thousand foot granite wall descent into the Lewis Creek canyon.  Along the way we had occasional glimpses of Half Dome and other Tenaya canyon features to the west.  Once at Lewis Creek we climbed steadily uphill to the headwaters of this drainage until finally cresting out at Vogelsang Pass (10,480 feet).  After a quick snack we dropped down the the lovely Vogelsang Lake then continued on to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. This camp, one of five such in the backcountry is an extensive tent and permanent structure "city" (there are two more along Tioga Pass Road).  Explaining the general absence of hikers seen to that point in the day, we found out they were opening for the season the next day.  What wasn't missing was the mule teams as the staff was preparing for visitors with lots of supplies.  Not feeling the need to be in the tent ghetto for any longer than necessary, we blew through and headed along the shortest trail to Tuolumne Meadows, Rafferty Creek. Unfortunately for us this is also the trail the mules run back and forth from Tuolumne on so it was pretty torn up.  We pulled in to Tuolumne at about 3 in the afternoon with 17 miles under our belt.

Lewis Creek


Creek from Bernice Lake as it enters Lewis Creek

Lewis Creek valley from climb to Vogelsang Pass

Vogelsang Lake

Heading into the tent city that is Vogelsang High Sierra Camp

A fraction of the structures at Vogelsang High Sierra Camp

Susan had a brilliant idea along the way - what if we could grab a shuttle bus from Tuolumne to Tioga Pass and skip ahead a few miles. If we hiked over the short Gaylor Lakes trail from near the entrance station we could make it outside the no-camping zone before dark and get ourselves truly set up to finish the hike.  Susan flagged down the first shuttle driver who told her where and when we needed to pick up the only shuttle that would be going to Tioga that afternoon.  We had an hour to kill so went to the Tuolumne Meadows Grill for burgers and ice cream while waiting!

Mt Dana and the impending storm
Backpacker camping is restricted in the Tuolumne area - you have to be at least 4 miles from the meadow complex and there is no camping at all in the Dana Fork drainage, the exact direction we were headed. Our only option (other than staying in the backpacker campground at Tuolumne) was to make it over the crest and outside the park boundary, yet not infringe on the Hall Natural Area on the Inyo National Forest side of the crest.  This is tricky but can be done by camping near the Great Sierra Mine site just outside the park boundary.  So after a pleasant evening walk (of course it rained for a while) from Tioga Pass and along Gaylor Lakes, we arrived at the mine site near sundown. Mt. Dana dominated the view to the south the entire way. We tucked in to a nice flat area just as Zeus started to light the sky and make a whole lot of racket right above our heads. We learned quickly that our shelter can withstand 50+ mph winds! The severe weather lasted for a while (Susan says I can sleep through anything!) and it rained on and off all night. Thankfully by morning the worst had cleared out.

Mt Dana from the Gaylor Lakes trail
Upper Gaylor Lake

Walking past one of the old mine structures
Tucked in for the night just outside the park boundary
 Bird Lists:

Lyell Fork
Lewis Creek
Vogelsang Pass
Vogelsang Lake
Rafferty Creek
Gaylor Lakes

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