Sunday, July 19, 2009

Young Lakes

Having made the reservation on-line at the last minute, I was lucky to get a site at all; so on the day I got there I was assigned whatever campsite was available at Tuolumne Meadows campground. I probably should have just backpacked but didn’t have a permit. On the first night my car’s thermometer had said 31, but the temps got down to 29 degrees according to the rangers. I had packed our not-so-good sleeping bags, but since I was by myself for now, I was able to use the second one as an extra blanket. I called Sue the next day and told her to bring the good stuff up because it’s freakin’ cold. Despite my past experiences, I hadn’t expected it to be quite that cold. The temperature variation between dark hours and light hours was also more dramatic than I anticipated with daytime reaching into the high 70s and low 80s. The overnight temperatures got warmer during our high country visit, but by the time we were up at Sunrise HSC, I did not have a thermometer. We were right on the cusp of seasonal change.

After thawing myself out and having some breakfast I packed up to head for Young Lakes. I hung around until after 8:00 so I could take care of some business with the reservation office, then hit the trail. I used the same trailhead as the route to Glen Aulin HSC taking the right junction after about 1.5 miles to begin climbing to Young Lakes. The bottom section of this trail runs across some large areas of slick rock making it a bit obscure. You have to look for ducks and kind of a worn look on the rock surface until the trail becomes more distinct. Having a GPS is a good idea here. Before long the trail begins climbing higher into the stunted logepoles. There’s lots of fresh water along this route as the trail crosses many clear running little streams including Dingly Creek. Looking back to the south after gaining some altitude, broken views of the peaks of the Cathedral range are visible intermittently through the trees, but no really good views present themselves. The 3.71 mile trail section leading up to the next junction is mostly uphill with tree cover. Only sparse wild flowers are showing. Some varieties seemed to be on the way out, while most were just coming in. The best season was probably just after we left. After making the turn at the junction the first view of Ragged Peak is seen from the south side. Climbing higher and steeper the route works its way around into a stunning green high meadow just at the base of Ragged Peak. It was still very moist here and lots of mosquitoes were around. When you first reach this meadow from this direction, you have been hiking uphill, and the blood sucking bugs are attracted by a combination of CO2 and lactic acid. A head net and some insect repellent are good precautions at this time of year.

After meandering downhill a little, about 1.5 miles from the last junction, lower Young Lake comes into view through the trees at elevation 9850. A little spur trail follows around the north side of the lower lake with lots of mountain heather in bloom close to the waters edge, and mountain pride penstemon blooming amongst the rocks. The south side of the lake is dominated by looming rock formations. Jagged Peak at one end adjoined by a succession of similarly knarly irregular peaks and a big rocky crest all having lingering snow packed into the creases and crevasses, their reflections hovering on the surface of the waters rippled by the haunting breezes. This lower lake had me spellbound and made a perfect lunch spot. At the east end of the lake the waters flow into a creek and down to two more lovely high lakes, one thickly wooded and the other barren. I would love to come back here some year and campout in this area.

On my way back I decided to loop back around to Dog Lake turning left at the junction. This trail began climbing back up even higher over a high crest and down into another large high meadow awash with green grasses and strewn with rocks. The open terrain provided an absolutely stunning full view out to the southwest and the snowy Cathedral Range as a backdrop to the lush meadow with mountain streams running their rocky courses. I was very slow through this section, stopping frequently, as I was anxious to fully savor the idyllic beauty before descending into the trees again. The 3.38 miles down to Dog Lake is almost all downhill and other tantalizing meadow views await at lower the elevations too. A couple of options would be to hike around Dog Lake, or to climb Lembert Dome, but succumbing to the temptation, I decided to head for the Tuolumne Meadow Grill for salmon burgers and famous vege-chili. The store next door also stocks a good selection of cold beer. How can you possibly hit the spot any better than that after a days hiking. Heaven is nigh.

Click here to see the photos on flickr

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