Trip Number: 12122A
Staff: Chris Franchuk
- Hike among long canyons, roaring cascades, glaciated domes, and numerous
- Explore the scenic Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River
- Enjoy two layover days to relax in this subalpine wonderland
- Tasty vegetarian-friendly meals
- All cooking equipment and bear-proof food canisters
- All permits and campground fees
Photo: Chris Franchuk
With deep canyons and old-growth forests, the Northern part of Yosemite is
less traveled, yet filled with spectacular scenery. Our 60-mile semi-loop trip,
half of which is on the Pacific Crest Trail, will take us through numerous glacier-carved
granite canyons, each with clear rushing streams and lush green meadows. Amongst
the ridges between these canyons, we will find sparkling, blue alpine lakes
and far-reaching views. The highlight of the trip will be an ascent up the Grand
Canyon of the Tuolumne River, with its five major thundering cascades, towering
walls, and impressive Muir Gorge.
The trip is suitable for the well-conditioned, experienced backpacker. We will
travel 8-9 miles on each of the seven hiking days, with steep ascents and descents,
on well-established trails. There will be two layover days to relax in camp,
explore our surroundings, try your luck fishing, or climb a nearby peak. Join
us for ten days enjoying the spectacular backcountry canyons of Yosemite.
Day 1: On Thursday, July 12th, we will meet at our campground
near Tuolumne Meadows (8,600 feet elevation) for our first afternoon together.
While there we will get acquainted, review details of the trip, and answer questions
as we enjoy a potluck dinner together.
Day 2: On our first day hiking on the Pacific
Crest Trail (PCT), we will depart Tuolumne Meadows and follow the Tuolumne River
downstream, enjoying tremendous views of Cathedral Peak and Unicorn Peak and
passing Tuolumne Falls and White Cascade along the way. Leaving behind the crowds
at Glenn Aulin High Sierra Camp, we'll travel north up into Cold Canyon, where
we plan to camp near a scenic meadow. Today's travel will be approximately 8.5
miles with 900 feet gain.
Days 3-5: Over the next two days, we will explore Virginia
Canyon, Spiller Creek Canyon, majestic Matterhorn Canyon, and Wilson Creek Canyon.
Our climbing and descending trail will be challenging, but the views of these
glaciated canyons and the surrounding peaks will be even more breathtaking.
With a final climb up to Benson Pass at 10,140 feet, our fourth day will end
at scenic Smedberg Lake below steep-walled Volunteer Peak. With a layover day
at Smedberg Lake we have an opportunity to relax in camp, fish, climb a peak,
or explore additional nearby lakes. Each traveling day will average 8.5 miles
with 1,800-foot climbs and steep descents.
Photo: Chris Franchuk
Day 6: Leaving the PCT, we will climb over a ridge to visit
Rodgers Lake and Neal Lake before beginning a long descent through Rodgers Canyon
toward Pate Valley. We plan to stop after about nine miles to find a spot that
overlooks the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River with views south to Mt. Hoffmann
and Tuolumne Peak.
Day 7: Beginning our day amongst aspens, junipers, Jeffery
pines and white firs, we will descend steeply 2,800 feet in about five miles
to Pate Valley shaded mostly with ponderosa pines, black oaks and incense cedars.
Now in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne we will seek out riverside campsites
about two miles up canyon.
Days 8-10: We will continue up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne
with our lightest packs of the trip, passing numerous cascades and skirting
precipitous Muir Gorge on our way to our camp at Return Creek. After a planned
layover day here, we'll complete the loop, passing fabulous Waterwheel Falls,
LeConte Falls, and California Falls to reach Glenn Aulin, then finishing the
trip with our final hike back to Tuolumne Meadows. Each traveling day will again
average about eight miles as we climb a total of 3,700 feet.
Our trip starts in Tuolumne Meadows off Highway 120 (Tioga Road) in Yosemite
National Park. Driving times are approximately two to three hours from Fresno,
four hours from Reno or Sacramento, four to five hours from San Francisco Bay
Area, and six to seven hours from Los Angeles. If you are traveling from out-of-state,
public transportation to Tuolumne Meadows is available via YARTS -- along Highway
140 west of the park, and Highway 120 east of the park. Information on public
transportation options is available from the Public Transportation page on Yosemite
National Parks website: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/publictransportation.htm.
Information will be sent to all confirmed participants to help you set up travel
and carpooling arrangements with other participants if you wish to. We recommend
that you not reserve return flights on Saturday, July 21st, as we cannot guarantee
we'll reach our exit trailhead at any particular time.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Chris Franchuk
Campground reservations will be provided for the first night, Thursday, July
12th. During our trip, we will seek out backcountry campsites that are pleasant
and scenic, while adhering to all land agency regulations and Leave No Trace
principles. The trip fee includes the first night's campground, all trip meals
(starting with breakfast on day two through lunch on our last trip day), and
individual trail snacks. Meals will be hearty and appeal to vegetarians and
non-vegetarians alike. Trip members will share responsibilities for meal preparation
The trip is rated 4 (Moderately Strenuous) as we'll hike eight to nine miles
per day on well-established trails, with elevation gains that average 1,700
feet per day and long steep descents. The elevation range for the trip is 4,800-10,140
feet, with the majority of our time being spent between 7,000-9,500 feet elevation.
It typically takes a few days for most folks to adjust to these altitudes. It
is recommended to arrive a day or two early to help your body acclimate to the
Participation in this outing requires that you have recent backpacking experience,
have very good aerobic and physical conditioning, proper equipment, and have
realistic expectations for the trip. Experience in cross-country backpacking
is not required, but having good balance and a patient, tolerant attitude are
requirements for the trip. Carrying a 40-pound pack for miles uphill over several
days is a physically demanding and aerobic task. In order to enjoy this trip,
participants need to train at least four to five months in advance with aerobic
exercise such as running, bicycling, hiking, swimming, etc. The best preparation
technique is to seriously day hike with a weighted pack and hiking boots up
hills or stairs. This closely mimics backpacking and allows the body, feet,
and mind to adapt to the physical task, as well as your equipment.
It is essential that you be prepared for extremes in weather conditions (see
Equipment). Known for its temperate summer weather, the Sierra Nevada can experience
sudden, unexpected spells of rain, hail, snow, heat, and cold at any time during
the year. Summer daytime temperatures can soar into the upper 80s, while nighttime
temperatures can dip into the 30s or lower. With a mid-July trip, expect to
see thundering waterfalls and cascades -- as well as occasional snow patches
and wet trails and water crossings. The very nature of a backpack trip sometimes
requires the occasional change in route, assisting other trip members, or the
possibility of turning back for safety reasons. Therefore, participants should
have a flexible and team orientated attitude. You can expect to have an enjoyable
time exploring the spectacular backcountry of the Sierra Nevada with a new group
of friends and experienced leaders who will work with you to make this a great
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Chris Franchuk
The Sierra Club will provide group cooking equipment (stoves, fuel, pots &
cooking utensils), a group first-aid kit, water purification tablets (you may
bring a personal water filter if you prefer), and bear-proof food storage canisters
(i.e. bear cans). At the start of the trip you will be issued a full bear can
and a portion of the group gear with a combined weight of up to 17 pounds. It
is very important that you limit your personal gear and pack weight to no more
than 25 pounds, so that together with 1-2 liters of water your total pack weight
will be 45 pounds or less. We require that you bring or plan to share a tent
(highly recommended) or lightweight tarp (at a minimum), sturdy & comfortable
but well broken-in boots providing good ankle support, a sleeping bag that will
keep you warm in freezing temperatures, a small personal first-aid kit and waterproof
rain jacket & pants. The leader will send a detailed equipment list to participants
well in advance of the trip. For more information on personal gear go to: http://www.knapsack.org/basic_equipment.html
- Schaffer, Jeffrey, P., Yosemite National Park -- A Natural-History Guide
to Yosemite and Its Trails. Wilderness Press, 2000. Provides excellent
trail descriptions including scenery and natural history found along each
- Swedo, Suzanne, Hiking Yosemite National Park, 2nd Edition. Falcon
Guide -- The Globe Pequot Press, 2005
- Secor, R. J., The High Sierra -- Peaks, Passes, and Trails. The
Mountaineers, 2009. An excellent general reference to trails, cross-country
routes, and climbing routes in the Sierra Nevada.
- Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. California
Academy of Sciences, 2007. A guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra
- Natural Geographic Trails Illustrated Yosemite NW and Yosemite NE maps (1:40,000)
combined show the entire route.
- Tom Harrison's trail map Yosemite High Country (1:63,360) shows most of
- The U.S.G.S. 7.5-minute series maps: Vogelsang Peak, Tioga Pass, Falls Ridge,
Matterhorn Peak, and Ten Lakes (1:24,000) provide greater detail of our route
Photo: Chris Franchuk
As California's principal watershed, the Sierra Nevada is a critical resource
to the health of the state's people, environment, and economy. Increasing demand
for water, as well as constant conflicting watershed land use pressure highlight
a growing water crisis. The area we will be traveling in comprises one of the
Sierra's major watersheds -- the Tuolumne River. On this trip we will spend
some time discussing past, present, and future issues concerning this and other
During the trip, we will also discuss and practice the seven principles of
Leave No Trace. With an average annual visitation of near 4 million, Yosemite
National Park, like many other wilderness areas provides inspiration to people
from all over the world. While our wild lands are diverse and beautiful, they
are also fragile. Collectively we can help protect them today and for future
generations by further educating ourselves and adopting the skills and ethics
that enable us to leave no trace.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Yosemite National Park.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Growing up next to the Cascade Mountains near Seattle, Washington, Chris Franchuk began backpacking at an early age with his father and the Boy Scouts of America, where he earned its highest rank of Eagle Scout. He has participated in Sierra Club Chapter trips since 2000, backpacking and climbing throughout the Sierra Nevada, and has adventure-traveled throughout the United States and abroad, including Belize, Peru, Switzerland, Australia and Tanzania. Chris currently lives in San Jose, California where he is a Project Manager, and enjoys reading, photography and riding his bike on the levees around San Francisco Bay.
Nancy Mathison took her first wilderness trip in the Sierra Nevada in 1972, and since then has returned every year to its spectacular landscape to backpack and cross-country ski. She began participating in the Sierra Club National Outings Program in 2001 to venture off the beaten path with other backpackers who share her love for adventure and the wild, pristine beauty of the Sierra. In her other life back down at sea level, Nancy is a professional clarinetist and teaches instrumental music in the public schools. She enjoys competitive ballroom dancing and joins other local Sierra Club members for weekly hikes in the mountains behind Santa Barbara.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips