Sierra High Route – Day 3 (23 miles)
I woke up just before dawn and started the climb to Tuolumne Pass. It was a cold morning, with frost settling in the meadows. It took almost 1.5hrs before the sun peaked over the surrounding mountains and warmed me up.
By this stage, I was approaching the pass. It turned out to be a big, rounded meadow that you can hardly tell that you had reached the top.
I started down the other side and quickly turned left to head up to my second pass of the day. I followed a glorious stream up that had the morning light reflecting off of it. Just after 9 am I reached the lake below the pass. Unlike the first, this was a sharp, rocky saddle between 2 mountains. A classic pass.
Getting to the top, I saw a large lake that leads to a waterfall into the valley. This was the headwaters of the Merced River, and if I followed it I would arrive in Yosemite Valley.
I started down the switchbacks. They were fairly steep and got me down to the valley in no time. The valley was wonderful, with trees, a raging river and waterfalls coming off the surrounding slopes.
I continued down the valley. I was hungry and stopped for an early lunch beside one of the waterfalls.
After eating, I walked the last 2 miles before I needed to turn and start the climb up to the ridge. It was another steep climb, but when I got to the top I traversed for a couple of miles through thick forest.
The trail then quickly ducked down into a valley, where I had to ford a creek, and then began the climb up the other side. I went down a second valley and back out. It was so steep – the guidebook stated for people coming from the other direction that they must find the trail down as cross-country was not an option.
When I reached the top my legs started complaining loudly. The 30,000ft (~9 km) of climbing over the last couple of days had finally caught up. Yesterday I climbed the equivalent of 1,400 flights of stairs!
I stopped and rested for a while.
When I got going again, I turned off the trail that I had been following and started up the hill. After a few minutes, I arrived at a sheer cliff that I could not get up. I walked right for a couple of hundred yards until I found a break in the granite and worked my way up.
Once up, I began a long traverse on fairly flat, grassy ground. Over the next hour, I watched as the next pass grew ever closer.
As I approached the clouds started to form around me. Another thunderstorm was on its way. I had to evaluate how long it would take to let loose its fury and if I should head over the pass. As I was not protected where I was anyway, I decided to beat the storm over.
I raced up the talus to the top, only pausing to take a photo before quickly heading down.
The storm was getting close.
I had to traverse right before heading down. I was worried about staying on the ridge if lightning started and went down a little early. This bit me in the arse when I got cliffed out on the gully I was in.
I decided not to head back up and instead down climbed the instruction. It was not too bad, but I was very happy to reach the bottom.
10 minutes later the storm hit.
I was quickly following the river down. I had about 2 miles until I had to start the scramble up to another ridge. When I got to the point when I needed to climb, the storm was still around me. In fact, I was being snowed on.
I did not want to climb up to another exposed area and therefore decided to have an early dinner and then re-evaluate.
I finished dinner with lightning still striking around me. I made the easy decision to set up camp early for the day at around 6.30 pm. I went to sleep feeling fatigued despite the short day.