Day 6: The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne


3:30 PM


Watching the morning come.

I woke after a too-hot night at about 5:30 AM, to a beautiful clear sky. The clouds had vanished during the night, and I was able to lie comfortably and watch the stars. B said that in the middle of the night she heard a loud snuffing and sniffing outside her tent, right where her pack was. She didn’t hear any footsteps or other noise. She turned on her flashlight, and probably scared away whatever it was. I think it must have been a bear, having a look around. The Bear Vault wasn’t bothered, and everything in camp was as it had been when we retired to our tents.


A couple more Phil Brown tribute photos:

IMG_5173IMG_5172I love this river. Everywhere I look, sights remind me of Phil Brown and his paintings and pastels of the South Fork of the Yuba. I miss having him in my life, but he left beautiful work behind, and that’s something. By all accounts, he was a beloved teacher, who showed his students how to see rather than just look at their subjects.

My flashlight—a new, fancy, light rechargeable one—died last night and of course I had forgotten the charging cord, which was tucked neatly into the pocket of the solar charger we didn’t bring because a friend of B’s loaned us a better, lighter one with a battery pack. It’s so hard to keep all the bits and pieces together. It’s a new moon, so only starlight at night, which is okay by me. I miss reading by flashlight, but not so much as I thought I might. There is lots to busy my mind, and also lots of emptiness to be enjoyed and savored.


I don’t know…the way these logs were laid out just didn’t seem “natural” to me. I like to think it was the framework of an Ahwahnechee lodge.


We walked along beside the river much of the time, and as the day grew hotter, the water beckoned louder and louder.



“Amber tresses” of tree.

It was a splendid hike to this camp today, though a bit too hot for my liking. We are in the heart of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, and it is magnificent. It took us awhile to get here because we had to stop and swim a couple of times. We are both hungry today. Our allotted portions of food haven’t changed, but we think that the lower altitude makes one hungrier. We have enough food for the trip, but certainly not much, if any, extra. I think I skimped on my snack portions,  overcompensating for the last trip, when I had nuts and fruit left over.

Leading up to this outing, I had dehydrated Damson plums from my backyard trees, and pears and apples from my mom’s backyard. Also parsley and parmesan for the dinners and my big experiment—miso. All turned out great, I have to say. And the soaked and dried almonds are especially delicious.



After about 4 miles alongside the river, we started up over the bypass for Muir Gorge, a particularly steep and narrow portion of the Tuolumne. I hated to part from the banks of the T, even for a few miles.


These trails are works of art. Wait…have I made that observation before?


More rocks in clear green water. Can’t get enough!



This oak started growing out from under this boulder quite awhile ago.


Manzanita is a great sculptor!

We are about 1.5 or 2 miles west of Return Creek, which was our intended destination, but this site is so pretty and shady. Just downstream is a beautiful-looking swimming hole which is calling to me.


Looking westward, back down the canyon.


We leave the river below us, but only for a few miles.


I am constantly amazed, and comforted, by how tiny we are in the world!


Register Creek, as dry as can be.


Looking down into Muir Gorge. See that saddle to the left of the left-side hump? That’s where the trail will take us (I think…).


If I had seen this scene in a Japanese painting, I would have said that it was completely exaggerated and out-of-proportion, but here it is in real life.


The tiny piece of shade offered at high noon by this venerable old juniper at the highest point of the Muir Gorge bypass was most welcome.


And now we head down toward the river again.


The dry bed of Cathedral Creek, across the river from our campsite.


The trail plunged down into the trees again. 


This area had been burned, but not so badly that the majority of the tall trees were lost. The woodland had an open, expansive feel about it. It reminded me of Joaquin Miller’s writings in “Life Amongst the Modoc,” about their use of controlled fires to keep lines of sight open for hunting and such.


Looks like someone had a dinner party here!


One more climb into the granite…


…back down to the trees…


…and back to the river again. We didn’t stop to swim here, and now I am regretting it. That’s an Olympic-sized swimming hole!

We set up our tents and took naps for about an hour or so. B is still napping.


It was a little buggy there, among the trees, but not bad at all.

Our campsite is in a stand of cedar and oak. A fire came through here some years ago, and there are a few tall cedars standing dead. None right by camp, but close enough to hit it if one chanced to fall while we’re here. That’s a scary thought, after having been at a river camp on the Tuolumne a few years ago, when a seemingly healthy and huge old oak, laden with acorns and leaves, fell down in the middle of the night. If anyone other than the quick-witted, athletic river guides had been sleeping under it, I am sure that someone would have died. Or if any of them had been in a tent. They had just enough time to wake and run before it came crashing down, after a loud cracking sound. I have been leery of trees ever since.

IMG_5222Later: The swimming hole did not disappoint. We swam, cooled down, and then sat for a long time watching the changing silver-to-aluminum-to-iron-to-gold lighting on the slick, steep granite. I apologize for the following photos. I took them all within a half hour of each other. This was the view downriver from our swimming hole. The light was just changing all the time, and when I went to choose one for this post, I couldn’t decide. But there are probably 6 more that I did NOT include…

IMG_5227IMG_5228IMG_5229IMG_5236IMG_5233IMG_5242IMG_5240Occasional very distant thunder comes to us from the higher mountains. But I don’t think there’s a chance we will get any rain down here.

Today, my phone shows 10.4 miles and 50 floors climbed. It feels like it. We saw two men headed our way on the trail this morning, and two passed us going the other direction. We saw a group of young backpackers at a campsite we passed, but haven’t seen another soul on the trail today. It’s a change, here in the backcountry, to not see any Europeans this year. Usually, they are in the majority, or at least fifty percent, once you get away from the paved roads.

I’m hungry! What’s for dinner, Babz?



5 thoughts on “Day 6: The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

  1. I hiked the Grand Canyon of the T back in the early 90s. We were just above Waterwheel Falls and I started to go out to get my friend who had a tripod set up photographing the halls. I saw some green slime and said I’d better go around it, but didn’t. And bam , just like that I was on my butt heading into what was sure death into the falls. Just before going over the edge, my heel caught on a little 1 inch rise in the rock and stopped me from going for a spin in the wheel. That was a close one and shows ypu to listen to your Inner voice.


  2. I’m grateful that you didn’t leave any of those photos out. The changing light shifted everything from photo the photo. Made me feel there, along with your great journaling. Thanks Laurie!


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