Today, we hiked both Pothole Dome in Tuolumne Meadow and Cloud’s Rest, but in this post I’m going to focus specifically on Pothole Dome (mostly because Cloud’s Rest really does deserve it’s own separate post).
Pothole Dome was about a 2-3 mile hike with only 300 feet of elevation gain (which a breeze compared to yesterday). Unlike some of the other hikes we did this week, I never felt like one misstep would mean near-immediate death, and it can be comforting to have that kind of security on a hike (especially when you are doing an abundance of near-immediate death hikes). When we went, the crowds were light. We did not see any other hikers on the dome; the few hikers who we passed were on the Tuolumne Meadow Loop.
Fun fact about me: I am OBSESSED with meadows. There’s something about a field of grass and wildflowers in the middle of a forest that really makes me content. I could wander in meadows all day without seeing gaining any elevation and be perfectly happy. I also love taking photos of wildflowers, and meadows often provide many different kinds of flowers as well as many different kinds of lighting to experiment.
Pothole Dome is on the west end of Tuolumne Meadow. It doesn’t have much of a trailhead, but there are a few spots you can pull into right off of Tioga Road. It’s easy to miss though, so make sure that you’re looking out for it.
the view of the dome from the parking lot
The beginning of the hike is just through the meadow and then it skirts around the edge of the dome. When we were there, there were lots of white and yellow wildflowers and the grasses were very tall and green.
i love meadowssss
Finding the place where you actually start walking up the dome is a bit tricky. Basically, its when the trail curves left for the first time and when the trail curves left for the second time. You have to walk through a small patch of trees and then you just walk right up the rock.
It is a bit strange to be walking up what feels like concrete in the middle of a wilderness, but that’s how you make it to the top. There’s not really a trail (although there were some markers when I went), but it flattens out at the top so you should know that you made it. It’s not particularly steep, but we were all breathing a bit harder by the time we reached the top.
The view from the top is, like everything else in Yosemite, beautiful and varied and the type of view you could only find in Yosemite. You can see clear across the meadow all the way to Lembert Dome. The river snakes lazily through the meadow in wide curves that look fake from the height you’re at. Off in the other direction is Unicorn Peak which was till covered in snow. Facing the road is a massive face of granite that I don’t even think you can hike. For such a short hike, you get incredibly varied views in all directions.
I would definitely do this hike again. It was short, easy, and had a big pay off at the top. Plus, you get to walk through a meadow, and meadows are the best.
We woke up this morning bright and early to pack up our stuff for the last time during the trip. While I was looking forward to using some soap, I didn’t want to go back to the real world with internships and responsibilities (although I did miss my dog, I have included a photo for reference because I am obsessed with him and he is the best). It’s always nice to get away on vacation, and this one was even nicer because we were so isolated without cell service.
After a last cup of that disgusting instant coffee, we made some final adjustments to our pack and we were off. My dad I snapped this cute picture as we were walking across the bridge out of the campsite for the last time. I think it might be the only picture from the trip we have together while wearing our packs. As I did for the whole trip, I had my trusty camera hanging around my neck.
Tuolumne Meadows (aka where our car was parked) is about 6 miles from Glen Aulin. Not counting an uphill patch at the beginning, the hike is fairly flat. The trail goes up the river for the first part, then across some flatlands where you have to cross these huge patches of granite rock, then through some forest-y type scenery, then you get to soda spring, and then finally you walk through the meadow until you hit Tioga Road and you’re back to the start.
Walking next to the river is definitely the most striking part of the hike. The water is pretty and often cascades down in larger and smaller waterfalls. It’s not quite as grand as waterfalls one sees in the valley, but still super pretty. The sound of the water is peaceful and it makes the air smell good in a way that only large amounts of fresh water can. This part is, unfortunately, mostly uphill, but walking next to the river makes it a million times better. We did stop quite a bit during this part though because we had to keep shedding layers as the day got warmer.
Next we walked through across some giant patches of rock and through a forest. I didn’t get a ton of pictures of this part because I was trying very hard to navigate the rock because it’s not even and I was wearing a backpack that’s roughly the size of me. During the walk in the forest, I was chatting with my dad and then forgot to take pictures. I noticed during the trip that I tended to take the most photos in the beginning of the trail and at the end. My theory is basically that I only thought about taking photos when I wasn’t talking to someone (or when something extra pretty popped up but those are exceptional circumstances). In the morning we didn’t talk to each other because it was the morning and we weren’t fully functioning humans yet and at the end of hike we were tired and also not fully functioning humans. That’s something I need to work on next time I hike so I don’t miss out on photos during large chunks of the trails.
Crossing the River
views from the trail
one last picture of the waterfall as we left
some granite patches
as you can see, it was a steep trail!
About 1.5 miles from where our car was parked, we hit Soda Springs and Lembert and Parson’s cabin. I didn’t good photos of either of these cabins, so I should probably explain them. Lembert’s cabin is essentially the ruins of the tiny cabin he lived in for 10 years or so as a hermit in High Valley (my kind of man to be honest). The cabin may also have been used as a spring house rather than a dwelling as it is built over some of the natural springs there, and his actual cabin was probably somewhere else (it’s not like the guy documented his life as he was a hermit). There’s not much left of it but a few walls of stone. Parson’s cabin was built by the Sierra Club in his memory. Parsons was on the Board of Directors for the Sierra Club, and the cabin was used as a meeting place when it was first built and is now used for educational demonstrations by park rangers.
The area around the cabin is called Soda Springs, so named because the water in the springs is naturally carbonated. Geologists aren’t really sure why this phenomena occurs. It can be kind of interesting to stand over a spring and watch the bubbles come and pop to the surface (although I may have been so tired from sleeping in a tent all week that I reverted back to the mindset of a toddler and that’s why I found this entertaining). It wasn’t the most exciting part of the trip, but it did make me curious why no one can figure out why this happens. I also wanted to drink it, but my dad told me not to.
The next part of the hike was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We got to walk on flat ground while looking at gorgeous views, which is a rare thing in Yosemite. We simultaneously got views of the Meadow (sometimes with water/mini lakes), the forest, and the mountains peeking up behind the trees. There were quite a few more hikes on this part of the trail because it is closer to the campground, but I’d gladly trade some isolation for some pretty views. It also never really gets that busy up in High Valley because it’s so deep into the park, so that’s not something I would worry about if I visit again. Karson went ahead of my dad and I during this part of the hike, but my feet were hurting so we just cruised and enjoyed the scenery for the last time before we had to head home.
oh hey there dome
and more meadow
My dad wanted a pic with Lembert Dome
Eventually we made it to the road, and I think we were all bummed to be leaving but also ready to go home (we all smelled pretty rank at this point to be honest). On our way out, we (and by we I mean by father) started talking to a group of middle-aged women who live all over the country but meet once a year to get their friend group back together from college and go backpacking. I thought that this was an awesome way to stay in touch and stored it in my memory for later when my friends and I don’t all live in the same place.
As we were walking along Tioga Road to get to where our car was parked, a lady surprised us by whipping open her van door and offering us a bag of vegetables. I know what you’re thinking, which is that we probably shouldn’t have taken a bag of food from a stranger in a van, but you’ve got to keep in mind that we hadn’t eaten anything fresh in 5 days. I have never been so freaking excited to eat raw broccoli in my entire life, and doubt I will ever be that excited to eat raw broccoli ever again.
After profusely thanking the vegetable lady and devouring the bag in about a minute, we finally made it to our car and headed home. On our way home we stopped at this super good pizza parlor and I got some ravioli and we ordered a pizza. It was a satisfying close to a wonderful trip. Despite the fact that we had hiked around 35 miles in 5 days, I went home feeling more relaxed and content than I had felt in a long while.
A quote from John Muir’s book The Mountains of California succinctly sums up how I felt when we left the park that day:
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
I always find the John Muir can describe how I feel about nature much better than I ever could.
Thank you so much for reading this series (if I haven’t bored you yet). Hopefully there will be more to come soon 🙂 Also, my dad and I are traveling to Yosemite again in August so stay tuned for stories about those adventures as well if you’re a Yosemite fan. If you’re sick of Yosemite, I should be talking about some hikes in and around SLO for the next few posts so you can look forward to those as well.
We allowed ourselves to sleep in this morning a little bit because we didn’t have to pack up our campsite. We hung out a bit in the morning and drank our (nasty) instant coffee and enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually, we got ourselves ready to go, and packed a day pack with some snacks and my camera for the day. Waterwheel is a little over a 7 mile hike, so it was going to take us a majority of our day.
Side note on clothing: I brought three pairs of running tights for 5 days. I like wearing running tights while backpacking or hiking because it prevents chafing, sunburn, and bugs getting on my legs. They got a little dirty, but I also had the opportunity to wash them in the river, so it wasn’t too bad. I also brought three sports bras, three pairs of socks, and three shirts and also rinsed those in the river on the third day so then when I wore them the fourth and fifth days they weren’t too disgusting. My dad and Karson both wore those hiking pants that you can zip off at the knee. I considered getting a pair of these, but I didn’t really want to invest in a pair and am very comfortable in my running tights. Anything works really, but I would consider wearing long pants because it may be more comfortable in the long run and I don’t think it made me that much hotter.
Anyways, Waterwheel is a bit of a rough hike in that the uphill part is coming back. You basically walk on flat ground for about a mile, then walk downhill for around 3 miles, and then turn around and walk back uphill, and then flat again. This trail follows the river very closely, and at times you even get a little misty from the water. There are also places where you can walk out on the granite near where the water is running, which is pretty cool to be able to do. We stopped and ate our lunch at one of these granite patches near the water. The hike is also unique in that there are these huge cliffs of granite that extend upwards next to the river. They hem you in a bit and force you to stay right next to the river, but they make for some amazing views.
Side note: granite gets incredibly slippery when it’s wet, so be EXTREMELY careful around the water. There have been a lot of injuries and deaths in the park from people wading into rivers that seemed slow moving and harmless, and the next thing they know they lost their grip and couldn’t regain their traction, and ended up getting injured or even going over a waterfall because the granite is so deceptively slippery. When I got close to the river to take some of the photos I wanted to take, my dad was very concerned and was super careful to make sure I didn’t get distracted and accidentally step into the water at all because I would have slipped and, at best, gotten seriously injured. Don’t go into any water at the park near a falls, in shallow granite, or basically anywhere that’s not a safe pool where you know you won’t slip or could possibly end up on the wrong side of a waterfall. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it is the wilderness and you need to err on the side of caution.
Anyways, the hike starts on flat ground in a sort of forest that runs next to the river. It’s very green and lush, with plants and trees everywhere. As is the case in most of the hikes in the park, there are random granite rocks on the side of the trail occasionally. There were also a lot of mountain jays on this part of the trail, but I couldn’t manage to get a picture because those little buggers are quick. We also saw one of the only redwood trees we saw while backpacking on this part of the trail. I looked up why there were so few of them where we were when I got home (because I love redwoods), and apparently the trees aren’t fans of the high elevation. I can’t say I blame them; I was not a fan of the elevation either.
Example of granite patch by the water
we found a redwood!
Foresty part of the hike
random boulder near the trail
Sorry I know there’s a million pictures, but this part was soooooo gorgeous. I often wish I was as pretty as Yosemite, so I post pictures of the park as frequently as if I am a pre-teen taking selfies on her first camera phone.
For me, again, the hardest part of this hike was the walking downhill part. Some of it is uneven, hand-carved granite steps, and some of it is just downhill on a trail, but it is steep and not easy to navigate either way. It also gets super hot because, once you get out of the forest, there is almost no shade along the trail. We reapplied sunscreen pretty much every time we stopped, which was fairly frequently when we were walking uphill on the way back because it gets super tiring going uphill for so long, even without packs.
As I mentioned on my last post, the reason this hike is called Waterwheel is because there are sections where the water hits the granite at such a high speed that it pops up into the air and looks like one of those old-time waterwheels that were used to power factories along rivers. I personally didn’t see that much of a resemblance, but I also don’t think we went at a time when the water pressure was particularly high, so we probably didn’t get the full effect of what it looks like when the river is at full capacity. Nevertheless, the hike offered some gorgeous views, and I’m glad we camped the extra day at Glen Aulin in order to be able to do it.
This is supposed to look like a waterwheel… I can kind of see it?
When we returned back to the campsite, we grabbed our kindles (or GameBoys) and headed back down the little sandy beach I described in my last post. We sat in our chairs and enjoyed the last rays of the afternoon sun while eating some snacks and reading, which is basically my idea of heaven. As the sun started to get lower, we gathered our stuff and went and made ourselves some more dinner. I believe I had the freeze dried fried rice and chicken tonight and I had no complaints about it. As soon as it started to get dark, we went ahead and got into our tents because the bugs started to come out and the temperature started to drop. It consistently surprised me throughout the trip how different the temperature is at night and during the day, but the change really makes you feel like you’re someplace that’s wild and unpredictable; almost like Yosemite doesn’t really want you to be there and you feel rebellious, as though camping is a defiant act against mother nature. Romanticizing aside, the temperature change really did remind me that I was definitely in the wilderness, which is comforting but unnerving at the same time, and I’m not really sure how that can be, but I absolutely love the feeling.
Tomorrow would be our last day in High Valley, and then we had to go back to our real lives of jobs and responsibilities and responding to text messages (ugh). We were going to hike back to Tuolumne and then drive home, passing Soda Springs and John Muir’s restored cabin along the trail home. I was bummed to be leaving the next day, but still excited to hike tomorrow and see more of the park and the High Sierra trail. I could have spent weeks up here and been perfectly content.
We started off this morning with some much needed but disgusting instant Starbucks coffee (that stuff is seriously gross). Just a side note: for breakfast we tended to eat granola bars and drink coffee and didn’t really have a true breakfast. They do make freeze-dried backpacking breakfasts, but they didn’t seem that appetizing to me, so I just stuck with my granola bars and Belvita crackers. We also never ate lunch per say, but pretty much just snacked all day while we were hiking until closer to dinner time when we cooked up the rehydrated food. I thought I would be super hungry all day, but I really never felt like I was starving and really wanted to eat until we stopped moving, and at that point you’re no more than half an hour away from starting to cook, so feeling like I had enough to eat was never an issue.
After we had eaten breakfast this morning, we headed out on the trail. It was a bit chilly, especially right near the water, but it warmed up as the day went on. The trail for today is essentially uphill for the first mile or so, and then you reach a peak and climb steadily downwards for the last 6-7 miles. Going from Glen Aulin to May Lake would have been brutal, but going from May Lake to Glen Aulin is a piece of cake.
As we first started walking, my dad was convinced we were lost, and made us stop and look at the map compared with his GPS reading for a solid 10 minutes even though Karson and I were 90% sure we were on the right path. Near the beginning of this trail is also my favorite lake of the trip: Raisin Lake. I was extremely amused that 1. they bothered to name this tiny lake, and 2. they named it after a raisin because that is roughly its shape. I was in love with it.
I struggled with the hike this day for a few reasons. One of them is that my shoes are slightly too big and so going downhill murders my toes and my toenails (a few fell off ew). Another is that my pack was slightly too large for me (starting to see a theme here) and walking downhill made it shake even more than usual, so I ended up with some blisters on my hips by the end of day. My dad and Karson had a great time though, and, even through my pain, I had to admit that the views were beautiful. I tried to distract myself by taking lots of photos and having my dad tell me stories about his life and such. These stories pretty much confirmed that I do not have any desire to become a doctor.
The hike took about 5 1/2 hours with snack and water breaks. We had to put the packs down a few times because they would occasionally just get too heavy and we would need a break. We took it slow and tried to enjoy ourselves. Because you are walking downhill on what is essentially a trail carved into the side of a cliff, the views are phenomenal. You get dark green trees in the foreground and hazy, snow covered mountains in the background. Views like this are why I freaking love Yosemite. It feels like you’re not in California anymore because the topography is just so different.
Karson checking out the view
Peep at Karson’s pokemon hat
Showing us the trail for the day
Bye Mount Hoffman
Me forcing Karson and Dad to take a photo
We probably stopped here because it was shady
When we arrived at the campsite, my dad wanted a site that was off the main path, but that meant that we had to walk up a hill every time we wanted to get back to our tent (including if we had to use the restroom or go to the Bear box). We were in an area to the left of the path next to a ditch surrounded by a bunch of trees, which made it fairly dark. This place probably had the most bugs of any of the campsites, but it wasn’t too overwhelming. We just had to be a little careful about leaving our food open when we set it down.
While Glen Aulin was my least favorite place to physically camp, it did have some of my favorite scenery of the trip surrounding the campsite. The first thing you see when you hike down into the site is a big waterfall. If you walk out of the campsite and down some rocks, you find a small, sandy beach with a pool of water off the main river. The water was cold, but it felt so good to hop in after not having showered for three days. Karson and I also swam out and went under the waterfall, which made my dad a little nervous because there were a lot of rocks underneath it, but we made it back completely fine with much cleaner hair than before. I really wish my apartment shower had that high of water pressure; I doubt there was a speck of dirt left in my hair, on my body, or clothing after standing underneath it for only about 30 seconds. After the mini-shower, we then proceeded to find a nice flat rock next to the river and fall fast asleep for about an hour. That was probably the best sleep of my life and I woke up feeling great.
About to almost drown under the waterfall
Our lil sandy beach
View from the Bridge going into camp
After waking up from that fabulous nap, we went and made dinner. I can’t remember what entree I had this night, but I did try creme brulee and a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich for dessert. The ice cream was delicious, but I wouldn’t recommend the creme brulee. It kinda just tasted like vanilla pudding and wasn’t super easy to make. It was hard to mix in all the powder and it attracted bees because there was so much sugar in it. If you do want something sweet while you’re on the trail, bringing some instant pudding could be a good idea because it’s light, easy to make, and delicious.
Finally we were ready to hit the hay. Side note on pajamas: it gets COLD. I usually wore a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, gloves, a pair of fuzzy running tights I brought just to sleep in, sweatpants, my socks for the next day, and a beanie. That might have been a bit overkill, but I get cold very easily and then I stay cold.
My dad and I also read every night before we went to bed, but Karson usually played on his Gameboy. If you’re not a big reader, bringing something to game with could potentially be a good source of entertainment. It’s nice to have something to do at night because you usually go into your tent fairly early because it gets cold and there’s lots of bugs, but most of us can’t actually fall asleep at 8, so having something to do is key.
This campsite creeped me out a bit because we were a little isolated from the main camp and surrounded by trees, but I was so exhausted that I passed out fairly quickly regardless. The next day we were planning on staying at Glen Aulin and doing the Waterwheel hike, which is named after the way the river supposedly looks like a waterwheel when the water hits the rocks at a high speed. I was excited to have another hike (like Mount Hoffman) where I wouldn’t have to lug my pack around, and so was looking forward to tomorrow. My dad was also excited because he had never gotten to do this hike before. There were only two more days left in our trip at this point, and I was so bummed at how fast it was going, but super content to be in Yosemite, devoid of cell service, with my dad and one of my best friends.