June 20, 2017: Hiked Miles 936.0 to 950.3 and backtracked to 947.6 (17.0 total)
This morning was one of the nicest we have had in a while. We woke up warm and dry and very well rested. Our trail was flat and while we still had tons of creeks and marshes to cross, it was much calmer than yesterday afternoon and we still stayed relatively dry.
There were deer out and about everywhere. We got to follow a nice river all the way down the valley, watching it go from a rushing current to a wide meadow with the different terrain.
We crossed more bridges.
And eventually we ended up in Tuolumne Meadows were we found lots of empty cabins, ranger stations, and parking lots. The highway is still closed up to here so we had the place to ourselves. Not that there was much to do, but we did find a trash can to throw away our trash in.
We passed by Lembert Dome as we crossed the closed highway.
We came to the first of eleven very hard creek crossings that we are supposed to hit in the next section. We had heard lots of warnings that this section was going to be impossible this week because of the combination between the peak amount of snow runoff and the heat wave that was supposed to ensue that would melt even more snow.
We had heard that the first crossing had a mild current at knee height, but there was also a log a little ways upstream to cross. We walked upstream and the only log we could find was being runover by a foot of fast moving water. There was no way we could cross it. So we went back downstream to the normal crossing and decided to ford across.
Towards the end of the ford, the current picked up and it was a struggle to keep our balance. The water was much higher than knee deep. My shorts and the bottom of my shirt were soaked by the time I got across.
We kept on hiking until we got to our first of two bridge crossings of the Tuolumne River. Of course the ramp onto it was flooded again so we waded through the water and crossed the bridge. The water was almost flowing over the entire bridge and was coming out strong below it.
And of course when we got to the opposite end, the ramp was once again under water.
Colton went first and got halfway across when I started. By the time I got to the middle I could barely move my feet without fear of losing balance and I had nowhere to brace my poles to help steady myself. Colton turned to look at me and yelled “watch out, it’s fast there,” and started to turn back around to finish the ford to which I screamed “wait!” He forded back over to me and grabbed my arm to give me enough balance to cross.
When we got to the other side we were both completely out of breath and so sketched out that we just crossed that. If I could have slipped, I would have been ripped downstream instantly and thrown into a crazy current and went right over Tuolumne Falls.
We shook ourselves off and kept on, winding downstream until we got a good view of Tuolumne Falls.
It didn’t look like a fun ride down. We got soaked by the mist coming off the falls and practically went deaf from the roar of it. We kept heading down until we reached the next bridge crossing only to find the exact same thing as the first…. a ramp underwater. We were able to use a tree branch to hang onto to get across, but the water was chest high and pulling at us hard. We crossed over the bridge and I almost screamed when I got to the other side and saw an even worse scene. The water was speeding down our exit and was crashing waves up onto the rock we were supposed to get off on. The water was much deeper and there was nothing to hang onto. But there was no turning back.
Colton went first and had to clamor up the rocks after getting soaked. He threw his pack down and came back to help me. I was instantly up to my chest in the current and didn’t have nearly enough strength our weight to push against it. Colton grabbed my arm and helped drag me to the rocks. I tried pulling myself up them, but my body was frozen from the icy water. I slipped and hit my head hard on a rock. I screamed and forced my body up the rocks scraping my legs up as I went.
Finally out, we collapsed on the ground. We could not believe how sketchy these two bridges were. And these are bridges that are normally fully above water. We had not heard of one report of anyone in the past ever having to ford these. If this was so bad, how bad were the other crossings up ahead going up be that were supposed to be nearly impossible?
Colton wanted to dry out, but I just wanted to keep hiking to get warm and get away from this river.
So up we climbed until we found a nice dry spot for lunch. Even though my backpack had been half submerged, most everything stayed dry on the inside besides my sleeping bag being a little wet. But we aired out our socks, shoes, and tent and ate lunch, glad to finally sit down and not have wet shoes on. As we were eating a group of hikers started hiking towards us from the way we were heading and we recognized them from different points along the trail. We had seen them leaving Mammoth the day we were getting there.
We asked where they were going and they said they were heading back. They said they had spent an entire day trying to cross the next two creeks ahead of us which are supposed to be average on the difficulty scale. They had had to hike two miles upstream on the first one to cross a snow bridge that was almost gone and another three miles upstream on the next one to find a log that was icy and too unsafe for most of the group to cross. They said the water up to these points was a complete raging river with absolutely nowhere you could cross without being taken downstream. They showed us videos and it looked like a deathtrap. They had eight people in their group, all of whom we knew were strong hikers. They said they were heading back to Tuolumne Meadows and were hitching up to Sonora.
We said goodbye and then thought really hard about what to do… for about 10 minutes. As much as we wanted to keep going we knew the smart decision would be to turn back now. The weather was only supposed to get hotter this week which would mean even more snowmelt and if we hadn’t even hit any of the hard crossings yet and were already compromising our safety, the rest of this section would most likely be very harmful or deadly. And there is nowhere to get off the trail until Sonora Pass, so if we got stuck a couple days in, we would most likely run out of food before being able to backtrack. Turning around was a hard decision, but hiking another 60 miles out here isn’t worth risking our lives over.
We packed up and headed back downhill, saddened by our abrupt end to this section. But we knew we had made the right decision.
We got back down to the last bridge crossing and there was no way I was crossing that again. The group of 8 had skipped both bridges on the way down and had forded across another river with a broken down bridge in the middle of it to get across. They said when they crossed it in the morning they could walk across, but had to hold their packs over their heads. When we got there the water was definitely overhead. We saw the group sitting on the other side, but also saw another backpack sitting at the treacherous bridge we had crossed earlier. Colton went down to see who it was and let him know what was going on.
While he was gone two guys from the other party waded a little ways out to the river and yelled to me over the torrent that the only way across was to scramble across the broken bridge and swim to shore from there. I decided I should get over to them before Colton got back in case they were leaving soon and we ended up needing their help. I shimmied across the broken bridge and when I got to the end, one of the guys threw me a rope with a caribeaner and said to clip it on and he would pull me to shore once it got too deep. I clipped it on and started walking down the stone ramp and instantly was hit with the current. I knew if I took another step I would be hurling downstream. I was terrified that the other guy wouldn’t be able to pull me in. He yelled that it was the only way, just to step off and he would pull me in. I shuffled once more, my feet completely lost all traction and I was up to my head in water. He did just what he said and pulled me in and just like that I was fine. Freezing and soaking wet, but fine. He highfived me and I ran to throw my pack on shore.
I came back to see Colton and another hiker, Luke, who we hadn’t seen in weeks at the other side. It turns out Luke had made it halfway across the bridge and couldn’t decide what to do from there since the water had got even higher since we had been there. When Colton went over to talk to him, he had ended up helping pull him across with Luke’s rope. We yelled to them what they had to do and they crossed over the same way.
We all stood safely on shore, freezing cold, talking about the insane water conditions and what to do now. The big group took off to head back to Tuolumne Meadows and we stayed and talked to Luke for a bit. He ended up deciding to camp there and decide in the morning whether or not he would push on or turn around. We said goodbye and started making our way back up. Since we hadn’t crossed either bridge we were now on the side of the river without the trail and had to rockclimb up. We made it to above the falls and up the river and found a big, flat, sunny rock outcroping right next to the river. It was already 6:00 and I needed to dry out my stuff so we decided to stay here tonight and make our way back in the morning.
The sun was beating on us so we were able to dry everything out and have a warm dinner and a beautiful sunset.
Tomorrow we’ll head back to Tuolumne Meadows and find a way to hitch up to Sonora Pass to continue on from there. We’ll come back and do this section at the end. I think any other week of the summer we would have been successful crossing these creeks, but this week is a deathwish for this section.