Sun, Oct 8, 2017
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Peak 10,606ft previously climbed Tue, Jun 18, 2013|
Tuolumne Peak previously climbed Thu, Aug 4, 2005
I had been to Mt. Hoffmann a month earlier with my daughter to climb Hoffmann's Thumb. From Mt. Hoffmann's summit one can look north to the crest dividing the Merced and Tuolumne River drainages. I had traversed this crest years ago but had left some things undone, including a handful of peaks surrounding the South Fork of Cathedral Creek drainage that empties into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne further north. This 14mi, mostly cross-country tour would include about 5,500ft of gain. My starting point was the May Lake TH off SR120, May Lake being a very popular backpacking destination. There is a High Sierra Camp located here but I don't know if it is still in service. There was a single tent set up on my visit with the rest of the place deserted, save for the backpackers that seem to congregate on the south side of the lake. I'm not sure if the High Sierra Camp had closed for the season or perhaps never opened this summer. I'm not a big fan of them with their attendant footprint in the Yosemite Wilderness, but so it goes.
I'd spent the night sleeping in the van at the TH, waking around 6a and heading out soon after 6:30a. I reached May Lake around 7a with sunrise on Mt. Hoffmann coming quickly thereafter. Not a cloud in the sky today and the whole area unusually free of smoke, too. I followed the trail around the east side of the lake before heading off cross-country towards my first stop, The Bowmaiden, about a mile north of the lake. The terrain is forested at first but soon opens to granite slopes populated with alpine plants and grasses, becoming more slabby as one climbs higher. The slope is never very steep and I was a little surprised to find that the class 2 scrambling would continue all the way to the top - for some reason I had thought it to be harder. There are two closely-spaced, modest rock outcrops vying to be the highest - take your pick which to call the summit. Situated between Mt. Hoffmann and Tuolumne Peak, the summit offers good views of both, to the southwest and northeast, respectively. Not finding a register here, I left one before continuing my travels.
Now on the Mariposa/Tuolumne County line that follows the divide between the two main drainages, I turned northwest to follow it to Peak 10,606ft, about a mile and a quarter in that direction. The descent off The Bowmaiden was steep but kept to class 2 with some weaving through bushes and down the easiest line. I continued along the crest, keeping an eye out to the right into the South Fork Cathedral Creek drainage which I would have to traverse a few hours later. There seemed to be multiple lines of decent from the third summit and I felt satisfied that I wouldn't have much trouble. It took about an hour and a half to find my way to the top of Peak 10,606ft, one of the peaks I had climbed four years earlier. I doubt it sees many ascents and I'd be surprised if anyone has bothered to do it twice. From its summit, Tuolumne Peak rises across the South Fork drainage while Mt. Hoffmann appears to be much further away to the southeast, both of them presenting their more impressive faces as compared to the tamer aspects seen while driving along SR120. A mile to the north, across a side drainage and unnamed Lake 9,499ft, is the lower Peak 10,260ft, my next destination. I left a second register here before descending the NW Ridge along the divide. Once down to a saddle with Peak 10,542ft (another peak on the divide I'd climbed on that earlier visit), I dropped north off the crest to skirt this other summit, following easy benches across sparsely forested terrain to eventually gain the SW Ridge of Peak 10,260ft, another straightforward class 2 summit. The peak overlooks the <:16>Ten Lakes Basin lying to the northwest, beyond which the terrain drops into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, most of which is still out of view. Now 11a, I left a third register here before starting off the east side.
Following a route I had spied earlier while traversing the divide, I made my way down the narrow gully that drains Lake 9,499ft, following it as it drops steeply to the northeast into the main South Fork drainage. It made for a fun bit of scrambling, none of it more than easy class 3, eventually dumping me into the heavier forested areas that line the bottom of the drainage. I crossed the South Fork of Cathedral Creek, finding the trail just on the other side. I continued across the trail and through the woods, still heading northeast as I made my way up the other side towards Peak 9,945ft. I approached if from the south side, going steeply up mixed slopes of forest, slabs and light brush. It would be 1p before I reached the class 2 summit, two full hours after leaving the last peak though the distance was only two miles. I thought this had the most interesting views of the peaks I visited on the day, with a fine view to the north looking down on Falls Ridge which separates the main Cathedral Creek channel from the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, and most of Northern Yosemite framing the picture in the background, a grand sweep from Tower Peak in the north to Mt. Dana to the east. To the south rises the higher Tuolumne Peak connected to Peak 9,945ft by a ridge that separates the North and South Forks of Cathedral Creek. There was a tiny register in a small, metal film cannister left by an Andy Smatko party back in 1985. A thin, single page of paper held the entries of all nine other parties to sign in since that time.
At this point I was done with the peaks I had wanted to visit but still had to get myself back to the TH. I had the option of picking up the trail that goes over the ridge between the two drainages and following that back (lots of elevation gain and loss) or taking the more direct route over Tuolumne Peak. I chose the latter to give me a chance to revisit this summit which I'd last climbed 12 years ago with Matthew. In following the sometimes indistinct ridge, I had to first scramble along the rocks south of the summit, dropping 300ft to the saddle between the two before climbing back up 1,200ft to the day's highest summit. Along the way I crossed over the trail once again, coincidently just as a group of backpackers were about to go over the ridge along it, the only folks I had see since leaving May Lake early in the morning. I stayed off the ridge as I made my way up to Tuolumne Peak, favoring the left (east) side where easier travel is found to get around cliffs along the ridgeline.
There are two distinct summits to Tuolumne Peak about 10min apart, the north one being higher. I had found a Smatko register on the south summit on my first visit in 2000. It had been removed and replaced by a PVC on the north summit when here in 2005, but there was none found today. It was close to 3p by the time I had reached the lower south summit after which it was pretty much all downhill. I continued south to the saddle with Bowmaiden before doing a descending traverse down the east side of the ridge, aiming for another saddle 400ft lower that would lead further down to May Lake. I had done a similar route previously, finding an old trail to make things easier. My memory served me well on this occasion as I found the same trail. It has some extensive stonework along its length as it switchbacks down to a south-facing gully before crossing a small meadow and joining the regular trail (option A from earlier, climbing up from Murphy Creek) at an unsigned junction. From there it was a short distance back to May Lake, the High Sierra Camp, people, and a mile further, the TH. It was after 4p by the time I was done and could take off my boots, bringing the outing to around 9.5hrs, a good day's work. Time to head home...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Tuolumne Peak
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