Falls Ridge East P1K
SAR Dome
Falls Ridge West P500
Peak 8,580ft

Thu, Jun 14, 2012
Etymology
Falls Ridge East
Falls Ridge West
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Falls Ridge lines the south side of the upper portion of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. More than four miles in length, the highest point is on the east end and has more than 1,000ft of prominence. Another point to the west has more than 500ft, and from a good perusal of the maps I thought it would make a nice hike to visit these two points on a free day. I had such a day in mid-June, setting out from San Jose around 9p on a Wed night. It was midnight before I reached the Yosemite entrance station and after 1a before I pulled over on Tioga Rd at the Murphy Creek TH. I jumped in the back of the van and slept undisturbed until my alarm awoke me at 5a.

My starting point at Murphy Creek was not the best choice. I had thought I might be able to visit several other unnamed peaks near Mt. Hoffmann after Falls Ridge, but the outing was more work than I had anticipated. A better starting point would have been near Pothole Dome, using the shortcut use trail to Glen Aulen and then back up slightly to Falls Ridge, saving several miles. Live and learn. The Murphy Creek trail was in good shape, dry for except for a few muddy spots, no mosquitoes, but relatively boring as it plies it's way through the forest. I had occasional views of Mt. Hoffmann and Tuolumne Peak near sunrise, of Falls Ridge itself as I approached, and some interesting sights with glacier polished slabs and the crossing of Cathedral Creek. I spent nearly two hours on the trail, not having realized beforehand that it was nearly six miles to the base of Falls Ridge.

It was after 7a when I left the trail, making my way cross-country to the start of the Southwest Ridge leading to the highpoint. Though mildly intimidating from a distance, the route proved to be easy class 3, and fun to boot. There is a good view of the Cathedral Creek drainage as one climbs the ridge, with a sweeping view of the Cathedral Range directly behind me as I got higher. It was 7:50a by the time I pulled onto the summit to swell views. Cold Mtn and its high plateau lay directly to the north across the Tuolumne River gorge. To the east was Tuolumne Meadows and the Sierra Crest stretching across the horizon behind it. Much of Northern Yosemite and the Sawtooth Crest could be seen behind Cold Mtn. Tuolumne Peak loomed high to the southwest across Cathedral Creek.

Looking west, the long nature of Falls Ridge becomes quickly evident. I had thought maybe it would take an hour to get from one summit to the other, but I soon realized this was a gross underestimation - it would take nearly three hours. But they were a fairly enjoyable three hours as the traverse offered both fine views for most of its length as well as some enjoyable scrambling along it. For the most part it is class 2 from one end to the other, though some route-finding is necessary to keep it so. In particular the west side of SAR Dome is marked by cliffs. Heading north from the point, I began heading down some broad, slabby slopes before spying a wooded descent gully heading southwest along the base of the cliffs to the crest of the ridge below. For the most part the route had very little brush to contend with as there was nearly always a rocky or wooded path to travel through.

It was 10:45a before I reached Falls Ridge West, finding that there were three possible summits of nearly the same height. I decided to pay them all a visit, "to be sure", though I really didn't mind having an excuse to continue the traverse along the ridge. From the nearby point labeled "8,615T" on the map, I continued west to the third point about 25 minutes away. This last seemed to be the lower of the three and it seemed probable that the first one I had reached at the southeast end was the highest. This last point had an excellent view of Return Creek to the north across the Tuolumne gorge and for this reason alone the extra effort was worthwhile. I had been up Return Creek several times in the past and it has always had a fond place in my heart despite its difficulties.

Having had enough of the traverse (I could have continued another half mile to the northwest to make it a 'full' traverse of the ridge), I turned my attention to getting back to the Murphy Creek Trail, no small effort. The fastest way most probably would have been to return along the ridge, but not knowing this and always looking for a way to make a loop of things, I decided to descend to Cathedral Creek and follow it back to the trail. This involved two primary difficulties. The first was in getting down to the creek, finding a way down the steep, cliffy slopes that were loaded with dense brush. Much of the latter was avoided in the upper half with a circuitious descent down slabs and a rocky gully before finding I had little choice but to wade into the brush. The willows and manzanita were thick and difficult, making one wish a fire had cleared the slopes in the past year. Even with long pants, shirt and gloves I was fighting the stuff for hundreds of yards before getting partial relief with another section of slabby rock. Some last fighting with the brush got me to the creek at last around 12:45p, at which time I was elated to find my troubles were over.

Or so I thought. It turns out that the creek was even harder to negotiate than the ridge or descent route, and I would spend more than three hours to cover the four miles back to the trail. Along the way I would find delightful pools and cascades (I stopped for a break to take a dip at one such location), brushy banks and plenty of boulder-hopping. It was only near the end that I found some of the more open forest terrain that I had assumed to line the creek in abundance. It was with no small relief that I finally reached the Murphy Creek Trail sometime after 4p. Another two hours would be spent in making my way back to Tioga Rd. In all I spent more than 12hrs on the outing, not spying another soul the entire time until I was back to the car. Several hours can be shortened from this hike by using the alternative start, but either way it makes for a very full day, and an enjoyable one at that.


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