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Day 3 of the Sierra Challenge found us in Tuolumne Meadows before sunrise on a beautiful day. Our goal was Cold Mtn, the highpoint of an "island" in Northern Yosemite bounded by Cold Canyon, Return Creek and the Tuolume River. The peak itself is not very high at just over 10,300ft, but it has a prominence exceeding 1,500ft which made it of interest to me. There was very little information on reaching the peak, no trip reports that I could find, just a short sentence in Secor's book, just a short sentence that it was class 2.
Surprisingly, there were only seven of us at the assigned trailhead across from the Visitor Center in Tuolumne Meadows at 6a. A group that had been gathering earlier had been persuaded by Jonathan to start from Pothole Dome a few miles to the west. Jonathan knew of a use trail that follows from there to the bridge over the Tuolumne River, saving several miles each way. I was clueless about this or I would have suggested that starting point as well. Still others decided to start from the gate between Soda Springs and Lembert Dome, also a shorter distance though not by as much. A nearly full moon was low on the horizon to the west as we passed through Tuolumne Meadows. Sunrise came shortly after 6:30a. The waters of the large pools along the river were quiet on a breezeless morning. It's a nice walk through the large meadow through forest and slab areas, taking more than an hour before one begins the descent to Glen Aulin.
We found William and a few of the others from the Pothole Dome crew as we crossed over the bridge above Glen Aulin. We stopped at Tuolume Falls below the bridge for some photo ops and a short break before continuing down to the main bridge over the river at Glen Aulin. At a trail junction here Tom and I decided to turn left downstream, following along the north side of the river. We wanted to first climb Wildcat Point as a bonus peak, located a few miles southwest of Cold Mtn. We didn't know ahead of time whether we could climb out of the canyon on that side, but after viewing it from the Glen Aulin bridge we decided to give it a try. Those heading directly to Cold Mtn followed the PCT north up Cold Canyon.
After a leisurely mile-long stroll along the trail accented by lupines and other flowers, we turned right to start up class 2 slabs on that side. We soon heard other voices, meeting up first with Bill and then Karl. They had been part of the Pothole Dome crew and had made the same route choice to head for Wildcat Point. The four of us were together only a short time before splitting up again. The slabs became steeper and our route choices more limited after we were about 500ft above the river. After a brief discussion on which way to move, I chose to traverse right while Tom and Karl moved left, Bill lower down on the slabs still. I found an animal trail that I followed through the cliff band, working nicely to minimize the bushwhacking. Above this the slope lessened, returning to lower-angled slabs and some forest. I angled left, traversing towards the northwest on a more or less direct line to Wildcat Point that I had dialed in with my GPS.
I reached the granite dome that makes up the summit around 9a and first attempted what I thought would be a class 3-4 line up the east side. But this proved scarier than I anticipated and I backed down after a minute or so. I then moved around to the north side where the rock was broken and easier to scramble, a simple class 2-3 affair. It was 9:20a when I reached the highpoint. The top is spacious and open to views in all directions. Tuolumne Peak dominates the view to the south as does Cold Mtn to the north. To the west is a wonderful view looking down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and to the east and southeast is much of the Yosemite High Country. I looked around for a register at all the likely locations, but found nothing. I did not intend to stay long because I knew that Michael G was heading directly to Cold Mtn and would be picking up even more time on me today. Perhaps if I kept up a good pace I wouldn't lose much time with the bonus peak. Tom and Karl were just arriving at the top as I started down.
I descended off the granite dome via the same route I'd taken up, then continued northeast, passing the beautiful Mattie Lake on its eastern shore. The lake is evidently a moderately popular camping spot as there is a good use trail leading to it from the east. I followed this ducked route a short while until I needed to diverge from its easterly course in order to continue to Cold Mtn. Along the way I passed through some lovely meadows of mountain heather and easy cross-country through the open forest. I came upon another hiker well off the trail and supposed it must be a Challenge participant. It was. Chris Henry had been with the group heading up Cold Canyon and had come across the same trail I had just been using. Following it towards Mattie Lake, he eventually realized he needed to turn north to reach our mountain. We hiked together to the unnamed lake south of Cold Mtn, passing it on the western shore and the starting up slabs and easy class 2 terrain on the south side of Cold Mtn. Periodic ducks were found along our route, though these were fairly useless and I knocked them down as I came across them. There are several points around the rocky summit vying for the highpoint, but I managed to zero in on the correct one without mistep, arriving at 10:20a.
Adam and Michael G were there relaxing at the summit, having been there for about half an hour. Michael was surprised to see me, figuring it would take longer to reach Wildcat Point and then get to Cold Mtn. He would not be able to gain any additional time on me today despite the extra peak. It was a nice perch from which to take in the views around Northern Yosemite. The view north with Whorl Mtn, Twin Peaks and Virginia Canyon was especially striking. A register found in a glass jar at the summit block had been placed by MacLeod and Lilley in 2008. Gordon was 84yrs old at the time. Ours was the only other entry in the notebook. Gordon made mention of No indication of previous ascents, but I knew Smatko had visited in the 1960s and Secor and other guidebook authors credit a Glen Dawson party for the first ascent in 1929.
We were not long at the summit as Adam and Michael were eager to get moving after their long rest. Chris chose to hang around a while and wait for the others to show up. We descended the east side of the mountain in the direction of Cold Canyon, zigzagging our way down the path of least resistance, through brushy boulder fields and forested slopes. We came upon the same use trail as we neared Cold Canyon, but it did not follow directly down as we were heading. So we crossed over it without making use of it. Adam fell back at a slower pace about halfway down, while Michael and I got separated in the last 400ft of descent to the main trail in Cold Canyon. Knowing that Michael had taken a tack to the left, or north, I knew he must be behind me on the trail when I reached it shortly after 11a. I could have started jogging back to keep ahead of him and make up time, but it would only have been by a few minutes (since he would likely have started jogging too) and would mostly have served to wear us both down. Not so much fun in that.
A few minutes later Michael came rambling down the trail while I waited. He was surprised that I had gotten ahead of him, not knowing that I was closer to him when we diverged than he suspected. Together we hiked back down Cold Canyon, returning to Glen Aulin before noon, crossing the bridge there over the Tuolumne River, and starting the long climb back up to Tuolumne Meadows. We came across another participant, 65yr-old Mike Cussen who had not made it much past Glen Aulin before turning around. We chatted only briefly with him before continuing on.
When we reached the bridge above Glen Aulin, we decided to take the use trail back to Pothole Dome that the others had reported on so favorably. It initially follows very close to the western shore of the river, through forest and across sandy beaches and granite slabs. It was highly scenic. We passed by a couple of fishermen battling for trout on the opposite bank and wandered along more slabs before the trail turned south and moved away from the river. It went through a fine meadow with a dramatic view of Unicorn Peak and the Cathedral Range for a backdrop. Into the forest we went, more uphill, then we left the trail to zero in on Pothole Dome for our second bonus peak.
Pothole Dome sits a short distance off Tioga Road and has only a few hundred feet of prominence above the surrounding Tuolumne Meadows. As bonus peaks go, it is as easy as they come to the point of embarrassment. But climb it we did, over class 2-3 slabs on the north side followed by a traverse to the highpoint at the southern end. There were other visitors about the summit area, taking in the nice views of Tuolumne Meadows to the east. We descended steep slabs on the south side, circled around on a use trail to the road, and started hiking back towards our trailhead a mile and a half to the east. The shortcut was every bit as good as advertised - thanks to Jonathan for bringing it to our attention!
As we were hiking along the road we spotted a familiar figure in the likes of Evan hiking in the same direction but about 100yds out in the meadow and ahead of us. It took some time since he had a good pace, but eventually our routes converged and we caught his attention. He had not gone to the summit but had taken his time returning in order to focus on his photography. It was around 1:45p when the three of us returned to our vehicles. A fairly easy day, but as I find myself past 50yrs of age, I'm enjoying these shorter outings more and more...
In all we had 16 participants reach the summit, though no more than about 6-7 at any one time.
Michael G still had a 15 minute lead for the Yellow jersey.
Tom and Karl had the highest total peaks with 8 each after three days. Tom had the lead in time for the Polka Dot jersey, though Karl had whittled away a third of his 1.5hr lead today. Tom had done the harder Elbow Hill and did not know that the easier Pothole Dome (which Karl did) would qualify.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Pothole Dome
This page last updated: Tue Nov 22 12:43:51 2011
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