Thu, Aug 4, 2005
It started off as a fairly ambitious plan, ending in something decidedly less ambitious, but enjoyable all the same. Our original plan called for a traverse of the modest ridge sweeping across northern Yosemite between Tuolumne Canyon and SR120. For most of the way it defines the Mariposa/Tuolumne county boundary, passing by nearby Mt. Hoffmann & Tuolumne Peak, as well as the more remote Colby and Grand Mtns. Basically we got to the nearby peaks and gave up completely on the ridge traverse and the more remote peaks, our version of an unplanned rest day. :-)
I met Matthew at the Lukens Lake TH along SR120. I had camped nearby and had gotten up shortly after 5a to pack up and have breakfast at the parking lot. Matthew showed up almost exactly at the assigned 6a meeting time. We left my car where it was, and drove in Matthew's car to the May Lake TH, intending to use the car shuttle at the end of the day when we emerged from Lukens Lake. There were a few cars in the large parking area near May Lake, but otherwise it was pretty quiet for a Saturday. The May Lake High Sierra Camp was closed for 2005, so there were none of the usual hordes that frequent this area.
It was around 6:30a when we headed out, striking out cross-country from the parking lot heading northwest across Snow Creek and up the southeast flanks of Mt. Hoffmann. We contrived to make portions of the ascent class 3 though some easy cliff bands on the east side, and in no time at all we were high up around the surrounding region, taking in views of Half Dome, the Clark Range, and Tuolumne Meadows. We moved onto the south side of Hoffmann where we found a sandy use trail heading up through talus slopes. A grouse we found roosting in a tree seemed not to mind us too much, giving us time to snap a few photos before he decided he'd given us enough of his good side and flew away. We followed the trail up to the broad plateau near the summit, leaving the trail to head west towards the interesting rock formation known as Hoffmann's Thumb.
Hoffmann's Thumb is easily visible from SR120 and the surrounding area, a large blocky projection sticking out like... well, like a sore thumb, just south of the summit. We scrambled up the class 3 rocks to the South Ridge and then followed the ridge down to the formation to have a look at it. From all sides it is rather imposing, and even close up it is pretty intimidating. The block rises some 50-60ft above the ridge with near-vertical sides all around. We identified what must be the reported 5.6 route on the north side (the right-side profile in this picture), a series of flakes and thin, rounded ledges on a wall rising straight up. I scrambled about 8 feet up the route mostly to let Matthew take a picture. There was no way I was going to continue up without a rope. And since we had no rope, we put it on our mental tick-list to come back with one in the future to climb this.
We then wandered back up along the ridge to the summit where we arrived at 8a. Tied to one of the antennae on the communications installation we found a pair of fairly new his & her underwear, one of the more unusual summit finds. Perhaps left by a couple to mark a new "conquest"? No note, no summit register, so it will just be left to our imagination. After taking our summit view photos we headed east across the top of the sloped plateau (does that mean it isn't really a plateau?), heading for the ridgeline connecting Hoffmann to our next destination, Tuolumne Peak.
As we headed off the plateau, we came across the first of three "gems" we found today. Our descent route down the NE Ridge turned out to be a really fine class 3-4 scramble. Steep and blocky, it had solid granite that made for some fun downclimbing. It had some tricky route-finding, a narrow chimney, and a host of scrambling challenges along nearly the whole route. Once we reached the lowpoint along the ridge the scrambling changed to easy talus and compacted slopes as we headed up to one of several intermediate highpoints. Heading down the otherside, we bypassed the next highpoint by traversing along the southeast side, bringing us to a short knife-edged section running east-west along the ridge, and our second section of interesting scrambling. Steeply dropping off on both sides, it was a narrow walk along large blocks piled along the ridge. One block in particular was so thin that we could not traverse it without the cautious use of hands, and without looking a little silly in doing so.
After this section, the ridge turned north again as we made the final half mile approach to Tuolumne Peak. The Southeast Slopes of Tuolumne are a pretty non-exciting class 2 climb for the most part. During our approach we spotted a more interesting potential in the narrow South Face just to our left. From a distance it looked like a steep face of broken granite, a class 3 climb over blocks and ledges to the summit ridge above. Up close we found almost exactly what we were expecting (a rare occurence, it seems), and spent an enjoyable 15 minutes or so climbing the face (the last of the fun scrambling we found). Ahead of Matthew above the South Face, I reached the SW summit ahead of him and was at the slightly higher NE summit as he was just starting to descend the first. There was a PVC register on this summit, and I looked around in vain for the small film register I'd found previously with Andy Smatko's name in it (later I checked my notes and found that this small register was on the SW summit, not the NE one). Matthew joined me shortly afterwards and we took a break to eat whatever food we were carrying with us. We were both ambivalent to continue the ridge traverse. Matthew had never been to Tuolumne Peak which was his primary goal for the day. Tuolumne Peak was almost a mile off the Mariposa/Tuolumne ridgeline we'd planned to follow, and it would take another hour of backtracking just to get back on route. We decided to call it a day. A late lunch at the Whoa Nellie would do just as well as our planned dinner there. And there was no chance of us missing it altogether as we had feared with the full traverse.
We set our sights on May Lake to the south of us, and made a beeline down the SE Slope of Tuolumne and on to May Lake. As luck would have it, we came across an old abandoned trail where we crossed the Mariposa county line about half way to May Lake. Considerable work had gone into the trail, with decent rock walls still holding the trail up on switchbacks down the slopes and through the forest. We lost the trail in a beautiful meadow with gorgeous lupines and a grazing deer, but swarming with hungry mosquitoes. We bolted out of there and soon joined up with the regular maintained trail just north of May Lake, and immediately afterwards started coming across other hikers and backpackers, the first persons we'd seen all day. We wandered along the trail down through the High Sierra Camp, then another half hour down to the parking lot, now nearly full. It was only 1p, and one of the weakest outings Matthew and I had ever done (less than 7 hours). Still, the scrambling had been enjoyable, quite a bit better than we expected. And we could always point out that we had a big day following, with a hike to Mt. Hilgard on the first day of the Challenge. Off we went, first retrieving my car back at the Lukens Lake TH, then to Whoa Nellie, and finally to Bishop later in the afternoon.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Hoffmann - Tuolumne Peak
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