Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Glen Aulin

Last week, I escaped to Yosemite for a few days. I was in dire need of a break, after a few stressful weeks at work. One of the things I really adore about living in the Bay area (and one of the things that will make it incredibly difficult for me to ever live anywhere else again) is that I can hop in my car and be in some of the most beautiful places on earth in less than 4 hours. And, really, it's hard to be stressed when you're miles from anywhere with no responsibilities other than hiking and setting up your tent each night. Oh, and make lovely steamy cups of bourbon and hot chocolate before bed. :-)

Anyway, my first night out on this trip, I decided to head out into the back country up near Tuolumne. I did an overnight to Glen Aulin.

One of the things I really love about Yosemite is that there are a lot of "backpackers campgrounds." Basically, at really popular locations, they've set up back-country campgrounds, with pit toilets, water, and bear lockers to store your food. I especially like them when I'm backpacking alone, because that way I know that there will be other folks around me in case there's some sort of emergency. In fact, it's really the only way I'll backpack alone. So there's one of these backpackers campgrounds at Glen Aulin, next to the High Sierra tent camp, and that's where I spent Wednesday night.

The High Sierra Camps are 6 camps set up in the Yosemite High Country. Each is a collection of canvas "tent cabins" in a beautiful setting. They're about a 7-10 mile hike apart from each other, and you can hike them in a loop, staying in the cabins each night and being fed dinner and breakfast. It's nice for people who want the feeling of backpacking but don't want to have to carry all their gear -- all you need to carry is your clothes. Some of the camps even have hot water and showers. I've personally never stayed at them, partly because they're quite expensive, but I'd love to someday. For now, though, I'll content myself with carrying my full pack and staying at the backpackers' campgrounds in the same places.

So, Glen Aulin is a little more than a 6 mile hike down from Tuolumne Meadows. It's a fairly easy 6 miles, especially on the way there, since it's nearly all flat or downhill. It's a nice way to acclimate to the altitude (7000-9000 feet), which can make exercise feel more difficult, but is only high enough to have made me sick once, when there was also really poor air quality because of a severe fire. (On that trip, we woke up each morning to a tent covered in ash blown in from the fires).

Basically, you follow the trail down from the Lembert Dome parking lot, near Soda Springs (which is a tiny little spring that bubbles up out of the ground already carbonated -- something to do with the chemicals in the earth there I think). The trail is lovely, weaving its way through High Sierra grassland and pine trees at first. Oh, and those blue, blue, blue Sierra skies.

For much of the hike, the river is tumbling over that famous Yosemite granite just off to the side of the trail.

There are also gorgeous views of snow-capped sierra mountains in the distance. Breathtaking.
Once you get down to the camp, there are a couple bridges and a lovely waterfall, where I drank my morning coffee the next morning, getting damp from the waterfall's mist.

There are 30 or so sites in the backpacker's campground. The first batch are literally right next door to the tent cabins, in a wooded dell. There's a pit toilet, bear lockers, and a water spigot there, which is convenient. However, I chose to continue up the hill about another 2/10 of a mile to the higher campsites, perched on a rocky outcropping above the river. Not only do I think these campsites are nicer, but it let me escape from the bustle of the boy scout troop that happened to be there the same night I was.

I camped in a lovely cove of rock, with the river rushing practically right underneath my tent. Lovely to fall asleep to. I think this is the best site in the whole area, and it got wonderful light as the sun was coming up in the morning. You really only could have fit one tent in the spot I chose, but there were plenty of areas nearby, where you could spread out several tents if you were with a big group.

And though I was a bit worried about how challenging the hike out the next day would be, since it was quite a lot of uphill, at altitude, it was actually quite easy. I didn't even get winded. Anyway, if I was going to do it again this trip again, I'd start out for Glen Aulin in the morning, drop my pack at a site, and then continue hiking down to Waterwheel Falls (another 3 miles beyond Glen Aulin). Then, I'd come back up to Glen Aulin to camp for the night. I think it would also be lovely to start Friday night hiking up to May Lake (only 1.2 miles -- pictures of that tomorrow), then hike Saturday from May Lake to Glen Aulin, and Sunday from Glen Aulin back to the parking lot. You'd have to find a shuttle or other ride back to your car, but that's apparently not too difficult up there.

This was my first time in a long time backpacking alone, and it was lovely, if a bit lonely. But clearly I wasn't miserable.

P.S. Since I was traveling alone, many of the pictures of me from this trip were taken with my favorite new camera accessory -- the GorillaPod. Have you guys seen these things? They're amazing! It's basically a go-anywhere tripod. They're made up of a bunch of ball-and-socket joints, so they're completely bendable. You screw it into the bottom of your camera and then you can set it up anywhere to take a picture -- I put mine on totally uneven ground, around a tree branch, etc, and got some GREAT pictures. Completely worth the $25 bucks I paid on sale at REI a few weeks ago.


Camels & Chocolate said...

Scott has one of those Gorilla Pod things, but I've never used it. Not so sure it would work with my DSLR...

ChrisC said...

They make the G-pods in all different sizes. Supposedly there are ones that are made for DSLRs, but I haven't tried one. I bet you could buy one and then if it doesn't work with your camera, just return it.

Dana said...

You should sell your photos to travel magazines! They are wonderful! Mom