August 7, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 4 – Tuolumne Meadows (8,600ft) to second Lyell Fork crossing (10,190).
Camped at the lake near the second Lyell Fork crossing.
A cold night becomes a crisp, clear, still morning. Not a breath of wind to dry the tent and fly, soaked in the previous evening’s downpour.
For breakfast we toast bagels on the lingering hot coals, a nice change from our usual cooked oats or cream of wheat. We enjoy our coffee and pack up at our leisure hitting the trail just before 8AM.
For most of the day we follow Lyell Fork up a long gentle track through Lyell Canyon which is so wide it looks more like a valley than a canyon. Although forested in sections the trail traverses numerous meadows giving the day a much more open feel.
The trail parallels the river, often at a distance. At times the river tumbles across wide granite slabs for a more dramatic effect, at others it winds gently through the meadows with stately peaks at your back.
Early in the day around 10AM we stop at a spot where the river crosses large granite slabs to dry out our belongings and wash up. Several damp days in a row have left the tent and bedding a bit pungent. Laying the quilt in the sun for an hour or so restores that sun-kissed freshness.
For lunch we picnic at a quiet bend in the river. Carbonated water bubbles up from the river bed similar to what we saw at Soda Springs in Tuolumne Valley.
Lyell Canyon ends at a sort of wall, really a mountain range in which Mt Lyell is the highest peak. At 13,114 it is the highest peak in Yosemite. Before the “wall” is a beautiful meadow with an impressive cascade down the left side of the canyon.
The relatively flat part of the day’s hike is over. We enter the forest and start the climb up, still following Lyell Fork or one of the three creeks that flow into it at this junction. The trail then climbs 600ft up the first set of switchbacks, with valley views between the trees, to a more level ledge where it crosses Lyell Fork over a footbridge.
Boy Scouts coming from the opposite direction tell us that the lake just one mile further along is pretty and worth the climb, another 500ft up. The ascent is on well graded switchbacks with sections of granite stairs. I dread climbing at the end of the day but take solace in knowing that we’ve climbed more than half the 2,000ft up to Donohue Pass making tomorrow morning’s ascent that much easier.
The clouds that began emerging just before lunch have nearly covered the sky now, growing dark and threatening rain.
The shallow meadow lake with views of Mt Lyell and its neighbors has great camp sites just above the lake with more camping possibilities on the ridge behind. The area is popular but never fills.
The sky continues to threaten rain – thunder rumbling in the distance until well after dinner – but never produces more than a short sprinkle.