Glen Aulin through Cold Canyon
June 27 – 29, 2012
Total distance: 26 miles
Chris and I drove to Yosemite National Park for a backpacking trip. The trip had been planned for months, and we were excited to see Waterwheel Falls and venture into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.
Beginning at Tuolumne Meadows, we set out on the six mile walk to the Glen Aulin area where we’d camp for the night.
We walked quietly, lost in our own thoughts. Lavender daises and pink mountain pride adorned the trail.
When I glanced up from the rocky path, I saw a sign that said Waterwheel Falls and thought we were walking in that direction.
We sat by the fire that evening and planned out the next day. At night, we slept under the bright waxing moon set against a backdrop of twinkling stars.
In the morning, we bear-proofed the camp and left, pack-free, ready to take in the beauty of the high country.
Waterwheel Falls was approximately three miles away. We thought we’d get back to camp in time for lunch and a nap. Chris was happy with a short jaunt since he’s not crazy about hiking.
The trail was relatively easy. It rose gently through a lodgepole forest then opened up into a long, beautiful meadow where hundreds of Lemmon’s paintbrush grew.
By the time we reached the meadow we were parched. There was a seasonal stream winding its way through so we stopped and had a drink.
At this point we began wondering, Where is the Tuolumne River? Also, it was strange not to see any day-hikers. And it seemed like we had walked longer than three miles. Should we turn around, I wondered. The trail marker I saw the night before couldn’t be wrong (three miles to Waterwheel Falls), so we continued walking.
We re-entered the forest at the other end of the meadow. Broken trees, limbs, and branches littered the path making it a difficult obstacle course to traverse. We came upon another seasonal creek and rested there while deciding what to do next.
It was mid-afternoon. There would be no noon victuals back at camp, just a shared Clif Bar there on the rocks by the babbling creek. Something was awry, and the question still remained: Should we continue on?
We continued walking until we came to junction and three trail signs: Virginia Canyon on the Pacific Crest Trail–1 mile ahead; McCabe Lake–2 miles southwest; and Glen Aulin (from where we came)–7 miles! What?
Chris has a sixth sense about these things. He knew from the time we stopped at the meadow that we were on the wrong trail and should have turned around. I didn’t want to give up so we continued on. He asked me if I knew the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog. He called me the scorpion because I’m a hiker and it’s my “nature” to hike, and he was the frog because he willingly came along against his better judgement.
“A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature.”
We had mistakenly taken the Pacific Crest Trail through Cold Canyon instead of the trail to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. Though we had a map, it was back at camp inside the tent.
That evening as we rested by the fire, we talked about staying another day and walking to Waterwheel Falls. We decided to do it another time.
Although we didn’t reach our planned destination, we were not disappointed. We enjoyed the time we spent together in the scenic wilderness and hope to make it to Waterwheel and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River someday soon.