SHR Day 3 — July 5
Lower Conness Lake to Tuolumne Meadows
Invincible Daylight Cowboy Camp to Vegan Big Mac Camp
Passes: Conness East Ridge, Mine Shaft Pass
After yesterday’s mind buster of a pass, today gave us a nice reprieve. The two passes today were straight forward and, dare I say it, fun. Long miles of easy cross country, then easy trail cruising filled in the middle and end. Now, sitting at the Tuolumne Meadows grill, surrounded by cars and people, the SHR vibes of even just this morning feel a long way away.
First light on our route up to the east ridge of Mount Conness was reassuring. What had looked like a near vertical cliff yesterday evening now looked more featured and benchy. My first words were, “it doesn’t look so vertical in this light.” I peered through the mesh of our tent. Evening mosquitos had forced us to set it up at bedtime last night.
I was nervous as SpiceRack and I discussed our route options after shouldering our packs and moving a little closer. She wanted to go right, I wanted to go left. At the time it seemed really important, but also not really important. Both routes would probably work, but our guidebook and map made it sound like life or death that we find the right way. I shivered and noticed my cold sweat breaking out despite the morning coolness.
By virtue of taking the left, and easiest, path around the lake, we ended up on the left side of the bulging ramp that would supposedly take us to the top. From there, the route looked straight forward and safe, so up we went. It was fun scrambling on mostly stable granite. We made good time. Route finding was not a given, but the next move always presented itself just when we needed it to, giving us the satisfaction of solving a crossword puzzle, on answer leading to the next. Spice led up one final chute to the top. From there, it looked like either route would have been suitable and safe. We agreed that we were glad to have approached this obstacle SOBO. From a NOBO perspective, our camp now looked a long way away down a very steep wall of granite.
An ankle roll shortly after reminded us that even the ‘easy’ parts of walking can be treacherous. However, consequences were not enough to keep us from picking our way down a steep grassy ramp below timberline. We swatted mosquitos during a splash in a creek, then sweated on a small climb to Maul Lakes, then again to Spuller Lake. We stopped there for a dip and lunch. The water was surprisingly warm, and the food expectedly salubrious.
The gradual ascent from there to Mine Shaft Pass was straight forward, yet confusing. Per the map, we tried to stay far left up and along a series of benches divided by patches of grass and whitebark pine. The terrain kept pushing us right, toward a different saddle than the pass. We sweated in the gullies, then cooled off in the breeze along the ridges. It turns out we need not have worried about our route. The place we crossed the crest was just as good, if not better than the pass itself.
Smooth and wide terrain greeted us at the top. Now it was just an easy cruise for seven miles to Tuolumne Meadows. Familiar peaks of Yosemite, Lyell, Maclure, Cathedral, The Unicorn, scratched the distant horizon, across a deep sea of green conifers. We poked around the remnants of the Great Sierra Mine, then picked up the trail down to Gaylor Lakes. Striking the tread and turning off the ol’ brain was a pretty sweet feeling. Finally moving at more than one mile per hour felt like light speed.
Day hikers came and went, some with elaborate spreads placed on mini tables. We cruised by, focused on the vast landscape and the mac n cheese that awaited us in Tuolumne. We also learned that toads live in the mountains and that mountain toads live in holes. How does a toad dig the hole? Do they have a symbiotic arrangement with the local pika?
Tuolumne was as glorious as ever, busy with fancy vans and nasty hikers. We grabbed our resupply box then headed to the grill just before closing. A black bean burger with double the fixings was a mighty fine treat. Then, in true hiker trash fashion, Spice met a bona fide hiking celebrity. Mac, keeper of the PCT hiker survey, hit her up for some cash to buy some hot food. Turns out, he and his partner were hiking the SHR north from Red’s Meadow. This was a serendipitous meeting and I had a good time picking his celebrity brain and getting SHR beta.
Around 7pm, Spice and I moved to the campground for a gluttonous night of too much mac n cheese. I’ll be sleeping on my back tonight. One section down. This is a butt kicker.