Saturday, August 19, 2006

Hiking Mt Watkins in Yosemite NP

On my recent camping and hiking trip to Yosemite NP, I camped at the Tuolumne Meadows campground. The weather was perfect with clear blue sky, highs around 75, and night time lows around freezing. That campground has 304 camp sites with 50 percent available as 1st come 1st served. I arrived there around noon to ensure that I could get a camp site. I was worried that the end of summer would bring a lot of families out before school started. When I pulled in, the ranger told me that there weren't any bears around the campground. She said they were all feasting on the tourists down in the valley. She's right! The NPS has a nice web site reporting updated bear conditions. The bear food lockers in the camp sites have changed since I was last there. They didn't require any lock (padlock or caribiner). And instead, they have a spring latch installed that made it really handy for quick access to munchies.

One afternoon I walked out along the PCT to the middle of Tuolumne Meadow and sat quietly until the animals came out. That's how I got the pic of the little critters. I don't know what they are. But one of them barked a loud chirp whenever they saw me, followed by a fast retreat into their burrow. Continuing my experimentation with the zoom on my new camera, I took the pic of the moon at full zoom and no tripod. I really do like that image stabilization.

My previous post included a pic of Lembert Dome which sits right in front of the campground. I chatted with a law enforcement Ranger who was helping to "extract a hiker" who had fallen. He told me that the hiker had fallen a hundred feet on that dome and had broken their leg. Yikes! If you ask me, that's a very lucky hiker. They must have been on the back side where it's not very steep. Otherwise, they would have died from that fall.

My main reason for this trip was to hike to the top of Mt. Watkins from Olmsted Point. Mt. Watkins is located on the west side of Tenaya Canyon, and is a prominent landmark for hikers visiting Mirror Lake. There's isn't a trail to the summit, so it required some off-trail hiking. It's a beautiful hike that's not strenuous and requires very little route finding, so I strongly recommend it to others. The route I took was about 8 miles and 4 hours round trip. For full disclosure: I did get lost once on the return, when I didn't recognize my surroundings. I was thinking to myself: "Hmmm ... this doesn't look right." But that's why I carry a GPS receiver. I stopped to have a snack and checked the GPS to see that, indeed, I had taken an odd right turn. A few minutes later I was back on the right path. The 3rd pic shown is of Mt Watkins taken from the top of Half Dome. I didn't take that one. I found it on the web. It shows the huge round summit of Mt Watkins. The next pic was taken by me from that summit of Mt Watkins. It was like walking on the surface of a ginormous granite boulder.

The next pic shows Yosemite valley from the summit. It's hard to make out any details because of all those trees. I kept walking down the front of Mt Watkins, so I could get closer to the edge, and closer to Half Dome. Looking back up Tenaya Canyon, you can see the 1000 ft drop and the Pywiack Cascade. Those very steep granite walls are only part of the reason the Parks Service strongly discourages people hiking in or through Tenaya Canyon. I've read several descriptions on the web from experienced hiker/climbers who've made that trek.

The next photos are of Half Dome taken from the front edge of Mt Watkins. I posted the full size images and they are almost 2 MB each. So be warned if you click on them. You can see hikers on the lower staircase section (I hate that section most) and on the cable section and on the summit. You can even see people in the full frame image. I couldn't see any climbers on the face, due to the morning shadows.

I was surprised to find a lot of footprints heading across Mt Watkins summit. It's such a nice hike, I understand the popularity. On my next trip to this part of the park, I want to hike up Fairview Dome, hike the trail to the top of Clouds Rest, and do some off-trail exploring on the granite domes just above Tenaya Canyon.

I tried to attach a Google Earth KML file that takes you to a view looking down Tenaya Canyon, but it failed - probably because the server script is wanting an image file. Let's try this: here's the text. Copy this into a new text file and name it anything ending in .kml Then double click on that new file, and it should open Google Earth and go to the view.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?><kml xmlns=""><Placemark>
<name>View Down Tenaya Canyon</name>


Joe said...

Excellent photos and writeup. Looking forward to the next edition.

Bobby said...

yo mike, these are some pretty sweet pictures... i wish i could have gone with you... alas, i have yet to take pictures in england, but this reminds me that i should...