Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yosemite - Tuolomne Meadows to May Lake trailhead and back

Riding a bicycle on Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park was a bit like riding in a dream. Generally good pavement, stunning scenery, good sight lines and wide curves, it was a great experience. Going in I thought drivers might be distracted, but instead it seemed they were paying more than usual attention to the road and to an unexpected cyclist. I like to think this state of grace was a beneficial side effect of drivers being awed by nature.

Measuring effort with the elevation consistently in the 8,000-plus foot range set me back a couple of gears while climbing, but I was in no hurry for the ride to end so it didn't really matter. A highly, highly recommended bike ride for strong riders comfortable in traffic with no shoulder and confident handling a flat or other common potential mechanical issue. Here's a map of the route.

We camped at the Tuolumne Meadows campground, with online reservations made at website. The campsites are small and packed together, with a long walk to the faucet and bathroom for most, but we felt lucky to have a camping spot in Tuolumne Meadows.

Bears would seem to be a common sight. A mama bear snuck up within a couple of feet of our open bear locker while I was making coffee an arms reach away. She scared the living daylights out of me, but I followed the advice of making myself big and making a lot of noise by banging a frying pan on a rock. Mama bear retreated a few nonplussed steps then sat down to scratch herself while looking around to see if I might provide another shot at the food. She wandered away after a bit and her cub was chased out of the tent cabins a minute later. Over the next half hour we heard evidence of their encounters with many other campers.

The store at Tuolomne Meadows sells snacks and refreshments. There is a water faucet at the entrance to Tuolomne Meadows campground, just west of the stone reservations building, and another faucet NE of the wilderness permit building next to Tuolomne Meadows Lodge. There are bathrooms at each trailhead along Tioga Pass Road, including Sunrise and Tenaya Lake, but I did not see any water faucets. There is a bathroom but no drinking water at the May Lake trailhead.

The side road up to May Lake trailhead is pretty bumpy and pot-holed, with gravel and sand washed across the road in many places on the steeper sections. The uphill was a challenge after only 1 night of acclimation, the recovery sections helped a lot. Downhill I stayed well in control so as to weave a relatively flat and debris-free path.

Temperatures ranging from high 90's in summer to sub-freezing in fall can pose additional challenges. The road is closed for the winter once the snow arrives, usually around mid-October. This ride was in late September, just posting late.

I'm planning on coming back next year and looking into a ride from TM down to the Yosemite Valley and back. Riding a bicycle through Yosemite lets you glide through the sights, sounds, and smells in a way you just can't do either by car or walking.

We hiked up to an un-named lake to the north of May Lake the day after the ride. Here's a terrain map showing the route .

Take the well marked trail up to and around north-east shore of May Lake. At the northernmost point start going cross-country, taking a diagonal route uphill toward the saddle to the north of a prominent rock escarpment, then stay roughly on the 10,200 foot contour around the back side of the spur to a long, thin scenic lake up against a cliff. Didn't see any fish here, but did catch some nice brook trout in May Lake on the way out.