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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Tuolumne to Upper Lyell Canyon

Lyell Fork

Day Four on the John Muir Trail

Tuolumne Meadows StoreI was looking forward to this day. The mileage was a little easier, and the first nine miles were up the almost imperceptible incline of Lyell Canyon. Getting in later than expected on Day Three meant hanging around until the Tuolumne Meadows Post Office opened so we could pick up our resupply package.

While we waited, we feasted on tasty breakfast burritos at the café. The post office doesn’t open until 9am, and then we had to divvy up the foodstuffs, squeeze everything into our bear canisters and reload our packs. As we were repacking, we met some fellow JMT thru-hikers also picking up their resupply. I’ve found that camaraderie amongst backcountry hikers is effortless.  As John Muir said, “One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin.” You feel that kinship among just about everyone you meet on the trail. I think Muir was on to something.

John Muir Trail Day 4
Distance: 10.25 miles
Cumulative Distance: 40.75 miles
Total Ascent: 1,475 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 12,570 ft
Harrison Map Sheet 12
GPX file
It was nearly 10am when we finally hit the trail — a very late start. From the post office, we took a trail towards the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge then a short segment of the Pacific Crest TrailThis led us to a sturdy bridge over the Lyell Fork, finally reuniting us with the JMT.

Hari heads out

The trail up Lyell Canyon was heavenly. Well, the first nine miles or so.

The water is unbelievably beautiful

First off, the trail is soft, smooth and straight. It’s as close to level as you’ll see on the JMT. And it parallels the sublime waters of the Lyell Fork creek. The waters of Lyell Fork were so clear and so stunning, it was difficult to keep out of the water. So we jumped in! 

At our lunch break, Joan and I (Jeffrey and Hari were up ahead, as routine) found a secluded boulder outcrop next to a wide, deep section of the creek. We kicked our boots off and stretched out on the boulders like lizards in the sun. When it got a little too warm, we jumped into the invigorating water, washing away the trail grime and sweat. It was heaven on earth.

I swam

We lazily lounged about for two hours, enjoying the perfect setting, and then decided we’d better hit the trail again if we were going to make camp before nightfall.

Enjoying the Journey
JMT-JoanWe found that by the end of the day, we were so exhausted, that after cleaning up from dinner, we just wanted to climb into our tent to sleep. I loved our long lunches when we lounged, soaked our tired feet in the water, and took some time to enjoy the moment.
As we hiked up Lyell Canyon, we saw pristine meadows, a multitude of tiny, nameless waterfalls down the steep canyon walls, wildlife and wild flowers. Finally, our trail began to climb. And boy did it climb.

The last bit goes up steeply

Our elevation gain for the day was modest by JMT standards (about 1,475 ft). But most of it was in the last mile. The trail is made up of granite steps better suited to horses than humans. This makes sense because both the JMT and the PCT were designed specifically to support horses, explaining in part the giant-sized steps we climbed to our camp for the night.

We made camp at Upper Lyell Canyon, just before the wooden bridge. There are a number of great camp sites here, and they are spread out far enough that although we had seen other hikers there, we weren’t aware of their presence when we were at our camp site.

Lyell Fork runs rapid here, so filtering water required extra caution. We didn’t want to fall in or lose any equipment.

And at an elevation of 9,670 ft, we were nearing the tree line. Tomorrow we’d be heading over snow-covered Donohue Pass and saying good-bye to Yosemite.

Tuolumne Meadows to Upper Lyell Canyon

This map details our journey on Day 4 of the JMT, from Tuolumne Meadows to Upper Lyell Canyon. You’ll notice that the trail follows a nice, gentle slope for the first nine miles, then ends with a strenuous climb. Phew!

Download file: JMT-Day-41.gpx

JMT Day 4 Photo Gallery

Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.

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Tomorrow, we hike over Donohue and Island Pass and down to Thousand Island Lake

Originally hiked on July 30, 2010. 

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