I’ve spent years exploring the Sierra, but I’d never hiked to Glen Aulin. George and Steve, on the other hand, have been coming out there for thirty years straight. A place must have a special draw to bring seasoned veterans out every year for that long. I had to see this for myself. After sleeping off the Tahoe Relay, we drove down the 395 from Tahoe, stopping in Walker for some of their famous barbecue. Thunderheads loomed over the Sierra, and we knew we’d be facing some rain.
We parked at a pullout by Pothole Dome, packed our gear, and hiked into the woods. We hiked through meadow and forest, crossing a few ephemeral creeks and bogs along the way. The air was cool with the thunder and light rain. The mosquitoes were out in force, and every time I stopped to eat something or tie my shoe, they’d swarm my legs and arms. Further down along the river, the soil gave way to granite, and we even walked through a volcanic rock formation called Little Devils Postpile.
At Glen Aulin, rather than crossing the bridge into the High Sierra Camp, we climbed up onto the ridge opposite and made camp there. We avoided the mosquitoes, the heavy traffic, and the noise of the High Sierra Camp, plus we had a commanding view of Glen Aulin, Falls Ridge, and even Mount Conness. The indecisive weather never quite committed to a turn. We ate a late dinner, and after the sun set, I watched lightning burst over the horizon as I drifted to sleep.
The next morning we packed our day packs and doubled back. We hiked the trail out to McGee Lake, and at the lake we turned off trail over a granite hump. We found ourselves at the mouth of a huge canyon with Falls Ridge to the right and the Tuolumne Peak massif to the left. Our goal was to climb over Falls Ridge and back down to LeConte Falls, so we stayed as high to the right as possible, keeping in sight a route that could take us over the ridge. The weather was still unsettled.
As we gained Falls Ridge the views into the Tuolumne Meadows peaks opened. Emerging into the skyline were Cathedral, Cockscomb, Unicorn, Tenaya, Clouds Rest, and more. The climb was tough, but mostly nontechnical, and as far as we could tell, no one had been here. Thousands of people flock to Glen Aulin every year, and yet, only a few miles away, and within view of the camp, we could not find one bootprint other than our own.
By the time we had reached the top, the clouds had come back in and the thunder began to roll. We ate a quick lunch, then decided to bail out early and just head back to camp rather than aim for LeConte Falls. We hammered our way back to camp, nearly running the last mile or so, hoping to beat the rain. Just as we pulled into camp, the rain started falling, and it didn’t let up for a few hours. I’d been using my bivy sack for the last few trips, and I had no tent to which I could retire. I donned my rain gear and hunkered down on a camp stool until the rain stopped.
Right at sunset, the clouds opened up just enough to cast an orange glow over our campsite. We ate like kings, then hit our sleeping bags early; it’d be an early hike out. The next morning we hiked out to sunshine and blue skies. Although Steve and George had been hiking out to Glen Aulin for years, this was the first time they’d ever climbed Falls Ridge. It’s comforting to know that even after a lifetime of adventure in the Sierra, there’s still always more to see.