I still haven’t been doing much climbing, but I have been running a lot, especially on trails. With my quals coming up this quarter, I have a ton of work to do (I spent three weekends in a row working at home), and running is a much more compatible way of playing outside right now. Plus you can still have some pretty sweet adventures with running.
I knew SK had done the Tuolumne to Yosemite run before a couple summers ago and I had recently been thinking about doing it myself. During our trail runs in the Eastern Sierra over Labor Day, the subject came up and we realized we were both jonesing to do the run, which meant we could do it together!
We woke up early on Saturday morning, dropped off some dry clothes, our extra food, and Keith with Luke at the Crane Flat gas station (they were heading down to climb Astroman) and drove east on the 120 towards the Meadows. The weather report had been somewhat concerning (~20% chance of precipitation and temperatures in the upper 30s in Tuolumne at 8am), but we were greeted with beautiful blue skies and it was already 50 F when we reached the Sunrise Trailhead near the western end of Tenaya Lake. This helped us with our resolve to wear shorts instead of tights, which turned out to be a Good Decision. Getting dressed, putting on sunscreen and bodyglide, and packing our running packs with sufficient food and layers (we each had at least twice as much food as we needed, which seems to be a pattern with us on our adventures) took a while, but we were off and running by ~8:45am.
The trail is relatively flat for about a mile before starting the first climb, which was definitely power-hiking terrain. But I guess we were still moving fairly quickly because we passed a couple parties of hikers on our way up. There was then a downhill section and some more enjoyable flat single track before the trail split for the final ascent up Cloud’s Rest. You can either go up Cloud’s Rest, or pass to the east of it – we’d figured we could always go around if the weather was sketchy, but it was still perfect weather, so up we headed.
The view from the top of Cloud’s Rest was amazing. You could see so many of the major landmarks in the Meadows and the Valley, and it was just wild looking down on Half Dome, Mt. Watkins, and Washington Column, as well as across to Tenaya Peak, Cathedral Peak, and the Matthes Crest. It was a good spot to stop a little longer to eat some solid food before we began our long descent to the Valley floor (which we could actually see from the summit!).
Then we were off and headed downhill. You have a lot of elevation to lose from the top of Cloud’s Rest (~10,000ft) to Happy Isles (~4000ft), but a lot of distance to lose it over (~10 miles) and the first half of this (before reaching the JMT) were soft, well-graded trail: very nice for running on.
Joining up with the JMT with its steady stream of Half Dome dayhikers was a culture shock after >10miles of relative solitude on the trail (including having the summit of Cloud’s Rest to ourselves), but most people were pretty nice about letting us pass by. The reactions of hikers ran the gamut from dudes who started running when they saw us running to a couple of folks who gave us high fives. The last couple miles down from the top of Nevada Fall were not the most pleasant conditions – uneven, quasi-paved trail with increasing crowds, but at least gravity was still helping us and we were feeling surprisingly good.
We stopped running at the Happy Isles Trailhead, after about 17 miles (according to the map, or 16.5 according to my Garmin), with 5.5 hours elapsed time and a little over 4 hours of moving time. Garmin says we gained ~3000ft and lost ~7000ft. We each had 2L of water in our CamelBaks, which was just perfect. I ended up eating 2 packs of shot bloks, a couple pretzel sticks, half a small bagel, some dried mango, and a mojo bar. We took electrolyte pills every hour, which seemed to work well – I had no cramping.
We made our way to the Ahwahnee parking lot to retrieve the other car (we had to get the first car from Tuolumne) and commence the car shuttle. Maybe not the most fun activity for an afternoon, but the run was totally worth it. If you’re not up for the whole 17 miles, the dayhike to Cloud’s Rest would probably be pretty sweet, too (~13 miles roundtrip).