Day 8 Summary: Day-hike to the lakes near Vogelsang, then hike down the Rafferty Creek trail and camp.
After yesterday’s big climb, we planned to take life easy this day. We started it off right by sleeping late, not waking up until the sun striking the tent made it impossible to sleep. It was a pleasure waking up to a warm tent for a change. Getting dressed for the day was a much less hurried affair. We crawled out and enjoyed a peaceful breakfast overlooking Evelyn Lake, looking at the map and deciding what we wanted to do that day. We didn’t come to any firm decisions except to head toward Townsley Lake. We’d see what happened after that.
Just the same, it didn’t take us long to get packed. We were old hands at that by this time. Then we put on our packs and got started. It was a bright sunny day and we were hiking in the High Sierra. What could be finer than that?
The first section was super-easy, hiking along the wide meadow surrounding the lake. There were views in all directions, of peaks in the distance and boggy swamps and ponds up close. It was very tundra-like. The grass was green, the sky was that deep blue that you only see at high elevation, and the air was cool and crisp.
Once again, we decided to be both lazy and adventurous at the same time. We stashed our big packs just off the main trail, marked the spot on the GPS, and headed onward with only a day-pack toward Townsley Lake on the main trail. Later on, we would double back to this spot and continue off-trail down into Rafferty Canyon, thus avoiding several miles of extra trail hiking. Most importantly, this would also save us from a tiny amount of climbing back up to Tuolumne Pass. True, we’d end up missing a visit to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, but we weren’t sure we really cared about smelling horse manure and meeting a bunch of people. We’d see enough people tomorrow when we ended the trek at Tuolumne Meadows.
Video of the outflow stream from Evelyn Lake
Light and carefree, we skipped our way to Townsley Lake, which nestled happily up against the imposing granite face of Fletcher Peak. We wandered along the shore, enjoying the flowers and scenery. There was very little wind, but the lake’s surface was already rippled, the reflections distorted. Except for some tiny pools along the shore. Vicki lay down in the soggy meadow to get a good shot containing flowers, mountains, and a reflection. It was warm enough by then that she didn’t care. We ate some snack and enjoyed the tranquility. Once again, we were the only ones there.
Townsley Lake Panorama Video
We continued onward, following the lake’s outflow stream toward Fletcher Lake. We didn’t want to visit that lake, as it was too far downhill for Vicki’s liking, but we wanted to see it, at any rate. On the way we discovered a fine waterfall and had fun scrambling on the surrounding slabs and boulders, trying to get a good angle for photos.
Soon enough, we reached our viewpoint and saw Fletcher Lake. It wasn’t as large as Townsley Lake but it looked pretty, and we saw a number of potential camping sites along its northern shore. We also saw the white canvas tents of the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in the distance. That was about as close as we wanted to get, so we were satisfied.
Video of the waterfall below Townsley Lake
Then we headed back to the trail for a moment before heading off-trail once more. We easily found our backpacks and were relieved that no annoying bears had molested them, for after all, we were far too close to that big camp and we were certain that bears lurked near such a place in hopes of an easy thieving lifestyle. Maybe it was too high up. I had heard years ago that bears didn’t like to go above 8000 feet elevation, as there wasn’t enough food up there, but I had my doubts. A steady breeze and the irresistible scent of bacon cooking every morning ought to bring them running in droves. They like everything that people do, and they’re always hungry.
We didn’t waste any time. We used the GPS and map to get our bearings and headed off into the unknown once again, down and down into Rafferty Canyon. It was easy country to hike, with only a few small cliffs along the way, easily avoided. Soon enough we were down on the trail.
It was getting hot by that time, and we decided to stop in the shade for a lunch break. Yesterday’s “Ramen NOW” debacle was still fresh in Vicki’s mind, so she decided to cook up her remaining stash of emergency ramen noodles. She was now a firm believer in the Power of Ramen, and didn’t care if she had to unpack her entire backpack to cook it. I just shook my head and ate one of the other lunches we had. Our food was getting low, and we were pleased to feel how little those bear cans weighed. Lifting up my pack had become a joy, and the bruised skin above my hip bones was no longer crying out in pain as I cinched the belt tight.
After a long rest and nap in the shade, the ramen had entered Vicki’s bloodstream, and she was fully recharged. We hiked in the sun on a very broad, well-worn trail. We soon discovered why: Several sets of horses went past, both up and down, bringing supplies (and hauling trash) between Vogelsang and Tuolumne Meadows.
The canyon itself was much drier than the other areas we’d been hiking. The grasses were already browning out and going to seed, and the number of wildflowers was significantly less. The canyon floor was mainly wide open, with sloping meadows that allowed for plenty of views. We looked at Rafferty Creek and discovered that it had no water, nor were there any side-streams pouring down from the canyon walls. Maybe it was too steep to retain water, or it was too sandy and the water had retreated underground. This last explanation may be the best one, as we didn’t enjoy the trail’s many sections of loose sand which made hiking such a chore. We blamed the horses for this, as their iron-shod hooves chew up the ground wherever they step.
The lack of water in the creek began to bother us. Our plan was to camp somewhere in this canyon, but we surely needed water! None was to be found. This canyon was dry as a bone. So we had little choice but to hike ever-onward. Sometimes the streambed was far from the trail, so we weren’t sure if there was water, but we never heard any sounds, so we didn’t investigate. We realized that the worst-case scenario was that we’d hike all the way to Lyell Canyon, which was guaranteed to have water, but we didn’t want to do that. I got out the map on the GPS and showed her that there were two possibilities up ahead. One was a side-stream, and the other was when the trail actually crossed Rafferty Creek itself. Surely we’d find water and a campsite soon.
So we hiked on, and, as we expected, there was nothing but dust. We hiked a bit further, and finally Vicki put her foot down. She was getting hot and irritable and grumpy. I didn’t say anything, but I realized that the Power of Ramen had vanished as quickly as it had arrived. So we stopped in the shade for a map consultation. We remembered that the outflow from Evelyn Lake had been running just fine, and it was due to intersect Rafferty Creek in a half-mile or so. But that was too far for Vicki. So we decided to head off, cross-country, directly for the stream.
In a very short time we came across a trickle of water, even though it wasn’t the Evelyn Lake outflow stream we’d been looking for. Hooray! Vicki immediately sat down next to it and refused to move, even though I pleaded with her to keep going. This area was in the middle of a very scraggly forest, with no views whatsoever. Thus far, every campsite we’d picked on this trek had been awesome. I had absolutely no intention of altering this trend. And this place simply didn’t meet my standards. In other words, we were at a complete stalemate. Just the same, it was obviously up to me to do something.
So I left her sitting there all alone. I put on my big pack and started hiking downstream. Surely this puny trickle would intersect the Evelyn Lake stream just ahead. And it did! In fact, it formed an awesome little waterfall over a line of cliffs just before it joined the bigger creek. Woo hoo! And just across the way was an excellent-looking camping spot! All I needed was a way down these cliffs and we’d be golden.
I put down my pack at the top of the falls and headed back to Vicki to tell her the good news. She was partially recovered and was feeling stronger, but she still didn’t want to move. “It’s a waterfall, Vicki. A waterfall!” I insisted, trying my best to sound lively and fun and excited. But she was having none of it. I’m not sure that my words were penetrating her overheated, hypoglycemic haze. So I had no choice. I picked up her backpack and put it on. All she had to do was walk a short ways further. The Irresistible Force was about to meet the Immovable Object. And win.
I grabbed her hands and pulled her to her feet. I handed her the hiking stick and we started off downstream. We began to hear the sound of the waterfall, and Vicki’s mood picked up. I showed her the campsite across the way and she agreed that it looked really nice.
So we wandered along the cliffside and soon found a steep but easy way down. We crossed the bigger creek and checked out the campsite. There was room for several tents, and there was even a fire ring with a big pile of firewood sitting right next to it. Oh, yeah! This was going to be fine. The small waterfall was directly across from us, creating a background sound that was just far enough away to make sleeping not only possible, but enjoyable.
I went back up the cliff and retrieved my own pack, then we set up camp. There was still plenty of afternoon left, and it was still quite warm, so Vicki decided that what we really needed was a shower and some laundry. Let’s face it: After a week of hiking our body odor was impressive. We knew that nothing short of a hot soapy shower would cure it completely, but showering under a waterfall on a hot summer day in the High Sierra would be much better than nothing. And that’s what we did.
And, yes, the water was quite cold, and the rocks in the stream were a bit slippery. So we didn’t get to stand under the full pounding of the water, but we had no trouble getting rinsed off. We dried off in the sun, sitting on the big logs near the fireplace. It felt great to be clean. After that we got down to the chore of doing laundry by hand, and hung up our clothes to dry. There was a nice little breeze heading up-canyon, and it only took an hour or two for almost everything to get dry.
Video of the small waterfall we camped near in Rafferty Canyon
We put on some extra layers and cooked our trek’s final dinner. Tomorrow we would be back in civilization, and would be eating at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill, or would eat on the road if we were already driving by then. We also lit a fire and sat around it into the evening, listening to the waterfall in the darkness. It was another cold yet beautiful night, but the fire made it warmer. We stood near it and rotated ourselves slowly, like a vertical rotisserie, adding more wood when it burned low. We didn’t really want to go to sleep, because it was too final: It would mean that our vacation was essentially over. But eventually the cold drove us into the tent. Vicki fell asleep right away, but I read my book by headlamp for another hour or so before getting drowsy. Then I put out the light, pulled in my chilly hand, tucked the sleeping bag tight around my neck, and cuddled up with Vicki for the night.
All in all, it had been an easy, yet enjoyable day.
Video of our campfire in the early evening
For more Day 8 photos and videos see my Flickr Page.
For an interactive topographic map including our GPS tracks see my CalTopo Page.