McCabe Lake and Sheep Peak from Tuolumne Meadows

Tom at the summit of Sheep Peak with Mt. Conness in the background
Tom at the summit of Sheep Peakwith Mt. Conness in the background
What do you see if you walk the 6-ish miles into Glen Aulin, and then instead of taking the popular trail down toward Water Wheel and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, you turn right along the PCT and walk in that direction for a while? The Yosemite scenery is beautiful, but it’s the lure of exploration and new places that draws me in. Tom was also excited about the peaks at the far end.

About 13 miles along the PCT, passing Glen Aulin along the way, we turned right and headed up to McCabe Lakes and hiked to the top of Sheep Peak, a mostly indescript, not quite 12K ft peak (11842 ft.), that nevertheless was a grand adventure, with a spectacular view. We took many pictures with Mt Conness in the background, and tried some panoramas with our small point and shoot. It’s hard to capture sweeping 360 views in a single frame.

The Trail

Theresa hiking the ridge to Sheep Peak
Theresa hiking the ridge to Sheep Peak
~6 miles to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp (past Soda Springs and some great scenery along the Tuolumne River. This section is a popular trail, and there were many people hiking with us.

~7 miles before the PCT branches left, and we head right to McCabe Lakes. This section of the trail is mostly flat and winds through Lodgepole forest, and a long beautiful open meadow that made us think about the shepherds that illegally grazed their flocks here before rangers escorted them to the boundary of the park, while escorting their sheep to the opposite boundary. When we stopped for a bite to eat, we saw a lone PCT through-hiker. People stop at Glen Aulin.

Tom looking out from our breakfast spot
Tom looking out from our breakfast spot
The trail to McCabe Lake is listed as 1.5 miles on the map, but 2 miles on the trail sign. It starts out pretty flat, but then climbs up to beautiful alpine lakes below Sheep Peak. It’s after the trail starts to climb, that you see beautiful braided streams, and cascades from the outflow.

I’m not sure how far it is from McCabe Lake to the summit of Sheep Peak. Not far, but there is a nice elevation gain of roughly 2000 feet over steep talus. After my little scare on Horse Ridge a few weeks ago, I don’t really trust my perceptions on things like this, but Tom says that it was “lots” steeper than Horse Ridge. I had been nervous about it before hand, but although I still spent a lot of time imagining the rocks above me coming loose and rolling down on me, it seemed quite manageable. Progress!

Other notes

Breakfast by the river near Glen Aulin
Breakfast by the river near Glen Aulin
We stopped for the night just before getting to a beautiful ridge that would have been excellent camping. Not a long hike from water, and some relief from the ubiquitous mosquitoes. (I marked it on the map.) There were some sheltered sandy spots that would have been fantastic bivy sites, although we’d have been hard pressed to set up the Double Rainbow tarp tent there without hiking poles.

Tom saw another Pika that I didn’t see. Some people have all the luck.

On the second day, we saw exactly 0 people. Bliss.

At one point, sitting up high on Sheep Peak and looking around us, Tom turned to me and said, “Oh, this is why we like going up to high places.” It’s been too long.

Virginia Canyon looks amazing – and quiet (a theme). It’s a longer drive, but a shorter hike in from the Virigina Lakes Trail Head on the East Side. The planning wheels have been set in motion.

Alpine Gold wildflowers on Sheep Peak
Alpine Gold wildflowers on Sheep Peak
Yes the mosquitoes were everywhere. Long pants, long sleeves, a head net and just a few well-placed squirts of insect repellent, kept them pretty manageable. Although I sometimes miss shorts, I love my nylon hiking shirt. Sun protection, insect protection, and I almost feel like it keeps me cooler than when my skin is baking in the sun.

On the next trip, I’m going to carry hiking poles and see how that goes. There are pluses and minuses to everything.

1 thought on “McCabe Lake and Sheep Peak from Tuolumne Meadows”

  1. that was a nice sf chronicle profile on your gritty determination to make it back to the great outdoors after your unfortunate accident. i am currently writing a book called “return to fitness” (da capo press) and would love to speak with you regarding your physical rehab. my previous books include “bike for life: how to bike to 100”; “embedded: the media at war in iraq,” an edited collection of al gore speeches, and several others.

    i have interviewed a constellation of folks already: the new york times fitness columnist gina kolata; lance armstrong’s exercise physiologist in the 90s, an astronaut who spent six months in space and came back weak and with brittle bones, a world champion adventure racer, and several who have have had accidents and are now athletes again.

    my own story: i was fit, did triathlons ( inlcuding two hawaii ironman and two alcatraz), lots of mtn biking, then my body and spirit went idle for about a decade. now i am trying to get fit again.

    hope to hear from you,

    bill katovsky
    sf bay area

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