A moderate Tuolumne climb
— By Matt Johanson
Area: Tuolumne Meadows
Distance: 17 miles round trip
Difficulty: Class 3; moderate to strenuous
Parking and Trailhead: Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center, 8,680 feet
Summit Elevation: 11,974 feet
Best Season: June through October
Permits: None needed for day use but required for overnight travel; visit Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center
Overview: This adventure starts on the John Muir Trail through Lyell Canyon. The trip becomes more challenging where hikers go off-trail to traverse the west ridge of Potter Point, gradually climbing to the notch beneath Amelia Earhart Peak. There is no maintained or visible trail for the final two miles where the ascent requires scrambling and route-finding skills but the climb is fairly straightforward.
Climbing the climb:
Climb high into the mountain air at Amelia Earhart Peak but navigate carefully to avoid disappearing like the famed aviator.
At the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center, pick up the John Muir Trail heading east through a meadow and past the rangers’ office. Following the signs for Donohue Pass, cross a bridge over the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, which will be your companion for the next five miles.
When you see the prominent Potter Point, keep an eye out for the junction with the trail to Ireland Lake. Here’s where things get interesting. Start up the trail to Ireland Lake and climb towards a saddle. Within a mile, you will have to go off-trail, cross Ireland Creek and ascend Potter Point’s west ridge toward Amelia Earhart Peak, which will come into view as you climb, to the south of Potter Point. There is no clear trail though you may find footprints. Your main goal should be to gain elevation as you draw closer to the mountain. As you approach, you will see a notch between the ridge and the north face of the peak; aim for it. From here, scramble south over granite slabs about a quarter mile to the summit. Retrace your steps to return.
Because this trip involves off-trail hiking and scrambling, a single hiker who became hurt might wait a long time for someone to happen by. Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.
This makes for a long haul in one day, especially if you recently arrived at high altitude. Consider an overnight trip.
Matt Johanson is the author of “Yosemite Adventures: 50 Spectacular Hikes, Climbs and Winter Treks.” This is one installment. Signed copies and Matt’s other writing can be found at mattjohanson.com.
DISTANCE & DETAILS
Start: Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center
1.8 miles: Junction with trail to Tuolumne Pass and Vogelsang (go left)
6 miles: Junction with trail to Ireland Lake (stay left)
8.5 miles: Amelia Earhart Peak
17 miles: Return to Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center