Running the Tuolumne

After many years of wanting to take a river raft trip down the Tuolumne, my daughter took matters into her own hands and gave me a Xmas gift of a 2 day river raft trip down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.

We chose Sierra Mac River trips as our guide. The company has been running Tuolumne excursions since 1970, which was a zillion years ago (my final year on staff at Camp)!

We met at 9 a.m. on Sunday July 4th at the La Loma Casa store just west of Buck Meadows on Hwy 120. We boarded a small bus for a 30-40 minute trip to the outlet site by Lumsden Bridge, almost directly below the Rim of the World lookout on Hwy 120.

Fitted with wet suits, helmets and floatation devices, we were ready to tackle the main fork of the Tuolumne for our 2 day 18 mile run to Ward’s Ferry at Lake Don Pedro.

Hitting the river around 11:00 am, we were thrilled as the first three to four miles was a continuous series of rapids. The river was cold and fast, running somewhere in the 3000-4000 cubic feet per second (cfs) range (considered ideal).

After lunch we ran the next 3-4 miles in several hours with ever changing landscape. The real uniqueness of the trip is the absolute isolation of the river. The canyon walls are steep and forbidding with the only sights of civilization found at several long abandoned mining camps or railway tracks. We didn’t see another person until we neared Ward’s Ferry at Lake Don Pedro on the final afternoon.

We stopped for the night at the Clavey river inflow into the Tuolumne. We established our campsite on the Clavey and then went exploring upriver, which is scenic, rugged and wild.

We feasted that night on filet mignon. The river was roaring but we felt as if we were in the middle
of paradise. We had a mostly full moon and with no lights around the stars were bountiful.

We were up by 7 – 7:30 am for a hot breakfast and to prepare for our full day river run. The most exciting rapid of the trip was our first task of the morning. As the Clavey flows into the Tuolumne it hits a steep ravine which has to be navigated carefully or the boat could flip making for a long final day. We scouted the ravine by crossing the Clavey and hiking down the canyon to observe the challenge. After some final instructions we tackled the Class IV rapid and successfully maneuvered our way through.

It was a wonderful trip that I would recommend for novice or expert. The beauty and solitude of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is magnificent and would be enjoyed by all campers who cherish and marvel at the beauty of Camp, Hetch Hetchy or Yosemite.

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