The Lyell Glacier to Tuolumne Meadows
The adventure opens when we capture the melting drops of water at the Lyell Glacier near Donohue Pass, above Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, and drink them. Those drops of water provide the thematic linkage for the trip, where we trace the Tuolumne River from “Glacier to Golden Gate.” We start our trip at an elevation of 8,600 feet at the trailhead at granite-edged Tuolumne Meadows.
The route ventures 10 miles on the John Muir Trail, where it parallels the trout-filled Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, to our base camp at an elevation of 10,500 feet. That is our launch point to climb 2,500 feet to the Lyell Glacier and Lyell Peak, and capture and drink those first drops of melting ice. At 12,000 feet, the Lyell Glacier is the highest of the 14 glaciers in the High Sierra, and at 13,114 feet, Lyell Peak is the crown above all other mountaintops in Yosemite.
From camp, we then follow Lyell Fork as it flows through Tuolumne Meadows, one of the prettiest alpine meadows in the world. Donohue Pass and granite rims tower above. We hike on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Tuolumne Meadows Proper, the staging area where we will prepare to launch down to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
Greg Stock (Yosemite National Park Geologist)
Tim Palmer (author/photographer with specialty on rivers and disappearing glaciers)
We will examine the effects of a warming planet at Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park and reduced snow accumulations on the Sierra Crest, and in turn, the reduced melt-off and how that affects California’s summer water supply.
Because of global warming, the Lyell Glacier is half the size as it was in the 1980s and could melt off and disappear in the next 25 years. Glaciers, of course, carved out the canyons, domes, and granite plates of Yosemite, including icons such as Half Dome, North Dome, El Capitan and much of the high-country wilderness. Glaciers are important indicators of climate change.
Yosemite’s geologist Greg Stock led a group of scientists that monitored the Lyell Glacier and neighboring Maclure Glacier over a four-year period. They discovered, that since 1900, the Lyell Glacier has decreased by 60 percent and has thinned by 120 vertical feet. In addition, the glacier has “stagnated,” that is, it has stopped moving as a living force, and that stagnation has occurred in recent years, likely within just the last decade. In the process, Stock continued work started by John Muir and then built on by a series of glaciologists in Yosemite’s history.