“South Fork Tuolumne River. The South
drains a small portion of the western edge of the park. The headwaters
begin between White Wolf and Yosemite Valley at elevations between
8,000 and 8,500 feet. The South Fork Tuolumne River exits the park at
an elevation of 4,500 feet, just north of Hodgdon Meadow and upstream
of its confluence with the main Tuolumne River”NPS
There is no gauge for the South Fork, and flows
to predict.Ben had
checked it two times in the past, and found it too low once and
incredibly high the other time. We had looked at it before going into
West Cherry, and flows looked good but a little high.
While waiting in Groveland for flows on another
drop in to the
perfect level, and for our shuttle driver to be free, we decided to
check out the South Fork Tuolumne to see if flows were still in. We
pulled in to the Rim of the World view point, which doesn’t
really offer much view of anything unless you walk to the far end and
stand up on the rock wall, were a gigantic cascade on the South Fork
Tuolumne comes in to view. One quick glance at this dubious gauge had
us sold on hiking down with our boats.
Access to the South Fork Tuolumne is unusual.
There is a
road that clings to the canyon wall, crosses the Middle Fork Tuolumne,
and then ends where a large hydro or perhaps drinking water pipe used
to cross over the river. At this location the pipe has been moved due
to flood damage in years past, but the steep gated road still offers
great access into the steep canyon. There are no shortages of beautiful
vistas on the hike down, with the
Middle Fork dropping in over a several hundred food cascade, as well as
the South Fork falling over several large, but low volume waterfalls.
Garcia at the confluence.
On our initial foray into the South Fork we had a
of Chris Korbulic, Evan Garcia, Drew Duval, one other who I apologize
for forgetting, Ben Stookesberry and myself. Getting to the water, Evan
decided he wasn’t feeling it and opted to hike back up the
steep road while we pushed into the gorge.
Ben Stookesberry takes an exciting line down the first slide.
We had gathered seemingly decent beta for this
first group to
run it had rappelled twice around two large drops and ran some fun
drops in the gorge. We were told a rope wouldn’t be
necessary, and that if the drops didn’t go we could just
execute a throw-and-go portage, perfect for the hot weather. The rough,
rugged gorge contains an intimidating, no way to return
waterfall to get things going.
The initial slide into the waterfall looked a bit
something from Newfoundland than California, so we ran or portaged the
top of it in different ways and got into the gorge. Floating in the
pool below we gazed at the walls around, all acknowledging that trying
to get back upstream or out here looked like a dismal option.
One small class two rapid led us to a large
and we all
got out to scout the massive slide. The entrance looked terrible, but
then not so bad as we saw the slide downstream. We checked from both
sides, and then sat in the shade at the top of the slide debating our
options. The slide certainly did not go, since it slid, then fell
vertically onto another low angle slab, contained a large, lethal
looking pothole with most of the water going into it, and either a
sieve or possible lights out piton at the bottom. Overall no one felt
that the slide was in any way good, and there was no portage route, we
were cliffed in.
There was also no access to the pool at the bottom
slide, so a
throw and go was totally out of the question too. So we looked at the
slide again, checked seal launching options and deemed either option
too borderline to consider seriously.
So how about that dismal exit back upstream?
much our only option, we attained and portaged back upstream to the
pool below the entry falls. High on the right we could see the almost
macabre remains of an old walkway once made of metal pipes and wood.
Unfortunately only a few scraps of wood still clung to the walkway, and
there was no access to get on the pipes even if we had wanted to.
Looking back up at the left, we saw an old ledge
off the water,
apparently the remains of an old mining or perhaps hydroelectric
project. The ledge was located about thirty feet up off the river. From
the top of the pool I started climbing around, hoping to make a short
climb and traverse to the top of the falls, but upon inspection I
couldn’t find a safe route down low, and ended up climbing
higher until the cliff got vertical, but had decent hand holds, and
eventually the hand holds started to fade away, but not wanting to down
climb at this point, and needing to get out, I pushed further up using
some of the old and sketchy anchors that looked like they had been
there about a hundred years, ending with one was just a small braid of
coat hanger thin wires that I tried to not put too much weight on, and
managed to get on the ledge. The ledge was nice and safe, and I walked
it to above the entry falls where I was cliffed out again. There was a
home-made rope ladder attached to an anchor, but it looked like it was
a few years too old to be safe. (if it ever was!) Thankfully the ladder
was attached to a 1” steel rod anchored into the rock, and I
doubled my throw rope over this, used some webbing for a harness and
put the rope in a Munter hitch and got to the lip of the falls.
Korbulic followed next, and orchestrated getting the boats out of
the pool and up above the falls, so we could hike back up the steep and
Most of us were willing to write the run off, but Ben is hard headed, so
the next day we researched our options and drove into Sonora to pick up
a new rope. It was time to get serious, and while most of the group had
reasons (good excuses) not to put back in, Chris joined us for our return.
This time the flows looked a bit on the low side
made quick work
of the put in slide and entry falls, which were certainly smoother than
they looked. Knowing the business at hand, we made quick work of the
rappel to the base of the slide, and gave inquiring gazes downstream
into the deep gorge.
Korbulic rappels down in.
One small rapid led into a nice slide into a big
followed by a
near perfect fifteen footer. It appeared we had perfect flows for this
drop, the hole looked like it would be a stomper with more water.
Korbulic enjoying the good section of the South Fork Tuolumne.
Chris and Ben had gone through I found the angle I should have
used for the great slide and waterfall.
small pool led right into another great slide, this section
wasn’t looking too bad after all!
Once we got done enjoying the slide, we took a
at a manky
rapid leading into a large horizon line, and took turns setting safety
and running down to an eddy on the left. Further reconnoitering had us
standing at the top of a low volume, eighty some odd foot slide. From
the top it looked a little questionable, but perhaps there was a thin
line…we decided in follow a theme of prudence to do another
rappel portage so we could check the bottom. Once at the bottom it was
obvious that the slide wouldn’t go unless there was more
water, undoubtedly too much to kayak the section down to it.
the final slide.
We had assumed that below the gorge, the river
to class III
boulder gardens until the confluence with the main Tuolumne. We were
very dismayed to find that it was actually quite manky class IV-V
boulder gardens with some mandatory portages due to a few completely
sieved out rapids. More water might have helped this section too, but
once again make the gorge too high. Eventually and to our relief we
reached the confluence, plenty of water, and made our way down to the
take-out at Lumsden Campground, glad to be off the river just before