Tuolumne Peak, Mount Hoffmann
By: Jerry Keating
What was billed as a leisurely late summer trip to two unlisted peaks in Yosemite National Park proved more strenuous than envisioned. This trip report is organized to help readers who are interested in making the climbs on their own. The leaders were Gordon MacLeod and Barbara Lilley with the writer serving as assistant. The other participants were Kyle & Margaret Atkins, Bruno & Ingeborg Geiger, Rich Gnagy, Fred Johnson, and Nancy Keating.
Camping: Porcupine Flat Campground (8100’) is the closest National Park facility to the starting point for the two peaks. Located 16 miles west of Tuolumne Meadows on the north side of the Tioga Pass Road, the campground is a first-come, first-served facility with 52 sites. The fee is $8 per night for each site, and only currency is accepted. Only one car is allowed per site, and the maximum number of persons per site is six. All food items must be stored in the provided bear locker and not left in one’s vehicle. Don’t depend upon water being available from the seasonal creek adjoining the campground— bring your own.
Access road/trailhead: From the campground entrance, drive eastward on the Tioga Road for 3.2 miles and look for a side road on the left. The 1.8 mile side road to the trailhead (8847’) used to be part of the Tioga Road. The side road is paved but badly potholed. Parking at the trailhead is limited, and an early arrival is recommended. Many day hikers, backpackers and patrons of the May Lake High Sierra Camp start here. Bear lockers are available.
Route to Tuolumne Peak. (10,845’): Follow the good trail for 1.2 miles to May Lake. Continue another 0.2 mile beyond the northern end of the lake to where the trail turns sharply right around a small meadow. Look for a use trail on the left, just past a badly rusted trail sign. Follow the use trail, and you’ll shortly come upon a real frail, constructed long ago. After a small drop into a basin, the trail goes up a series of switchbacks to a saddle at the Tuolumne-Mariposa County line. From there, proceed northwestward cross-country up the eastern slopes of the ridge between Mt. Hoffmann and Tuolumne Pk. toward a prominent point on the main ridge. Then, continue steeply up along the east side of the ridge. The route is Class 2. Fortunately, according to Fred Johnson’s notes on the climb, the summit is not the formidable appearing ridge that dominates the route much of the way but a slightly higher, more approachable, independent point near the northern end of the crest. “I can’t emphasize what a truly memorable summit experience this was for me,” recalled Fred. “Not in recent memory have I so enjoyed being on top of a mountain. Tuolumne Pk. is not an important one, but the incredibly fine view it provided in the solitude of its relatively small summit left a lasting impression.... The extensive panorama included such well-known landmarks as Blackhawk Pk., Matterhom Pk., Mt. Conness, Mt. Dana, Mt. Gibbs, Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Pk., Mt. Lyell, Mt. Clark and the Clark Range, Clouds Rest, Half Dome and nearby Mt. Hoffmann.”
Route to Mt. Hoffmann (10,850’): From the same trailhead used for Tuolumne Pk., follow the good trail for 1.2 miles to May Lake. Turn sharply left and follow the south-side lakeshore to the backpackers’ campground. There is a bridge across the outlet stream (Snow Creek), after which an unmarked but good use trail goes left toward Mt. Hoffmann. The route becomes more indistinct as it ascends, but there are many ducks along the way. The frail circles around a ridge and then proceeds up through scrubby pines to the final 200-foot face. Traverse upward and left below the face to find the easiest route (Class 2-3). The views from the summit are impressive. One participant (i.e., Kyle Atkins) even located where his house was on the Sonora Pass highway.
Best driving map: Guide to Yosemite National Park, Automobile Club of Southern California, which includes helpful driving mileages and shows the campground, the access road and both peaks.
The 2004 Trip: The 10 persons in the party were on hand by Friday afternoon. There were five vehicles, and all were parked in adjoining sites before the campground became full for the weekend. An extended happy hour was enhanced after dark by a campfire, but group members had to keep a constant eye on their respective campsites to ensure that other less fortunate individuals didn’t try to invade them. Rangers occasionally drove by our sites, but no ranger or host stays in the campground.
Two persons remained in camp Saturday, while the eight others drove or rode in three cars to the trailhead. We departed at 8:35 a.m. and hiked past May Lake (9280’) and beyond where the above-described side trail begins. Relying on the map, Gordon opted for a certain route to Tuolumne, and that meant dropping hundreds of feet with additional mileage to reach the peak’s northern approach. Having mentally prepared for a shorter day, Fred, Rich and the writer opted out at this point and leisurely headed back upward to May Lake and then down to the cars. That left Gordon, Barabara, Bruno, Kyle and Margaret for the climb. By the time they left the trail (at about 9760’), they had gained, lost and regained hundreds of feet, but the cross-country terrain to the summit went well. From the summit, they could see it was reasonable to make their descent by the more direct route described above, especially since Kyle had climbed the peak by this route some years before. This saved the group hundreds of feet of gain and several miles of distance, but still it was 7 p.m. by the time everyone was back at the campground. The happy hour and campfire were especially enjoyed.
Sunday was an easier day. Fred, who had signed out, independently returned to May Lake and climbed the peak by the preferred route. Gordon, Barbara, Rich, Kyle and Margaret climbed Hoffmann by using part of the trail to May Lake, a short cross-country route and then the use trail described above.
The Keatings had experienced car trouble on Friday and opted to return home first thing Sunday morning. The Geigers graciously tailed them and helped get the car restarted at Bishop after the engine failed to refire in a parking lot.
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