The sun was shining again and the air was crisp. It was the kind of air that Muir said he tasted in the Santa Clara Valley. It was hard to believe that we had spent all those days in Santa Clara County walking in the rain.
We decided we would not need our snowshoes, and with the sun shining we also left our snow jackets behind. In fact to keep the packs light we only carried one sleeping bag between the two of us. We started up the Tioga Road, and as soon as we walked by the "Road Closed" barriers, a Ranger truck came barreling down the mountain toward us. We flagged him over, and with another stroke of Muir luck, the driver turned out to the head ranger for the Tuolumne area. We told him about our trip and our planned route. He had skied the Big Oak Flat Road through Gin Flat the week before, and said he thought we would be post-holing the whole 3.5 mile hike from Crane Flat to Gin Flat. He also told us it would be solid snow to Tamarack Flat; the good news was that he thought we could probably make all the river crossings with out getting wet over our waist. I was not sure if he was trying to discourage us or to challenge us to have a real "wild Muir" adventure.
We decided to walk the Tioga Road to Gin Flat. In retrospect, I think this was both a bad and a good decision. Bad because walking on paved roads stinks, especially when they are banked like that mountain highway. First one leg was scrunched short, then the other. The road went up and up, on and on, and following a yellow line in front of your nose is not all that enjoyable.
We finally made it to Gin Flat and the turn off for Tamarack Flat. The stop sign was buried under four to six feet of snow and the road was a vague path through a winter-white mountainside. Route-finding here took all of Donna's skills: she read the topo map to verify the contour she expected the road to follow. We looked for old blazes, but there weren't any, so we looked higher to find openings at the treetops that would indicate a road beneath. Occasionally we found a tree without snow around the trunk, and then we could see if there was roadbed to confirm we still had the trail. We really didn't posthole, but each step sunk down in the snow two to five inches and it was three miles of very hard hiking. That was the good news.we were so glad we had taken the Tioga Road to Gin Flat and not the 3.5 miles of snowy old Big Oak Flat Road.
We were going to camp at Tamarack Flat, but it was completely covered in snow. We decided to keep hiking and try to get a little lower where we could find dry ground. We crossed the waist-high Tamarack Creek without even getting wet, walking over a big fallen log. (Note of honesty: Donna walked, I was so tired by that time, and my pack so unstable that I sort of crawled across on hands and knees.)
The Old Big Oak Flat Road continued down the hill toward Yosemite Valley, though it was no longer maintained as a road. Donna found a set of fresh, very large footprints in the snow (at least a size 13 shoe). This was late in the day and miles from anywhere. Who they belonged to, where they came from and where they were going remains a mystery. The tracks showed this was where the "big foot" had found too much snow and turned around. We followed the to a newly fallen tree that spanned the raging Cascade Creek. We figured we would follow "big foot" over his footbridge crossing the next morning. We camped by huge granite boulders in a sugar pine and incense cedar forest, listening for the call of the Sasquatch.