Our second camp move was to be our final camp move. Measles shots and SAR had cut into our trails time out of Tuolumne Meadows, but the project at Vogelsang was ready for us now in the High Country.
Several of us started out hiking in a group up Lyell Canyon. We turned right at the junction to the Vogelsang trail and started the climb out of the canyon. At the first switchback, I saw two interesting hikers. An Asian guy was sprawled across the rock wall at the corner. He still had his daypack on, but he was panting heavily and had unbuttoned his shirt all the way. His partner was taking his pulse. Yup. They hadn’t even finished the first switchback yet.
It was a steep climb out of Tuolumne Meadows, but it wasn’t very long. Once we climbed to the top, the next
ten six miles were a relatively gentle stroll. Seven of those ten three of those six miles were over the unbroken causeway of Rafferty Meadows.
Rafferty Meadows was legendary. A popular high country route, the trail through the meadow had been one of the most spectacular examples of trail rutting of all time. Being a meadow, Rafferty collected the water runoff from all around. This made the trail wet and marshy. Well, nobody likes to walk through ankle deep mud, so people started hiking to the sides of the official trail, up on the grass that was still above the mud. Over the years, new trails were beaten down alongside the original…and then these trails were worn down into the mud. So what would people do then? Move over onto the higher grass and make new trails.
This process went on for decades. Eventually there were up to fifteen side by side ruts through the meadow. Some of these ruts were a full three feet deep. The meadow turned into a nasty quagmire. The entire meadow ecosystem was impacted. NPS realized something needed to be done to correct the problem.
The first solution was to reroute the trail up the hillside to drier terrain. The reroute went the full
seven three miles. The only problem with this was that the new higher trail stayed buried in snow until well into the hiking season. Early season hikers really had no choice but to hike through the muddy ruts in the meadow.
The second solution worked but it was labor intensive and took three full seasons to complete. Trail crews built causeway trail for the full
seven three mile stretch through Rafferty. In a causeway, the sides of the trail are lined with a single tier rock wall, and the space in the middle is filled with crushed granite. Then dirt is piled on top of the fill to provide a smooth trail tread. This raises the trail bed around a foot, but water can still pass through the rock wall and crushed fill. The meadow ecosystem was restored, and hikers stayed on the trail with dry feet. Win-win!
My Del Norte C-1, Kristen, had worked on the Rafferty causeway. It was about five years old when I hiked over it in 1987, and it was still in great shape.
(Edit: When I first posted this, I was wrong on the distances. Oops.)