Guides Only: An Epic Adventure Down Tenaya Canyon

The Lasting Adventures Guide Staff Takes on Tenaya Canyon

words and photos by LA guide, Kara Maceross

Disclaimer – Hiking/Canyoneering in Tenaya Canyon is dangerous and should only be attempted by those with the knowledge, research, experience and proper equipment.

Take a journey back in time with me to 2018, a magical time where we didn’t even know what the word COVID meant. 2018 was a monumental year for me for many reasons. It was my first season working for Lasting Adventures, and also the year of the 1st Annual John Muir-a-Thon.

The John Muir-a-Thon is a grueling endurance challenge for staff created by an outstanding LA guide who wanted to embrace the same quest for adventure that once inspired John Muir, the same quest that drives our guides on every trip.

The first of these events challenged the guides physically and mentally with a trail-run or hike (guide’s choice!) over a pre-planned, 26.2-mile-long route along the John Muir Trail. The route started near Cathedral Lakes, climbed thousands of feet up and over Clouds Rest, then dropped thousands of feet down to Yosemite Valley, ending with tired legs and happy faces. It sounded epic to me, but unfortunately, I missed it due to schedule conflicts. Bummer.

Naturally, I was stoked to hear that we’d be repeating the John Muir-a-thon every summer! However, the next would be slightly different—instead of doing a massive amount of miles we would only be doing 10.

Of those 10 miles, only about 2.5 would be on trail the other 7.5 would be spent navigating steep terrain, bushwhacking, and rappelling down various waterfalls in Tenaya Canyon, which is also ominously known as the “Bermuda Triangle of Yosemite.” Bring it on!

The 2nd annual John Muir-a-thon started out frantically. I slept through my 4:30am alarm and it was now 5:24am, exactly 6 minutes before we were supposed to leave. I scurried and packed as quickly as I could! Seven guides participated in the event, and of the seven, only one of us had done this route before. We weren’t even sure what route we’d be doing.

All our fearless leader divulged in the lead-up was that we should bring harnesses, a rappelling device, and a bug net, and that it was going to be a long day.

Guides Only: An Epic Adventure Down Tenaya Canyon

We parked on the road by Tenaya Lake and were on the trail by 7:30am, hoofing it hard to keep up with Chris, our fast and fearless leader.

The stoke-level was high as we ditched the trail and encountered a sign about a mile in, warning people not to go further without proper climbing equipment. Let the adventure begin!

After doing some boulder hopping, we arrived at an open slab where the water cascaded down some slick granite into some stunning pools. Will couldn’t resist, and jumped in the first one he could find. I love working with kids. Oh, wait. 😉

This was a quick stop as we had a lot of difficult terrain to cover and our day had just started. Our route had us meandering through the forest until we finally climbed a bit and found what is known as the Lone Boulder, a marker for where we would start our steep and treacherous descent back down to Tenaya Creek after bypassing Pywiak Cascade and Airplane Gully, where a plane had crashed in 1959 and the engine apparently still remains.

The next section was challenging and quite comical at times as we navigated heavy brush. The thick brush made it impossible to see even your closest trail buddy, but I could hear screeches from getting scratched and trying to figure out which way to go. Once emerged from the jungle we could observe the tops of the bushes swaying, indicating where each person was in their own challenge bubble.

If that wasn’t enough, some talus fields and a super steep, class-4 descent followed. Watch your step!

We were finally able to relax a bit as we encountered more solid ground and made friends with Tenaya Creek again. There was a nice cascade and Will couldn’t resist setting up an anchor to rappel into the pool below, even though it’s not a necessary rappel. We were out here to canyoneer after all, weren’t we?!

The rest of us climbed down and discovered an amazing location to have a snack, swim across the large pool of water, and continuously climb up the slick rock wall as far as the bare feet would allow to then slide back down into the refreshing pool below.

We arrived at the Lost Valley and the view was magnificent! Half Dome looked almost unrecognizable as we approached from an angle not frequently seen by humans. The chapter following the Lost Valley was the Inner Gorge, where the real beef and beauty began. This section included lots of scrambling, down-climbing, boulder-hopping, and 4 rappels.

We had a blast navigating through the short, but sweet Inner Gorge and finally arrived at the Lower Canyon with views sprawling all around us of Quarter Domes, Mount Watkins, and again Half Dome, getting ever closer.

Arriving at the Lower Canyon, it was time to put away the ropes and harnesses and focus on the beauty around us as we navigated the canyon. A 4-mile feather separated us and our car, and those last 4 miles seemed to drag on forever and forever.

We followed streams, game, and social trails, backtracked a bit, and talked a lot, hoping to finally break through the brush and find the well-established trail that would lead us past Mirror Lake and onward to finally resting our legs for the day.

We finally finished our epic day and the 2nd Annual John Muir-a-Thon with tattered, tired legs, and tales to tell for years to come. This adventure would be hard to beat and one I’m sure John Muir himself would have enjoyed!


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