The big challenge in doing this segment from the north is, of course, Donahue Pass. After the pleasant meadow-hiking of Lyell Canyon, the relentless climb to the top of the pass is a bit of a rude awakening. It breaks up into three simple stages. The first takes you from the valley floor to a river crossing. This first stage is steep and can be quite hot, as a good portion of the trail climbs across a vast, shadeless avalanche corridor. The second stage takes us from the bridge up to a second ford of Tuolumne Creek and then up to a beautiful, windswept lake at the foot of Lyell Glacier. Here, the intrepid hiker can often see multiple specimens of tuckus exhausticus, more comonly known as the plumb-tuckered backpacker. The final stage finds us groveling up the windswept granite swichbacks to the crest of Donahue Pass. From there it's a simple descent into the alpine wonderland of the Rush Creek Basin, long but gentle.
Donahue Pass is nowhere near as challenging from the south as it is from the north. But we're not talking a cake walk, either. The area between Rush Creek and timberline is some of the most inspiring terrain on the trail. The final stab up to the top of the pass is long, but not overly difficult. Be prepared for an extended, knee-jarring descent into Lyell Canyon, but once you're there, the next eight miles are a low-stress, high-marvel stretch to Tuolumne Meadows (and a hot shower, which, if you're in it for the long haul, you haven't had since Red's Meadow.)