I remembered the Old Indian Creek Trail: an abandoned NPS trail and before that a trail used by Indians and herders. Some history of the trail here. I did the first part of this trail when writing Yosemite Valley Free Climbs and doing the approach for Arrowhead Spire and Arrowhead Arete. I remember it as a well-built trail that periodically vanished.
We asked a ranger and a few store employees about the trail and everyone said the same thing: yeah, I've been up there… a little ways… and then turned around. The only beta we had was "when you get to the fourth class, go right."
We started up and within 25 minutes were at the junction of where the Arrowhead Arete/Spire climbers trail cuts left. A few minutes later we were at the base of the fourth class and a trail fork. We went left. Why in spite of being warned not to? Because the trail left just looked so much more traveled than the trail that went right. The fourth class turned out to be real fourth class. There was even a rap sling about 80 feet up around a tree. Not a good sign. As far as I know, the NPS has never built a trail that might require a rappel.
Of course we were were off route. Or rather, on route had we been doing the alternate Arrowhead Spire descent (not mentioned in SuperTopo Yosemite free climbs). A rock buzzed Randy's head and we knew we had to get back right. Five minutes later we were back on the old path.
For the next few hours, we stayed about 80% on route. It's very apparent why few hike this trail: its well-built and obvious in sections and then completely disappears for hundreds of yards. High adventure factor.
Three hours of rain, fog and (mostly on-route) hiking led to the final traverse back to the middle of the canyon and Indian Creek. This last seciton is quite overgrown and involves "on route bushwhacking." The trail is obvious at this point, but so is the dense brush covering it!
We topped out and headed back to the Yosemite Falls Trail. If the Tioga Road had been open, we would have hiked up to that and found a shuttle back to the valley (and saved the knees from 3000 feet of granite stair pounding).
The stats by MotionX
Advice for future groups:
be a confident 4th class climber, you may be scrambling
if you don't know what 4th class is, don't try this trail
if you see rap slings you are off route, maybe
start VERY early and alllow lots of time to get lost
wear pants for the overgrown "on-route bushwhaching" up high