Jack Main Canyon?

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Jack Main Canyon?

Post by torpified » Tue Jun 02, 2020 7:51 pm

I took a flyer on a Yosemite Wilderness Permit a few months ago, and it seems like the stars might be aligning in such a way that I can actually use it. This isn't a lock: in order to be emailed the permit, I still need to make phone contact with a ranger to receive a LNT briefing---and the failure of my initial attempts to be briefed suggest that this hurdle is non-trivial.

Supposing the permit ensues, I'm going with the acrophobic Mr. torpified from the Rancheria TH for one night. Our deal: Neither of us has been to the area Mr t insists on calling "Hetchy Hetch." We're pretty good walkers---on a wilderness highway type trail like the JMT, we can cover 15-20 miles/day happily. Because we're both born and bred Midwesterners, we have a distinct preference for treeless places over tree-y ones. (Unless the trees are sequoias, redwoods, or bristlecone pines and their brethren.)

Although a Lake Vernon-Tiltill Valley Loop seems like the obvious option, I'm finding myself drawn (partly due to having seen some olde tyme pictures of the place) to the idea of an out-and-back into Jack Main Canyon.

Does that seem right? (That is, would we be fools not to do the usual loop instead?) If it does, are there tips about where to camp/what to look for/sidetrips to consider?

THANKS!








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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 02, 2020 8:37 pm

Jack Main Canyon is scenic on a small scale, granite cliff type, and the creek is beautiful. Side trips to small lakes to the north are worthwhile. Just add Jack Main to the Vernon Lake Loop. If doing the loop clockwise, from Jack Main, you could alternatively, cut over Tiltill Mountain to the next trail se, and descend that to Tiltill Valley. However I was not that impressed with that trail- lots of trees with few views and you would miss Vernon Lake. Early season crossing the Jack Main creek can be impossible. If going counter-clockwise, either camp up in Jack Main (it has very nice camping and allows time for a lot of exploring) or do it as a day-hike from Vernon Lake.

Brannigan Lake is also a gem, off-trail to get there either from Vernon Lake of Jack Main. Either route has steep exposed slabs.

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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by balzaccom » Tue Jun 02, 2020 9:43 pm

i agree with Daisy--but note that from Lake Vernon if you hike up Falls Creek it is not a good route for acrophobes....There is no trail, just granite slabs that are varying degrees of steep. And the longer route around and over Moraine Ridge is long and not scenic.
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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by wildhiker » Tue Jun 02, 2020 10:46 pm

When are you going? If soon, you may have problems with crossing swollen streams. Personally, I've only been to Rancheria Falls and Tiltill Valley from the O'Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy and haven't done the loop that includes Vernon Lake. But I've read plenty of reports on HST that Falls Creek at the outlet of Vernon Lake can be very difficult if not dangerous to cross in early season when the creek is high from snowmelt. If you can't cross the creek, you can't do the loop. Also, Tiltill Valley can be flooded in early season so you are basically wading across a shallow pond. Also, the footbridges over the cascades of Wapama Falls early in your hike can be a problem in early season. Last year (a heavy snowpack year), we planned to backpack to Rancheria Falls at the end of June but turned back at Wapama Falls. Water was surging over the bridges. It looked way too dangerous to us.
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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by torpified » Wed Jun 03, 2020 9:02 am

Thanks, all --- very useful information.

We're permitted early this coming week, from the Rancheria TH; we're aiming to start by crossing the dam and heading toward the beehive; we're more than ready to revise the itinerary if we come to stream crossings above our pay grade (which sits at about our ankles --- no way we'd go near a river surging over the bridge that's meant to span it!).

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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Jun 03, 2020 9:43 am

You will not get far this early if you are only willing to wade ankle deep! Streams are commonly knee deep this time of year, which is not all that bad if you use trekking poles. I doubt the bridge over the outlet of Vernon Lake is flooded this year. Wading through Tiltill Valley is miserable, especially with mosquitoes, but no big deal because it is standing water, even if knee to thigh deep in places. The section from Tiltill Valley back along Hetch Hetchy is, in my opinion, the most scenic part of the hike.

It would be wise to read all signs carefully when you start to be sure that the bridge over Falls Creek at Hetch Hetchy is not closed. This bridge is where many have died when the falls are really strong. The falls create a strong wind and the bridge and trail leading to the bridge are slick- when this happens they usually post a sign at the Laurel Lake-Rancheria trail junction. It is a short walk to the falls anyway, and if you are not sure you are doing the entire loop, it is well worth it to just go and check it out - great photos too. If this bridge is blasted with water, then the bridge over Vernon Lake outlet is likely flooded too.

I think your biggest problem will be thick mosquitoes - be prepared!

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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by SSSdave » Wed Jun 03, 2020 9:58 am

Satellite show snow has finally melted out over Moraine Ridge (8120) during last week but would expect Falls Creek is still flooding Jack Main Canyon in usual spots. Ton of snow in upper drainage still needs to melt out before flow slacks. For example Tilden is still frozen and surrounded by white. Mosquitoes have had awhile to build up without any cold fronts for several weeks and yes that region has lots of glacial granitoid bedrock pools and forest ponds where they breed. As for Rancheria, the whitewater flow is huge on the satellite so likely still impassable though one might phone. That will also block Brannigan.

https://apps.sentinel-hub.com/sentinel- ... Dates=true

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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by wildhiker » Wed Jun 03, 2020 2:53 pm

The satellite photo link posted by Dave shows Falls Creek pouring over Wapama Falls into Hetch Hetchy reservoir. You can't see the trail or bridges at this scale, but the image makes me think that Wapama Falls are high enough to cause safety issues on the bridges.

By the way, if you have a "Rancheria TH" permit, you are not legally permitted to head up the hill directly toward the Beehive. That requires a "Beehive Meadows" permit. When there are multiple trails leading in different directions from the same physical location, like here at Hetch Hetchy and even more so at Tuolumne Meadows, the Park Service treats each of those trails as a separate "trailhead" with a separate user quota. If you get a permit for one trail, you are required to hike up that trail on the first day. In your case, a "Rancheria Falls" permit requires you to hike all the way around Hetch Hetchy reservoir, over the sketchy Wapama Falls bridges, to camp no closer in than Rancheria Creek. This permit requires that you do the "Lake Vernon loop" counterclockwise.

I agree with Daisy that this Rancheria Falls trail around Hetch Hetchy reservoir is very scenic, especially in early summer when the reservoir is full. Assuming it is safe to cross the Wapama Falls bridges, you might find it satisfying to just backpack to Rancheria Creek, camp, and then dayhike further beyond. One trail will take you to Tiltill Valley (and continues to Lake Vernon). I've done that trail to a bit beyond Tiltill Valley. The valley is not particularly scenic and probably mosquito hell. The other trail from Rancheria Creek heads up toward Rancheria Mountain and gives access to scramble up LeConte Point. I haven't done that, but the writeup on SummitPost (https://www.summitpost.org/leconte-point/151594) makes it sounds quite doable with a great view.

By the way, if you start your hike in the morning and find the Wapama Falls bridges crossable, but scary, remember that the water flow will increase in the afternoon and evening as the upstream snow melts during the day, so you would want to get an early start the next day if coming back the same way.

-Phil

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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by torpified » Wed Jun 03, 2020 6:05 pm

SSSdave wrote:
Wed Jun 03, 2020 9:58 am
As for Rancheria, the whitewater flow is huge on the satellite so likely still impassable though one might phone. That will also block Brannigan.

https://apps.sentinel-hub.com/sentinel- ... Dates=true
The whitewater is just as vivid on Caltopo's weekly hi-res. At least clouds of ravenous mosquitoes aren't visible from space. (Or maybe I just don't know how to interpret the evidence.)

I made contact with an incredibly cheery ranger today and now have a permit (which is for Beehive Meadows) and parking pass in hand!

I think the game plan will be to cross the dam and follow the reservoir far enough to have a peek at Wapama falls---and then backtrack and head toward either Lake Vernon or Jack Main Canyon, depending on time/conditions/energy levels. Day 2 we'll return the way we came, and leave the nicest stretch of the trail along the reservoir for a visit when we don't need to brave white water or mosquito swamps to get there!

Describing our tolerances for stream crossings as capped at "ankle deep" was a failed attempt at a joke, but we are cautious. If we are inspired to carry on over Moraine Ridge toward Jack Main, are there awkward water features we're liable to have to negotiate before reaching good campsites? (Although I can guess from the maps, I don't know where the "usual places" in Jack Main are.) And is the crossing of the branch of Frog Creek south of the Laurel Lake junction anything to lose sleep over?

Thanks again---I feel like we're going to be much better at maximizing fun thanks to all your testimony and help.

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Re: Jack Main Canyon?

Post by SSSdave » Wed Jun 03, 2020 6:46 pm

A way to evaluate possible stream crossings is by looking at the map topography while considering how large an area is above the location where one is crossing. If those areas still show melting snows in higher areas, it is more likely flows will also be high. If that trail crossing does not indicate a bridge then one will need to ford that might be a wade or rocks or a log. Try searching for older threads with terms of the stream and or nearby destination lake for more recent summers info.

I never need to ask if there are going to be campsites in the Sierra Nevada because it is quite rare to reach a destination, especially below timberline, and not be able to easily locate usable spots with a little walking around, though they may not be right on top of whatever trail so many only consider.

Laurel Lake like Beehive Meadow is infamous for bears as it is deep dim forest. Bring one of those plastic honey bottles shaped like a bear and they will treat you like royalty. A less mosquitoey choice would be Vernon Lake, IF one camps well away from the vegetative lake edge out in the open glaciated granite. After camping explore Frog Creek above the lake as it has one of the largest populations of rainbow trout in the range that early season are in the creek. Also the big cascades where it drops down from jack Main Canyon.

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