TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

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kpeter
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TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by kpeter » Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:19 pm

Purpose:

I did this trip in 2010 but thought I would repeat it since it promised to be relatively snow free, and since I had not been back to the region since. Permits were easy to obtain via the Yosemite site--since relatively few take the Beehive trail compared with those doing the complete loop.

Day 1

I got up very early and drove to the Hetchy Hetchy entrance, which opens at 7, picked up my permit while being peppered by mosquitoes (the only serious skeets I saw on the trip) and continued to the backpacker parking lot, which leaves is a bit of a road walk to get to the dam.
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I had a head cold that I thought I was recovered from, but as I crossed the dam, went through the tunnel, and started up the 8 long switchbacks up the side of the canyon, I began to feel the virus weighing on me. Coughing, breathing through my mouth, etc. But I was so much better just the day before! I slowed to a snail's pace, resting on virtually every shady rock. In 2010 I made it to Vernon, about 11 miles, in 7 hours. Today I was spent after 8 hours and barely made it to Beehive.
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I did find a fine camp, albeit far short of my destination. Just after crossing the tributary south of Beehive--a good water source--I left the trail and angled up the hill on the left to find excellent campsites on top--probably enough room for 5 tents, fire ring (I never use), nice trees, and a relatively short trek down the hill to the stream for water. Compared with the boggy and miserable places I saw other people camping around Beehive it was Nirvana.

After dinner I recouped my energy and bushwhacked from my camp over to Frog Creek and followed it up to its southern crossing. Frog Creek was a torrent and entirely impassable. There was also a fair amount of lingering snow in the deep shade. From there I headed back on the trail to Beehive and back south to my camp.
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Last edited by kpeter on Mon Jun 10, 2019 7:21 pm, edited 6 times in total.








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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by kpeter » Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:20 pm

2nd Day

This was a lazy day, perfect for my virus recovery. Beehive to Vernon Lake was relatively simple. Although Beehive and Vernon are approximately the same elevation, the trail climbs up to the Morraine Ridge intersection and then descends through forest and a lovely granite shelf before taking a short up and down into the Vernon Basin.

As I topped the ridge looking down onto Vernon I could see the spectacular white ribbon of Branigan Creek, though the even more spectacular Falls Creek was hidden around a corner to the left.
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Last trip to Vernon I camped on the North side, where there are some camps in the woods just after you pass the swampy pond-like arm that you see from the trail. To get to them you have to leave the trail--there is no obvious use trail--and just crash through to the shore. This year, however, I noticed that Vernon was so flooded that it was difficult to get close to the shore, let alone get any kind of camera angles that were not clogged with brush and trees standing in water.
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I headed for the outlet instead and found what turned out to be the Veron loop motel. There are half a dozen sites just north and west of the bridge, and when I looked at the bridge I knew I was not crossing it today.
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The sites are in granite and only a couple of them have any tree cover--I got a nice one, not realizing that by dark I would have 5 neighbors. Strangely (and welcome) the next night I was alone.
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After getting in relatively early, I explored the outlet stream and took it easy, turning in early.
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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by kpeter » Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:21 pm

3rd Day

This day was my most ambitious. I decided to try to dayhike to Jack Main Canyon--following Falls Creek. My previous visit I did hike to Jack Main--by following the trail 2.1 miles back to the intersection and then covering the whole Morraine Ridge, down the staircase into Jack Main, a five mile detour that deposits you right where Falls Creek goes over the lip and starts its trek down. This time I wanted to see all of Falls Creek, and I knew there were ways of getting through.

One of my many neighbors at the outlet had done it a couple of times, following the old "snow route" from the back of the snow cabin up to the top. He notes that "2/3 of the way up, cut left and go up the granite slabs to the Morraine Ridge trail--that will avoid a lot of bushwhacking over the last bit." Words to live by.

The trail around the north of the lake was not well maintained and flooded in many places--one spot with a couple of feet of water. I found it easier to parallel it to the north on the granite and drop down to the cabin. The old use trail from the cabin takes off from behind the corral area. It comes and it goes, but with or without a trail it is easy enough to find yourself to the sound of the roaring water. Along the way I came across an old fisherman's camp at a deep bend in the river--for there is no other way than to describe Falls creek in the valley--30 feet across and 10 feet deep at least. After the camp the trail emerges onto the granite and I followed my way to the spray.
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Exploring the Falls Creek inlet to Vernon was the highlight of the trip and rivals the other big-water experiences I have had. What makes this so delightful is that the "creek" roars down about a mile of granite slabs, and for the first 2/3 of the way it is relatively easy to slab hop up and down the creek, seeing it close and from far, at any pace you like, with different angles and experiences with every step.
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There is no describing the power of that water--like standing next to a locomotive that makes the ground rumble--and that cools the air on an otherwise hot and sunny day.

I was so entranced with the creek that I did not want to leave it and declined to veer left and away to ascend the slabs. Instead, when I got to the upper most reaches I attempted to find a pathway up through the ledges, but eventually got stuck and had to bushwhack my way back down through thick--almost impenetrable brush. It was humbling, but as I dragged my scratched and bruised body back to the relative ease of the granite below, I realized I had probably seen the uppermost fall and come within a couple of hundred feet of the top.
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I headed back to camp for a restful evening.
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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by kpeter » Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:22 pm

4th Day

The day out is not usually much fun. But the dawn opened and gave me one of the most spectacular sunrise scenes I have ever witnessed. Falls Creek was on fire right behind and under the bridge.
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I also observed, with some chagrin, that the wade to the bridge at the outlet was now perfectly safe. The day and a half since I first saw it had seen the water levels drop precipitously. What would have been a crotch deep wade through dangerously swift water had turned into a more placid knee deep wade.

I also found that hiking out the trail looked dramatically different than the hike in. More flowers were blooming, for example.
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But I had probably recovered from my cold, and that first day I must have been in a zombie like stupor. It was hot heading down into the canyon, and I was thankful that there were numerous creeks and falls crossing those long switchbacks. Then to the tunnel, the dam, and the indignity of walking back to the car on a paved road.
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Conclusion

This was an excellent trip--one of only a few that were genuinely accessible in early June due to this year's massive snow pack. I saw some stunning water and will not soon forget the sunrise that sent me out.

I was reminded, however, that this is not my favorite trailhead. There are the switchbacks on the old road up out of a hot canyon--although with some nice views--but then there is a second steep pitch to get up to Beehive. It is a 2800 elevation gain, and much of it in the sun. The Rim fire was not comprehensive in this vicinity, but it left much less shade than I had in the 2010 trip, as well as leading to a brush explosion and lots of deadfall in the area between Beehive and Morraine Ridge. I have never approached from Eleanor, but wonder about it as an alternative.
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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by c9h13no3 » Sun Jun 09, 2019 10:15 pm

Wow, epic trip report :). I love waterfalls, and when they cool the air of a blistering summer day, it's pretty magical.

Last year, the trail from Shingle Springs to Kibbie was quite brushy & exposed as well, I suppose from the Rim fire. My wife hates bushwhacking, and hates it even more if she's wearing her favorite running tights. She about killed me at the end of that day. Course, that's an entirely different trail, YMMV.
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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by dougieb » Sun Jun 09, 2019 10:31 pm

Looks like a fine trip. I appreciated your description of the force of the water on the falls. It definitely sounds and looks impressive from your report.

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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by balzaccom » Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:50 am

Great to see those photos. The last time we were there was via a through hike of Jack Main Canyon starting in Leavitt Meadows. The top part of the slabs down Falls Creek to Vernon were easy....but the creek didn't have much water in it. No need to track the Cascades then--it was nothing like your wild photos!
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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by mckee80 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:27 am

That looks like a cool area. Thanks for posting!

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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by SSSdave » Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:29 pm

Today with hottest weather so far this year, anyone trying to cross that bridge would end up like that bear in last year's video. Also expected Frog Creek to be impassable. I've backpacked down to Vernon from Jack Main Canyon west of Falls Creek and there is much unavoidable chinquapin brush unless one takes the joint crack well to the west. Stay too close to the creek and even worse aspen thickets. The long whitewater cascade in your photo behind Vernon is not Jack Main but rather from Brannigan.

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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by davidsheridan » Mon Jun 10, 2019 3:35 pm

Thanks Kpeter for the great trip report. Exciting that the snow is starting to melt, and various areas are opening up for some great backpacking. I was in Yosemite this weekend as well, one night at lyv and bagged Half Dome at sunrise on Saturday morning. The waterfalls, as you experience, or extraordinary this time of year and the weather was fantastic. thanks for putting together the trip apart so quickly, so that we can all enjoy it. Any chance you ran into a man from New Mexico, and his two nephews out there? I was talking to a guy at the Wilderness center in the valley, who I thought would be heading that direction with his nephews.

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