TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

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

Post by kpeter » Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:51 pm

SSSdave wrote:
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.
Thanks SSSDave for the correction. I've fixed the description. When I came over the rise and saw the one white ribbon I just instinctively concluded it was Falls Creek, but you are right of course. I've been making that mistake since I took this one in 2010.
IMGP1274.jpg
This was taken from highish on the south side of Vernon. But if that massif is Andrews Peak behind it then it is Branigan too and I never have gotten a distance shot of Falls Creek. In that case Falls Creek is pretty much hidden until you are top of it or circle way around Vernon and shoot from near 7438?

As I was climbing up along Falls Creek I took this picture which has the view of a stream I assumed was the Branigan outlet, but now I am not so sure:
DSC03924.jpg
I was pretty high up and far out on the granite so I might have had the angle to capture that outlet.

With regard to the outlet--the flows varied immensely in the day and a half I was there, as I posted over on the conditions thread. Here are two contrasting views:
DSC03872.jpg
DSC03950.jpg
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dustybottoms21
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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by dustybottoms21 » Tue Jun 11, 2019 4:25 am

Excellent TR kpeter! Me and my two buddies are going to this area next Thursday. It’s actually our “Plan B” to Rowell Meadow in SEKI but I don’t think Big Meadow road will be open making that TH inaccessible.

It’s interesting to hear that certain areas were impassable one day but totally fine 1.5 days later. I wonder what these warm temps will do to the region between now and then. Hopefully we don’t deal with the opposite in that it’s passable one day and then impassable on the way back.

So was Lake Vernon so flooded that you couldn’t really access it for good swimming and fishing?

Also, you said it was hot but how hot are we talking? Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is showing day time temps in the mid 90’s for the next 10 days but I’m hopeful that is only near the water and that it cools off quickly once you start moving away from it and gaining elevation.

Our plan, if at all possible, is to do the Loop front hetchy hetchy via Lake Vernon and down towards Rancheria Falls. But we’ll have quite a few crossings and likely a flooded Tiltill Valley.

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

Post by SSSdave » Tue Jun 11, 2019 7:40 am

For lake shore access, you need to do your own homework looking at the topo and satellite view.

Swimming?...At this time of year Vernon at 6.5k is one of the coldest lakes below 8k because it has a huge inflow of ice cold snow melt water from Falls and Brannigan Creeks. For the same reason it also has one of the largest rainbow trout populations in the range that have evolved naturally from one of the earliest plantings in the range in the 1800s.

Doing a loop next week would be unwise. Remember people have in recent years died trying to get back across. There are 3 crossings one can be blocked at. If you are lucky enough to get past Wapama Falls, you could get stuck on that side for a long time if a heat spell hits because there is a immense amount of water above that elevation as snow. Just because one can cross some days as clouds and weather patterns change does not mean that is a consistent pattern. We are now entering early summer with increasing temperatures and heat spells can last for many days into weeks.

More generally only since this Internet era, the value many new visitors have been putting on loop backpacking trips versus out and back trips is nonsense and just a social media phenomenon. Apparently because some think it might be boring to repeat a trail in opposite directions as though in doing so one's eyes have rotated to the back of their heads.

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

Post by dustybottoms21 » Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:16 am

Ok got it. I figured a loop was going to be difficult if not impossible. We’re not trying to die.

I like the idea from Kpeter of going beyond Vernon and up Falls Creek...looks like a fun area to explore.

What are some good sites for checking satellite images of current conditions? I see people posting images all the time here but I don’t remember seeing the sources of these images.

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

Post by kozz » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:07 pm

Just got off the phone with Yosemite park rangers, since I was targeting doing a loop of Rancheria/Branigan/Vernon/Laurel/Beehive starting this Sunday. Their unvarnished view: IF you make it past Wapama, Branigan and Jack Main are basically lakes, Falls Creek at Vernon is likely to be impassable, as will Frog Creek towards Laurel and Beehive. Bottom line: Forget that loop and rethink your trek.

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

Post by looks easy from here » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:27 pm

dustybottoms21 wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:16 am
What are some good sites for checking satellite images of current conditions? I see people posting images all the time here but I don’t remember seeing the sources of these images.
https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/

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

Post by c9h13no3 » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:30 pm

kozz wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:07 pm
IF you make it past Wapama, Branigan and Jack Main are basically lakes, Falls Creek at Vernon is likely to be impassable, as will Frog Creek towards Laurel and Beehive.
2 things:

1) I don't think he's planning to go through Branigan & Jack Main. Probably planning to go over the SW shoulder of Mt Gibson down to Lake Vernon. So the only creek crossings on the loop are Tiltill Creek (slow & marshy in a meadow), Lake Vernon outlet (bridged, usually passable), Frog Creek (optional, if going to Laurel Lake).

2) They have a lot of accidents every year due to creek crossings, so most rangers on the phone are overly dramatic. I've had them tell me some goofy stuff (Potter Creek in the Kaiser Wilderness was supposedly "dangerous"). Creek crossings are legitimately perilous, but I wouldn't take a ranger's word for it, I'd see it for myself. Worse case, you camp out and wait until morning to cross or turn around.

Wapama's bridges could totally be impassable though :|. That fatality was June 22nd of 2017, very similar to this time of year.
Last edited by c9h13no3 on Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TR: Hetch Hetchy to Lake Vernon June 6-9

Post by kpeter » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:58 pm

I talked with folks who successfully completed the loop and coming out as I was coming into the parking lot and getting ready to start. But they had entered after a cool stretch and reported thigh high water at Vernon. The day I started was after a hot day and the falls were impassible--I met the rangers coming back from closing the trail off. All the loop people were switched to doing in-and-outs. Then you saw the differences as conditions cooled down--my before and after pictures of the Vernon bridge. But it is likely that with this heat wave the falls and Vernon outlet will again become impassable. On again off again on again off again.

People do particularly foolish things when they are 3/4 of the way clockwise around the loop and come to the falls--if the falls are impassible they are tempted to try anyway rather than reversing and running out of food the long way back. This seems to be what happened in the death of Meyers (see below.) So it is always better to start counter clockwise so you make the falls decision early rather than late in the trip.

This does not help you if the Vernon outlet is impassible, though. There it is best to wait. Morning crossings are usually better than later afternoon crossings, for obvious reasons.

Moral of the story--conditions can change from one day to the next. And yes, there can be serious consequences.

https://www.uniondemocrat.com/localnews ... pama-falls

https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Yos ... 365691.php

I can't find the news story, but when I did Vernon in 2010 a woman was swept down the Vernon outlet two weeks prior, and took medivac out.

Be careful out there.
Last edited by kpeter on Tue Jun 11, 2019 2:37 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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

Post by dustybottoms21 » Tue Jun 11, 2019 2:12 pm

OK so we will bank on NOT getting the opportunity to complete the loop due to dangerous crossings and potential closures of bridges, etc.

An alternative itinerary:

Day 1: Start at Hetch Hetchy and TRY to get to Laurel Lake to set up camp. Let's assume Frog's Creek will be impassable, so we'll stay near the creek this first night.
Day 2: Take the short hike up to Lake Vernon and explore, camp, fish the lake. Head up for a day hike following falls creek north like Kpeter did. Set up camp that night somewhere on the south, west, or NW of the lake since I am assuming Falls Creek will be impassable.
Day 3: Short hike back near Laurel Lake and set up camp somewhere likely near falls creek if we can't access Laurel Lake.
Day 4: Return to TH

Not what we had in mind for this trip considering we're plan C or D right now but mother nature can be a B**** sometimes.

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

Post by SSSdave » Tue Jun 11, 2019 3:31 pm

dustybottoms21 wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:16 am
...What are some good sites for checking satellite images of current conditions? ...
You would have a difficult time seeing Vernon Lake from online weather satellite images haha. :)

I'm sure you've looked at Google Maps. Like the Satellite tab at browser window lower right corner toggles between Map and Satellite modes. Of course looking at such or anything else is not going to show any current lake flooding however with a bit of common sense together with the 7.5m topo, one ought be able to make sense of where one can get close to both the lake and creek shores as well as where marshy areas are sure to be flooded. Alternatively one could run Google Earth in 3D mode that is a bit more useful given experience interpreting what one is looking at.

Generally either Google Maps or Google Earth has an abundance of useful planning info for backpackers if one bothers to make use out of such. For instance in this era it saves me loads of time sizing up potential camps spots or perspectives for landscapes.

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