This year we hiked past the north side of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir with stops at Laurel Lake, Lake Vernon and Rancheria Falls. The hike in total was approx 29 miles. On the hike with us we had George Estes, Thomas Anderson, Carter Curren and Hunter Bennion with brothers Ricks, Anderson, Curren and Hall as hike leaders.
Day 1 – Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Laurel Lake
If you want a successful hike, we suggest you start hiking one of the hardest uphill parts in the heat of the day. The first day consisted of walking around the reservoir through the tunnel, then several miles of steep switchbacks. Once at the top of the switchbacks, the trail got a little easier although maintained a steady uphill climb for several more miles.
During a hard day hiking it is easy to focus on the trail and forget to look around you. If you don’t look around you might have missed the Golden Eagle nest full of several chirping babies and the mother eagle not too far off to the side.
One of the highlights for day 1 was coming across a fresh spring at the trail junction for Laurel Lake and Lake Vernon. if you look to the left of the trail off about 20 feet there is a fresh water spring that held the coldest and best tasting water of the entire trip.
To get down to Laurel Lake the rivers were very high and flooded out some of the trail crossings. To get to our destination we had to hike up river a little and find a safe place to cross the river amongst the fallen logs.
Laurel lake was warmer then the fresh water rivers and other lakes along the trail. This allowed for some fun swimming and goofing off after the hard day of hiking.
You can’t beat going to bed or waking up against this kind of scenery.
Day 2 – Laurel Lake to Lake Vernon
This day was the easiest day both in terms of challenge (mostly gentle downhill) and miles (only about 5.5 miles). The day did offer plenty of fun. We hiked amongst open granite plateaus where the trail is only visible by trail markers stacked up along the way. A baby rattlesnake was found alongside the trail who had no interest in us. The snake had about 2 buttons developed so far.
Towards the end of the hike when we reached Lake Vernon we had to cross amongst a powerful water fall.
We had plenty of time to play at Lake Vernon. George caught a water snake.
Brandon caught some fresh trout. He helped the boys clean it and fillet it, then we cooked it up for a special treat to complement the freeze dried backpacking meals.
It’s hard not to love being in the outdoors when you can sleep at a place like lake vernon.
Day 3 – Lake Vernon to Rancheria Falls
We had a good climb ahead of us to start our hike to Rancheria Falls. This is the day that we coined the phrase 0-George-30. George Estes got the group up well before 5am so we could be on the trail tackling the hill before the sun even crested the horizon. It was hard getting up that early but it sure did make that days hike easier.
This day was about 9.5 miles of hiking. A good majority of it was downhill, which was brutal on the calve muscles. As we hiked around the west side of Mount Gibson we were greated with spectacular vistas, some patches of snow and even saw a good sized Cinnamon colored Black Bear across a large meadow.
The best part of Day 3 was hiking through the Till Till Valley. Hiking is an odd word here as the trail was completely flooded out in the meadow. To cross the meadow we took off our hiking boots and simply waded through the mud that was easily ankle to knee deep. Awesome.
Beyond Till Till Valley as we came down into Rancheria Falls we came across a good sized rattle snake, easily 4 feet long. The snake was non aggressive and was clearly familiar with seeing hikers. It still offered a good chance for some education of how to interact with a rattlesnake (or play with it – either way).
Rancheria Falls was a beautiful campsite to stop at. Days could have been spent at this river just watching the powerful water go by.
Day 4 – Rancheria Falls to Hetch Hetchy.
0-George-30 came out again and gave us an early start to the day. Which was good too because this days hike had us along the north side of the reservoir, which could have been very unpleasant in the strong sun.
As we got closer to the end we crossed Wapama falls. There were several footbridges crossing this waterfall although the water was so strong and high that we definitely got wet when crossing. The falls were gorgeous and easily rivaled the falls in Yosemite Valley. Except here you had no crowds.
After the falls we hiked back through the service tunnel and made our way back to the cars. Eager and anxious for a well deserved stop at in-n-out burger on the way home.
Thank you to all that joined and made this hike possible. It was truly a wonderful experience!