On our last day in Yosemite for our spring trip, as Sue and I start getting our gear cleaned up and dried out as much as possible before packing up, I am already looking forward to our high country trip in July. It’s hard for me to leave here and head back to modern reality, so the best technique for making it easier is to focus on our next trip. When we got the car packed up we still had time for a short hike before hitting the road. This is too early for the best wild flowers here, but I was thinking maybe Hetch Hetchy might be starting to show some early displays. The Hetch Hetchy valley is at a lower elevation, and starts getting strong sun earlier. I have seen awesome displays of wild flowers along Evergreen Road, and in the valley beginning in June. At least we had time to hike as far as Wapama Fall for yet another drenching with cool clean waterfall spray. There is a nicely constructed footbridge at the base of the falls, and during the spring flow, it’s really intense there. The valley walls seem to retain heat in the sun, so this display of pounding, hissing, and dancing water is a welcome sight when hiking this trail.
It’s easy to have mixed feeling about this place. After all John Muir absolutely loved Hetch Hetchy, and it was a monumentally difficult thing for him when the Sierra Club lost its battle to save the valley from being dammed.
"Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man."
-- John Muir
Making use of Tuolumne water could have been accomplished differently, but in those days, the technology of civil engineering was very backward. Despite ardent and widespread opposition, and alternative means, congress passed the Raker Act allowing the dam to be built in a national park.
Today there is a movement underway to demolish O’Shaughnessy Dam, and Restore Hetch Hetchy to its natural state, which is being supported by the modern day California Sierra Club. So there actually is a slim chance they might eventually reverse the ignorance of times past provided that the funding can be raised. That seems next to impossible in today’s economy, but I’m not going to give up hope. In my view the restoration would be well worth it, even though it would probably take many decades for the valley to return to its grand natural state.
Back to the hike now. Sorry for being sidetracked. I hate the fact that there is a dam here, but at least we can enjoy this place for the many qualities that ignorance couldn’t destroy. There is a popular trail head into the backcountry here, and those trails provide some day hiking possibilities as well. I have many fond memories of back packing with my old buddies from high school out to Lake Eleanor not far from here to camp and fish. The main trail is accessed by walking across the dam, and through a tunnel hewn from solid rock over to the north side of the reservoir. The trail follows a rocky ledge around the cliff profile with gentle elevation gain and loss, but a very rough surface. In season there are lots of wild flowers and butterflies around. The cliffs, rock features, and vegetation are all captivating despite the reservoir’s imposing specter, but the one most resilient un-transmutable feature is Wapama Fall. As awesome as any of the Yosemite falls, Wapama is a hidden treasure. From the dam area you can only see one lower section, but the actually height of the fall is revealed by hiking deeper into the valley. Falling in twisted crevasse-like sections from the upper rim, this fall is difficult to get a good look at. As you enter the fall area in peak water flow you are immediately pelted with thick spray. The sectioned footbridge gives you perspective but without protection, you are soaked in seconds. And good luck getting pictures. Even our Go-Lite umbrellas were almost useless. A fitting end to a whole week of water in motion.
Click here to see the pictures on flickr
Click here to see my 2005 pictures which include Hetch Hetchy