Wapama Falls

October 13, 2012
Wapama Falls
Total distance:  5 miles

I went searching for the signs of fall on one of the dreariest days of the month.  I could have stayed home by the fire watching old movies, but needed to get out of the house and get some exercise.

A little bit of fall colors.

A little bit of fall colors.

The drive to Hetch Hetchy was slow.  At 6,000 feet the fog was thick and I could barely see the road in front of me.  One October during a backpacking trip my brother-in-law teased saying, “it’s not fog, you’re in the clouds.”  I thought of him as I drove at a snail’s pace while the wipers washed away the liquid droplets of cloud from the windshield.  I thought to myself, What are you doing out in this weather?  When I arrived at the Hetch Hetchy entrance station, I mentioned to the Ranger that I picked a bad day to come.  He disagreed and said it was a beautiful day then cautioned me to drive carefully.

Walking towards the tunnel.

Walking towards the tunnel.

I bundled up warmly before leaving the car then walked across the O’Shaughnessy Dam and through the dank tunnel.  The water in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was extremely low.  The two waterfalls that spill into the reservoir, Tueeulala Fall and Wapama—the second most powerful waterfall in California, were dry.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and Kolana Rock on the right.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and Kolana Rock on the right.

There wasn’t much in the way of fall colors on the trail, but the vigorous walk was peaceful.  The path led up and down over rocky areas and granite slabs, and in and out of sandy forests always in view of the water.  The top of Kolana Rock played peek-a-boo as the clouds gradually moved across the sky.   The sweet scent of wet grass permeated the air.  A cold breeze blew on occasion, and I heard the thunderous sound of falling rock.

Granite steps leading down towards Wapama Falls.

Granite steps leading down towards Wapama Falls.

Strolling through the scented meadow of dormant grass.

Strolling through the scented meadow of dormant grass.

I was here last in June, 2011 and the bridges were impassable.  This time I crossed them with a heavy heart recalling the day the two doctors from Southern California were washed away to their death.  In years of heavy snowpack followed by hot temperatures, fast snow melt raises water levels until the current actually flows over the bridges.  (Watch the YouTube video to see the falls in full action only days before the doctors attempted to cross.)

From a bridge, steps leading to more bridges.

From a bridge, steps leading to more bridges.

Looking back.

Looking back.

More bridges.

Water flows easily over these when the fall is full.

Looking back at the last set of bridges.

Looking back at the last set of bridges.

Rancheria Falls, was only four-and-a-half miles from the bridges.  There is a backpackers’ camp there that I would have liked to check out.  Having gotten a late start, it was too long of a walk for this trip.  Instead I found a spot on the deserted trail and sat with an obstructed view of the water while eating lunch.

Lunch time.

Lunch time.

View of the water during lunch.

View of the water during lunch.

The sun never came out, and on the return walk it began to lightly rain.  Although wet and cold outside (46 degrees), like the Ranger said, it was a beautiful day; and I think I did indeed find fall.

8 thoughts on “Wapama Falls

  1. Paul, Sr.

    Actually, from the pictures, it did look like a great day for a hike. I’m not sure I would have taken on those bridges, though, even though they were dry. I KNOW I wouldn’t try crossing them if the water was like what’s shown in the video.

    Another GREAT post.

    Dad

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  2. motioners

    We did a loop hike up to Lake Vernon where we spent the night. In the morning we hiked over the peak and down to Rancheria Falls and spent a second night then on our 3rd day headed back to our car going over the bridges at Wapama Falls that you talk about. Brings back good memories. Thanks, bill

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    1. Janet Post author

      Bill, Sounds like a trip I’d like to do. I saw it in the brochure I was given at the entrance station. Was the backpackers camp at Rancheria Falls very big? Janet

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  3. Rockin'

    Janet,
    This is one area I have always wanted to explore. I have heard lots of stories from heat to bears to poison oak. Now after viewing the video, I can add raging water on bridges. I think your take on the trip looks spectacular. Would this be a trip you would recommend in the spring, going to Rancheria? Your site looks amazing by the way. I am still bummed out we did not connect on the trail this summer.
    Rockin’

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    1. Janet Post author

      Hi there! I’m bummed too that we missed each other. But there are more hikes in the future and maybe one day our paths will cross. I love the Hetch Hetchy area at any time of the year except summer. Too hot! However, I wouldn’t cross any bridge that looked the those in the video, especially after reading “Death In Yosemite.” Otherwise, yes, spring would be good for hiking to Rancheria.

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