October 13, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.