Glen Aulin to Waterwheel Falls
June 4 – 6, 2013
Total distance: 20 miles
The weather service predicted thunderstorms as Chris, Julia, Andrew and I (two-thirds of the family) headed towards Glen Aulin in Yosemite National Park.
Day One: The sky was dark and foreboding, it had finished raining not long before we began the hike. Because of rain, we ate lunch in the car instead of at the picnic table next to Tenaya Lake.
Now on the trail in Tuolumne Meadows, we were in high spirits walking the damp half-mile that took us to the main trail. This was Julia’s first time backpacking and the borrowed backpack looked huge on her, but was light in weight.
The mosquitoes pestered us as we walked through the meadows and trees. Andrew hurried off ahead and said he’d wait at the first water crossing.
As we approached the rushing water of Delaney Creek, a pack train came through. We let it pass before walking across the log, one foot carefully in front of the other. There were a lot more wet crossings at Dingley Creek, but nothing like the swollen Delaney Creek.
We heard a threatening clap of thunder as we walked through the dark forest. Bright flashes of lightning lit the gray sky and we quickly made our way across the open granite slabs. Slushy rain fell that morphed into hail then back into rain. Julia and I put on colorful plastic ponchos in an attempt to keep dry.
The thunderstorm ceased and the sun shone when we reached our campsite on the Pacific Crest Trail near Cold Canyon and along Conness Creek. We ended the day early, snuggled in our tents: warm, dry and comfortable.
Day Two: We awoke later than anticipated, but the sky was a beautiful baby blue without a cloud in sight. Our goal was to hike down to Waterwheel Falls about four miles away from the campsite. Waterwheel Falls, so named because of the huge plume of water that creates a waterwheel effect, was the place that Chris and I attempted to get to last year…you can read about that HERE.
Though sunny and pleasantly warm, puffy white clouds began to fill the sky at noon. We made our way down the twisted path of red rocks, past the languid green water of the Tuolumne River and in and out of the still forest.
We approached a mosquito-ridden marshy area where we sat and changed shoes in preparation for the walk through the flooded trail, then waded through cool water for about a quarter-mile. For some, the water reached their ankles and shins; for me, it came up to my thighs. An unusual sight was seeing fish swim on the trail.
The trail skirted the river as we made our way down the gorge. The water descended rapidly over rocky sections, then rested peacefully before creating the plunging falls.
We made it to the cascading California Falls where we took a break, then down to a portion of the Le Conte Falls.
It was exciting to see the beginnings of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River with its steep canyon walls. Andrew hurried down to the top of Waterwheel Falls looking for a place to fish but found nothing. Because of foot and knee pain, I could not make it any farther downhill and never made it to Waterwheel Falls (for the second time).
Late in the afternoon, the white clouds turned into an ominous bank of dark clouds. We made our way uphill over rocks and granite, again through the wet trail, and back to camp as thunder boomed, though it was hard to discern the noise of thunder from the constant crash of the river.
That night at camp we were plagued by annoying mosquitoes and lit a smokey fire to help deter them.
Day Three: Chris woke us early in the morning to pack up and get on the trail. We had forgotten to check the batteries in the Steripen (which died after a couple of uses) and had to boil all of our drinking water that morning on the campfire since we were out of liquid fuel for the stove. While the family stayed back to tend to the water, I went on ahead since I was slow-moving because of my knee. Ambling along, I spotted pink mountain pride, orange paintbrush and yellow mules ears decorating the path.
Andrew caught up first and brought me a bottle of smoke-infused tepid water; then took off at a break-neck speed and reached the car two hours before the rest of us. During a break, Julia, Chris and I sat at the bridges and watched a marmot run back-and-forth until a pack train came across.
At Delaney Creek I chose to walk through the water instead of trying to balance across the log. The water in the creek was much colder than the water on the trail the day before. During the last mile walk to the car, I saw a familiar face heading towards me. It was Andrew who had come back with a bottle of Gatorade. He also carried my pack the rest of the way—a true trail angel.
We saw many awesome waterfalls on this trip and weren’t too disappointed that we didn’t actually get to Waterwheel Falls. The best part was spending quality time as a family, laughing and creating memories.
On the way home, we stopped at Tuolumne Meadows Grill for a well-earned and very tasty cheeseburger.