A Family Backpacking Trip

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.

We had Pringles with lunch and couldn't resist taking this photo.

We had Pringles with lunch and couldn’t resist taking this photo.

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.

Packed and ready to go.

Packed and ready to go.  Andrew, Julia and Chris.

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.

Walking through Tuolumne Meadows to the trailhead.

Walking through Tuolumne Meadows to the trailhead.

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.

The pack train returned from bringing supplies to the High Sierra Camp.

Mules returning from bringing supplies to the High Sierra Camp.

Julia walking over Delaney Creek.

Julia walking over 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 granite sparkles in the rain as well as the sun.

The granite sparkles in the rain as well as the sun.

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.

Julia at White Cascade on the way in.

Julia at White Cascade on the way in.

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.

On the trail to Waterwheel Falls.

On the trail to Waterwheel Falls.

On the trail to the falls.

Andrew carried the backpack filled with snacks.

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.

At times the river was lazy.

At times the river was lazy.

On the trail.

On the trail.

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.

Water on the trail.

The first section of water on the trail.

Julia tried to keep dry by walking on logs and rocks, but eventually had to get in.

Julia tried to keep dry by walking on logs and rocks, but eventually had to get in.

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.

Water over rocks.

Water over rocks.

The tumbling Tuolumne River.

The tumbling Tuolumne River.

Andrew fished here.

Andrew fished here, a calm area before the plunge.

We made it to the cascading California Falls where we took a break, then down to a portion of the Le Conte Falls.

California Falls

California 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.

The ominous sky.

The ominous sky.

That night at camp we were plagued by annoying mosquitoes and lit a smokey fire to help deter them.

Julia's answer to the biting mosquitos, don the rain poncho.

Julia’s answer to the biting mosquitos, don the rain poncho.

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.

White Cascade at Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

White Cascade at Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

On the bridge leaving Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

On the bridge leaving Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

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.

Mule train on the Tuolumne bridges.

Mules crossing the Tuolumne bridges.

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.

On the trail back.

On the trail back.

On the trail back.

On the trail back.

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.

The perfect end to a long day on the trail.

The perfect end to a long day on the trail.

18 thoughts on “A Family Backpacking Trip

  1. motioners

    We just missed you on your Glen Aulin hike. We (The Motioners + Grand Kids) hiked up to Young Lakes via Dog Lake trail on June 7th (Friday) and returned on the 9th via the Glen Aulin trail. We will be posting some shots from our trip soon. Loved your photos (beautiful) and dialog (great read). All the best, bill

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  2. ellen peterson

    It took me quite a while to read this post… cause the beauty of the pictures pulled me in. Beautiful scenery, fun family (your Andrew is a gem) and great memories. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Janet Post author

      It is such a beautiful area, Ellen. It’s always nice to hear nice comments about our children. Thanks for saying that about Andrew, he IS a gem. 🙂

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  3. Kathy

    Janet, what a cool family camping trip! Really enjoyed looking at the pics of your kids. How old are they anyway? By the way, enjoyed the thought of fish swimming in the trail. How often do folks see something like that? You have made lots of memories together.

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  4. Daniel McCarty

    There is so much to see, that you could spend a lifetime….but then what better way to live. I am headed for the High Sierra’s in 10 days to join with old friends I have not seen in 4 years. I aim to breathe deep that High Mountain air. And it doesn’t cost a dime……Dan-

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  5. Rockin'

    I am just beginning to see the light after being gone from home for 2 months. So I am just catching up on my reading. This trip was fantastic and a memory maker. Just the mosquitoes and weather was enough to never forget.

    How is your knee now? Did you hurt it or is it an old injury? I am hoping it is much better!

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    1. Janet Post author

      The knee is better. Injured as a result of babying my foot. The foot, however, is not better. I’ve been dealing with this since April. According to x-rays, no fracture. Another Dr. appt. in Oct. (but have decided to forego insurance and pay cash for an appt. at the end of this month).

      Glad you’re home and looking forward to your future posts.

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