Tue, Jun 4, 2013
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It was 4:50a when I awoke from a restless slumber. I'd been awakened throughout the night every couple of hours when my shoulders would grow sore from lying in one place too long. I thought it would be easy to rise at 4a under such conditions, but apparently those last few hours were the best sleep I had all night. I crawled out of my bivy sack on the side of Andrews Peak and quickly went about packing up my gear. Stars were out in the sky above, but the eastern horizon was already growing light. All was quiet outside, but I knew it would be short-lived. The mosquitoes that had haunted me the previous day would soon wake from their slumber to start again on the new day. Bastards. There were three peaks that I planned to visit on my way back to the TH at Hetch Hetchy, all of them visible from my overnight spot to the west and southwest. Two were unnamed summits while the third was Mt. Gibson. It had the distinction of being the Yosemite summit with the most prominence that I had yet to climb, and was the primary reason I had started off on this 2-3 day backpacking adventure. A strong outing the day before had allowed me to cut a day off the original plan, a fortunate development given the mosquitoes.
Peak 8,148ft is located about a mile due west of Andrews Peak. The route to reach it was straightforward, dropping 900ft to Andrews Lake and then 500ft back up to the summit. Though some cliffs were encountered, it was not difficult to keep things to class 2-3. What I was surprised to find difficult was the uphill portion. I quickly realized that sleep alone was not sufficient to restore my energy. Food, and a good dose of it, had been missing the previous evening when I simply went to bed as soon as the bivy was set up. I had a pack of turkey jerky that I got out and began to eat over the course of the next hour. That would help some. But I really could have used a good deal more. Luckily most of the day's 20 miles were downhill so I wouldn't have to suffer too much of the uphill stuff, but if I'm going to do more of this in the future, I'm going to have to bring more food. Down at Andrews Lake where the saddle is found, the mosquitoes awoke from their slumbers and came out to greet me. I didn't wait to apply the DEET this time.
The sun was just rising over the bulk of Andrews Peak when I arrived at the summit of Peak 8,148ft just before 6a. The slabby summit, though not very high, had unrestricted views in all directions. There was also a stiff breeze blowing across the top which gave me a place to sit and relax for a few minutes without having to worry about the mosquito hordes.
After the short rest, I started down the south side of the mountain, a collection of lower-angled class 2 slabs that were nice in the early morning sunshine. Branigan Lake was below to the left, emptied by a small unnamed creek to the west where it eventually flows into Vernon Lake. I crossed this small creek at the bottom of my descent and immediately began scrambling up to the second summit, Peak 7,942ft. The ascent was short, a tad more than 500ft, and took only 20 minutes. Slightly shorter than the previous summit, the top was similar - largely granite slabs - and I took the second break of the morning here where again a nice breeze kept the terrors at bay. I'd climbed just over 1,000ft of gain on the day and I was tired. This just didn't seem right. I contemplated Mt. Gibson to the southwest, noting that though significantly higher, it was covered in trees and looked to be devoid of views. At least it wasn't going to be a manzanita brush-fest.
It would take more than an hour and a half to cover the two miles distance between the two summits. Heading southeast off the summit was straightforward, but where I thought I would find another easy creek crossing before starting up to Gibson, I found what seemed like the longest lake imaginable considering it didn't even show up on my GPS map (it is, however, depicted correctly on the 7.5' topo map I wasn't carrying). I started following the shoreline to the northeast, but soon grew despondent when the lake looked to go on forever. I cursed loudly into the ether, but it did nothing to lift my spirits. More food in my belly and better reserves in my legs might have made me feel better, but there was no way I could get around being tired. I backtracked and decided to find a way around the west side of the lake. This I managed after about a quarter mile. I then started up the long NE Ridge of Gibson. I had decided on this while I was on the previous summit, choosing the granite ridge over the shorter, steeper route on the forested north side. I thought the views and the scrambling would be better on the ridge and they proved to be so. For the last 3/4 mile to the summit the ridge devolves into a low-angle ramble through the forest understory. Some snow patches here were convenient for filling my water bottles which were surprisingly low. I must have left myself dehydrated as well the previous day as I was drinking at a much faster rate this morning than usual.
It was 8:45a by the time I reached the summit. A 15-foot, class 3 summit block added a modest amount of challenge. Despite the summit block, there were no views to be had, much as I had come to expect. There was no wind either at this time and no hiding from mosquitoes. I looked around briefly for a register and finding none, got on my way quickly. This was the last summit I had planned for the trip. There were others on the way back to the TH, such as LeConte Point, but I had already marked those for another trip even before this one began. From this point, most of the way would be downhill, but there were many miles to go. It would not be a short day.
The next order of business was getting back to the trail, the one stretching from Vernon Lake down to Tiltill Valley. The route I had sketched into the GPS was the shortest way to do this, continuing southwest over the summit and then dropping down the south side of the mountain for about 1,400ft to meet the trail. It looked good on paper but I became wary of it even before starting down. What I suspected, and proved to be true when I spotted it from below, was that the south side had little forest cover and was a horrendous bushwhack. It would have taken hours to get through and probably would have left me with my clothing and skin in tatters. The north and west sides were more heavily forested, making for much easier cross-country. I followed a drainage to the west, picking up the trail in about half an hour, finding it pretty much where the GPS indicated it should be. Not ten minutes later I came up a large, brown-colored black bear ambling up the trail in the opposite direction. He paused at the same time I did, giving me enough time to snap a single photo before dashing off into the brush. The trail emerged from the forest into a brushy mess of willows badly encroaching on the trail. I recall the map at the permit station penned with the word "brushy" at this location. The tread was well-defined and easy to follow, provided one simply keep their hands up to protect the face from getting raked. Going through this stuff without the benefit of the trail would have been ugly indeed, pretty much what I would have found on the intended route.
Where the trail crosses over Gibson's now indistinct SW Ridge and turns to the southeast, there is a fine view of the Tuolumne Canyon and a glimpse of the Hetch Hetchy waters. I startled a backpacker who was stopped in the middle of the trail, studying his map. He was the only person I'd seen since the one party the previous day and the last until I was nearly down to the reservoir several hours later. I arrived in Tiltill Valley around 10:45a. It lies at about 5,500ft, well above the reservoir which is out of view. The valley is more than a mile long and filled with tall marsh grasses that betray its swampy nature. There is a campsite in the woods at the edge where the trail first comes down to the valley, but few others. It's pretty to look at, but you can't wander about the valley like you might in Yosemite Valley or elsewhere without getting sucked into the swamp. At a trail junction I turned west - still more than 9 miles back to the trailhead at Hetch Hetchy. I took to photographing some of the many flowers in bloom all along the trail, some individually, others in abundant displays. There was a short uphill to climb out of Tiltill Valley before starting the long descent to Hetch Hetchy. Some small, still ponds held tall grasses and other calm-water flora, some with bright yellow flowers.
It was noon when I reached the trail junction at the 4,600-foot level. The fork heading east climbs up the Rancheria Creek drainage for more than 4,000ft to Rancheria Mtn before splitting off to other locations. I was taking the west fork heading down to Hetch Hetchy. Now that it was past midday and I was nearing the lower elevations, it had become quite warm. This put the mosquitoes at bay, but my feet were looking for a break. I took a short detour to visit the cascades along Rancheria Creek. My feet found the waters so delightful that they talked the rest of my body into joining them for a dunk in the chilly waters. It was wonderfully refreshing. Back on the trail again, I continued the march which now carried me around the north side of the reservoir where I began to encounter people more often. Kolana Rock on the south side of Hetch Hetchy dominates the view for much of the hike. It is the most impressive rock feature around the area and I began to study routes to reach its summit. Wapama Falls comes into view for the first time when still half an hour away. I came across a sleeping trail crew member and the gear he left in the trail. Drilling and moving heavy granite blocks must surely be tiring work, especially when its 85F out.
I reached Wapama Falls by 2p. It is an impressive sight, draining Jack Main Canyon where I had started earlier in the day. There are three or four bridges in all spanning across the spray line of the falls. As it is only two miles from the parking lot, it is a very popular hike. Today was no exception. Five minutes would not go by on the rest of the hike without seeing other people coming from, or going to the falls. Thunderstorms were gathering to the east much earlier today than the previous day and by the time I had reached the dam the clouds were already moving west over the eastern half of the reservoir. I overheard some discussion about the developing weather, but no one seemed to be much concerned they could get drenched, probably because it would have been a mostly welcomed relief from the heat. I got back to the tunnel and the dam shortly after 2:45p, but it would be 3p before I had hiked the road back up through the day use area to the backpackers' camp. The GPS had registered over 20 miles on the day and my feet and legs were beat. I still had another day to spend in Yosemite but I decided to cash in my chips and head for home. I would come back when my body was feeling better and the temperatures were a little lower. And hopefully a few less mosquitoes...
This page last updated: Mon Jun 10 17:07:43 2013
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