For the last few years I have visited the Hetch-Hetchy region of Yosemite during the week following Easter. It’s a beautiful area, and offers genuine Sierra hiking replete with waterfalls and granite domes, early in the season when the high country is still buried under snow.
This year, my friend Jon and I planned a multi-day backpacking trip up to Rancheria Falls. We are planning to do a thru-hike of the High Sierra Trail in August, and this was the perfect start to our training. We’ve both been in the process of obtaining new lighter weight backpacking gear, so this was a “shake-down” for all of our new stuff (more on that later).
Yosemite had been experiencing some major winter weather during Holy Week, but the forecast called for sunny weather for our trip, and we were not disappointed.
We arrived at the trailhead at O’Shaugnessy dam, laced up our boots, hoisted packs, and headed out. The trail was pretty wet, and there was quite a bit of snow from the previous weeks snowstorms on the path. The trail is on a warm south facing slope however, and by the time we returned most of the snow had melted.
We arrived at the Rancheria Falls backpacker campsite to find most of it buried under a few inches of snow. But our favorite campsite on top of a granite bluff overlooking Rancheria Creek was free and clear. We set up camp and enjoyed a chilly evening (night-time temps in the mid 20’s).
On Wednesday we had planned a day hike to explore Tiltill Valley, which I’d been wanting to do for some time. Again, the trail was snow covered and wet, though most of it had melted by the time we got back. On the switchbacks we encountered a huge fallen tree (blowdown) blocking the trail. We had to rely on all of our mountaineering skills to get past this. Crack!! A stunning avalanche let loose across the valley, which went for nearly half a minute… fortunately my camera was at the ready, and I was able to get a couple of great shots.
As we climbed up into Tiltill Valley, the snow got deeper and more difficult to navigate. As we found ourselves post-holing knee deep snow, we decided we’d gone as far as we could, and turned around. We scrambled up on a rocky dome and had a lunch break, with sterling views and warm sunshine. On our way back, we decided to take a side trip to the upper cascades of Rancheria Falls. It did not disappoint, and we were treated to thundering whitewater from the early spring snowmelt.
Another chillly night at our campsite, but things were much dryer, and Jon had a blazing fire going. Next morning we were up early, and packing to head back to “civilization.” We spent Thursday evening at the HH Backpacker’s campground, savoring cold beers, and Jon’s delicious sausage/black bean/spinach/quinoa concoction (which was quite yummy). Friday morning… on the road back to Sacramento, having had a great week in the backcountry, and leaving us with thoughts about the summer. And feeling VERY relaxed.
Three things I didn’t bring, that I wished for: 1) Sunscreen. We both got toasted. 2) Chaco sandals. Would’ve been nice in camp, but I left them in the truck. 3) My z-rest sit pad.
As I previously mentioned, we were both trying out new gear, and I can say that I am very happy with all of my new kit.
Osprey Aether 60 backpack: This pack is superbly comfortable, and I was never conscious of it feeling heavy (though it was!). The custom molded hipbelt just felt great, and I only had minor shoulder pain at the end of a long day on the trail.
MontBell UL SS Down Hugger #4 sleeping bag: I’ve never really ever been comfortable in a mummy bag, finding them claustrophobic and constricting. The MontBell bag has elastic in the baffles, allowing plenty of wiggle room, and is definitely the most comfortable bag I’ve ever slept in. With night-time temps in the mid 20’s, I was definitely pushing the temperature rating of 32°. But I’ve never been more comfortable in a sleeping bag. And at 1 lb/7 oz, it was a pleasure to have in the backpack.
Bear-Vault solo bear resistant food canister: A necessity in the Sierras these days, and required in Yosemite at all times. Much lighter and more manageable than my old Garcia canister, and the transparent polycarbonate housing makes it easier to find stuff.
Starbucks VIA coffee: I am a self confessed coffee snob. There’s nothing better than a nice strong cup of French-pressed Peets first thing in the morning. I could haul a coffee maker into the backcountry, but it’s sort of a hassle. When Starbucks introduced its VIA Italian Roast instant coffee, I was sceptical. But it actually tastes pretty good, and is a no fuss way to get your java fix when you’re miles from anywhere.
Semi-complete kit list:
Osprey Aether 60 backpack
MontBell UL SS Down Hugger#4 sleeping bag
Mountain Hardwear Batray 2 tarp/tent hybrid
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mattress
Z-rest 3/4 length pad
MSR Superfly stove
Primus .9L kettle
Smartwool Versa t-shirt
Beyond Clothing custom softshell convertible pants
Point 6 merino wool hiking socks
Vasque Breeze LT GTX hiking boots
Arc’Teryx Gamma LT softshell jacket
Smartwool merino wool/poly tights
Arc’Teryx Covert fleece sweater
MontBell UL Down Jacket
Sierra Designs down socks
Smartwool lightweight merino wool gloves
Mountain Hardwear nylon sun hat