“How backwards and removed from ourselves we have become that returning to nature is perceived as courageous and dangerous.” – Carolyn Higgins
Who: Just me! When: June 15 and 16th, 2017 Where: Yosemite National Park, Hetch Hetchy Dam and Rancheria Falls Permit: Required, obtained by applying online through Yosemite’s website, fees are $5 per person and a $5 processing fee.
Well I did it! My first ever solo backpacking trip and it was awesome! I had some build up anxiety that I would not be able to sleep at all and maybe be eaten by bears, luckily neither of those things occurred! Now on to the story…
I got up hella early and left Oakland, CA around 5:45am for the approximately 3 hour drive to Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite (this is where San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area’s water comes from). The drive was quick and lovely, taking me to a side of the Yosemite I had never been to before. I hit the ranger station a little before 9am and she issued me my permit and laminated overnight parking pass (fancy!) Soon I was getting myself geared up in the parking lot and cruised down the road to the bridge over O’Shaugnessy Dam to start my solo adventure!
As I was crossing the Dam a group of teens was headed out with a few adults. Several of them had amazing, big smiles on their faces and I said hello and asked one boy with a particularly large grin if he had a great time. He enthusiastically said “Yes! And you will too since you’re walking that way!” This lifted my spirits as I headed off alone and a I saw a rainbow over the water splashing down into the river from the Dam (good omens, y’all!)
After a few Dam pictures I walked through the dark tunnel to the start of the trail. The morning was already warm and when I hit my first hill I was definitely feeling it! The scenery helped me mentally adjust to the altitude change and heat quickly though. Soon I could hear Wapama Falls crashing over the high granite walls ahead of me. As I got closer an older man and a younger teen were headed in the opposite direction day hiking and immediately the guy saw my bag and said “Oh are you backpacking?” I said “Yes and hello” He then started to say how I was not going to be able to go past the falls as they were running too high, there was just no way! I tried to keep the smile from faltering on my face, since as most hikers and backpackers know you have to take what other people say with a grain of salt, my favorite being “You’re almost there” My definition of “almost there” is never the same as someone else’s. So I replied kindly with “Well I will just go take a look and picture then, thank you.” And moved on down the trail trying to not let his warning get me down. It would be a real disappointment not to be able to get past the falls since you can not camp any where between the Dam and the falls, so I would have to turn around and leave. BUM SAUCE.
I took a few deep breaths and decided to just enjoy my time out here and wait to see what the falls held in store before getting completely bummed out. I rounded a final corner and hit the switch backs leading down to the dreaded foot bridge under the falls. The mist from the waterfall was dousing the switchbacks and that did not help improve my outlook. I finally came to the bottom and stood before the splashing tiny footbridge under Wapama Falls. No one else was in sight and the warning sign, plus rescue gear was not making me feel any better.
I stood and watched the water for a few minutes and decided I would just give it a try and turn around if I did not feel safe. It also did not help that I could not see past the first footbridge so had no clue what was lurking beyond the next bend. I doubled checked my phone was in it’s ziplock, gripped my trekking poles tighter, and made a run for it.
The water was definitely flowing strong and as soon as I stepped foot onto the bridge I was hit by big splashes and soaked all the way through. It was not as bad as it looked though and I made it to the next footbridge which was a lot less scary, then the next one after that, and finally onto the trail on the other side. Once I hit that solid ground under my feet I stopped for a deep breath (I had been holding it as I ran across the foot bridges) and assessed my situation. Well I was very wet, from head to toe, but my bag was all right and all my stuff was still attached to me, WIN! Plus it was hot so this actually felt pretty refreshing!
I smiled to myself and started climbing back up the trail. It was shady on this side and soon the mosquitos showed up to bother me since the breeze was blocked by the trees on one side and granite walls on the other. Luckily for me they are not swarming or biting much, at least not yet. I kept a good pace as my clothes dried out and soon hit the camping area a little before Rancheria Falls along the creek. I stopped to eat a snack of goldfish before scouting around to find a private spot. There were a few other tents and bivy’s set up around in the trees but no people in sight. I walked around a bit and the first site I liked was pretty buggy under some big pines so I decided to look a little more and found a great spot up a little hill with more breeze (aka less bugs) and shade under a big black oak tree.
I was all set up around noon and beat from the hot day so chilled out in my tent re-reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed and napping. Around 3pm I was finally very hungry and made some refried beans to eat with tortillas, SO delicious! Feeling refreshed I put my now dry shoes back on and headed up to check out the falls. Racheria Falls was also running high from this amazing snow year and I found a great spot on the granite in the shade to relax and listen to the water rage down the valley to the Hetch Hetchy below.
Soon my stomach was growling again so it was back to camp to make dinner. The owner’s of the tents down my little hill had shown up, a few older gentleman, two younger women, and another couple, who were all spread out in the pines below my spot. I was glad to have my little spot up the hill with manzanita bushes around to give me some bathroom privacy. Using the bathroom in the Wilderness is always a stressful experience for me, being queer, and more so when I am out on my own with no look-out so finding a spot with safety is big.
I leisurely ate my dinner, grabbed some water to filter so I would not have to do it in the morning, and got my binoculars out to watch some very pretty birds flit around on the trees. I looked them up when I got home and they are Black-headed Grosbeaks, they are very beautiful singers and serenaded me in the trees all through dusk into twilight.
I settled down in my tent around 8pm and set my watch for 5:15am since I wanted to head out before the heat and get past Wapama Falls before it was flowing even higher with all the snow melt. I was definitely missing my partner Sarah today, especially when I saw really cute or awesome stuff and I could not share it with her. I wrote a little in my journal, tried to read a bit more but quickly fell asleep, totally at peace, to the sounds of the Grosbeaks singing and the creek rushing below me.
Friday June 16th: All of a sudden it was morning and my alarm was beeping. I crawled out into the morning light, made some coffee and started packing up, feeling anxious about getting past the falls today. I was on the trail a little after six and the morning was already feeling warm, eek! I cruised down the trail feeling good in the morning light (my favorite time of day to hike!) I saw no one else on the trail or any furry friends. I even jogged a little over the flat parts because I was anxious to get to the falls and it was kinda fun.
Then there I was seeing the falls around the bend, even though it was only 7:15am it sure did not look like the falls had slowed down any from yesterday. I took a few pictures of the “easy” foot bridges, packed away my phone, and took a deep breath before rushing onto the first bridge. I should also mention that in between these footbridges that have hand rails, there are just open rock areas, with nothing on the sides, that are also covered in water, FUN!
I made it over the first two bridges and rock areas before hitting the last rock area and the scary bridge. Another deep breath and I trotted ahead, of course my right trekking pole got stuck in between some rocks, pulling it out of my hand and I quickly had to turn around and grab it before it slipped down into the water. YIKES. That crisis averted I jogged over the last soaking bridge and whooped on the other side.
It felt great to be done with that part and knowing that it was all (likely) smooth sailing on the trail back to my car. I slowed down my pace to enjoy it more and stopped to take a nice break on a shelf of granite to dry out a bit since I had again enjoyed a rather cold and non-consensual waterfall shower for the second day in a row.
The morning was beautiful and not too hot, plus I had not seen any other people since I left camp. After my snack break I was back on the trail and soon over the Dam to the parking lot. I was feeling super grateful that I had left a change of clean clothes and shoes in the car, since driving home in wet shoes/socks is not very awesome. Plus it cuts down on the stank factor if you need to stop for food, which I definitely did.
All and all a great first solo outing! I felt way more comfortable and peaceful then I thought I would. As soon as I got onto the trail I knew I would be fine, this is my happy place, where I actually feel the most complete and safe, better than anywhere else in this world. I missed company for sure and especially Sarah. And it is also great to feel that I can do this alone if I want to. I have come a long way and I even wanted to talk to people along the trail! I used to be so shy and leery with strangers, especially cisgender men. I would just try to keep my head down and maybe whisper hello on a good day. The wilderness helped give me this confidence, plus a new sense of peace, the joy of solitude, and so much more. When I am in the wilderness I feel like my most authentic self and that is pretty rad.