We allowed ourselves to sleep in this morning a little bit because we didn’t have to pack up our campsite. We hung out a bit in the morning and drank our (nasty) instant coffee and enjoyed each other’s company. Eventually, we got ourselves ready to go, and packed a day pack with some snacks and my camera for the day. Waterwheel is a little over a 7 mile hike, so it was going to take us a majority of our day.
Side note on clothing: I brought three pairs of running tights for 5 days. I like wearing running tights while backpacking or hiking because it prevents chafing, sunburn, and bugs getting on my legs. They got a little dirty, but I also had the opportunity to wash them in the river, so it wasn’t too bad. I also brought three sports bras, three pairs of socks, and three shirts and also rinsed those in the river on the third day so then when I wore them the fourth and fifth days they weren’t too disgusting. My dad and Karson both wore those hiking pants that you can zip off at the knee. I considered getting a pair of these, but I didn’t really want to invest in a pair and am very comfortable in my running tights. Anything works really, but I would consider wearing long pants because it may be more comfortable in the long run and I don’t think it made me that much hotter.
Anyways, Waterwheel is a bit of a rough hike in that the uphill part is coming back. You basically walk on flat ground for about a mile, then walk downhill for around 3 miles, and then turn around and walk back uphill, and then flat again. This trail follows the river very closely, and at times you even get a little misty from the water. There are also places where you can walk out on the granite near where the water is running, which is pretty cool to be able to do. We stopped and ate our lunch at one of these granite patches near the water. The hike is also unique in that there are these huge cliffs of granite that extend upwards next to the river. They hem you in a bit and force you to stay right next to the river, but they make for some amazing views.
Side note: granite gets incredibly slippery when it’s wet, so be EXTREMELY careful around the water. There have been a lot of injuries and deaths in the park from people wading into rivers that seemed slow moving and harmless, and the next thing they know they lost their grip and couldn’t regain their traction, and ended up getting injured or even going over a waterfall because the granite is so deceptively slippery. When I got close to the river to take some of the photos I wanted to take, my dad was very concerned and was super careful to make sure I didn’t get distracted and accidentally step into the water at all because I would have slipped and, at best, gotten seriously injured. Don’t go into any water at the park near a falls, in shallow granite, or basically anywhere that’s not a safe pool where you know you won’t slip or could possibly end up on the wrong side of a waterfall. Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it is the wilderness and you need to err on the side of caution.
Anyways, the hike starts on flat ground in a sort of forest that runs next to the river. It’s very green and lush, with plants and trees everywhere. As is the case in most of the hikes in the park, there are random granite rocks on the side of the trail occasionally. There were also a lot of mountain jays on this part of the trail, but I couldn’t manage to get a picture because those little buggers are quick. We also saw one of the only redwood trees we saw while backpacking on this part of the trail. I looked up why there were so few of them where we were when I got home (because I love redwoods), and apparently the trees aren’t fans of the high elevation. I can’t say I blame them; I was not a fan of the elevation either.
Sorry I know there’s a million pictures, but this part was soooooo gorgeous. I often wish I was as pretty as Yosemite, so I post pictures of the park as frequently as if I am a pre-teen taking selfies on her first camera phone.
For me, again, the hardest part of this hike was the walking downhill part. Some of it is uneven, hand-carved granite steps, and some of it is just downhill on a trail, but it is steep and not easy to navigate either way. It also gets super hot because, once you get out of the forest, there is almost no shade along the trail. We reapplied sunscreen pretty much every time we stopped, which was fairly frequently when we were walking uphill on the way back because it gets super tiring going uphill for so long, even without packs.
As I mentioned on my last post, the reason this hike is called Waterwheel is because there are sections where the water hits the granite at such a high speed that it pops up into the air and looks like one of those old-time waterwheels that were used to power factories along rivers. I personally didn’t see that much of a resemblance, but I also don’t think we went at a time when the water pressure was particularly high, so we probably didn’t get the full effect of what it looks like when the river is at full capacity. Nevertheless, the hike offered some gorgeous views, and I’m glad we camped the extra day at Glen Aulin in order to be able to do it.
When we returned back to the campsite, we grabbed our kindles (or GameBoys) and headed back down the little sandy beach I described in my last post. We sat in our chairs and enjoyed the last rays of the afternoon sun while eating some snacks and reading, which is basically my idea of heaven. As the sun started to get lower, we gathered our stuff and went and made ourselves some more dinner. I believe I had the freeze dried fried rice and chicken tonight and I had no complaints about it. As soon as it started to get dark, we went ahead and got into our tents because the bugs started to come out and the temperature started to drop. It consistently surprised me throughout the trip how different the temperature is at night and during the day, but the change really makes you feel like you’re someplace that’s wild and unpredictable; almost like Yosemite doesn’t really want you to be there and you feel rebellious, as though camping is a defiant act against mother nature. Romanticizing aside, the temperature change really did remind me that I was definitely in the wilderness, which is comforting but unnerving at the same time, and I’m not really sure how that can be, but I absolutely love the feeling.
Tomorrow would be our last day in High Valley, and then we had to go back to our real lives of jobs and responsibilities and responding to text messages (ugh). We were going to hike back to Tuolumne and then drive home, passing Soda Springs and John Muir’s restored cabin along the trail home. I was bummed to be leaving the next day, but still excited to hike tomorrow and see more of the park and the High Sierra trail. I could have spent weeks up here and been perfectly content.