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Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls

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Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 10, 2017 03:39PM
Hi everyone,

my girlfriend and I are coming to Yosemite soon for the first time. We requested a wilderness permit some time ago for the "Laurel Lake-Lake Vernon-Rancheria Falls"-loop departing from Hetch Hetchy on 05/18/2017. Honestly, at that time we were not fully aware of the circumstances resulting from the high precipitation of this winter and relied on some trail reports and pictures from years with a significantly lower snowpack. Therefore, as the date approaches, we would like to ask if anyone has been to the area recently or can provide any useful information on current trail conditions based on his/her general experience of the park. We are no complete novices with regard to backpacking (but have neither bin to North America nor the Sierra before) and possess decent equipment. But our main priority is a safe and enjoyable trip and not any kind of extreme challenge or near-death-experience.
So we would be very grateful for any useful information on:
1.) Snowpack: According to NPS recent wilderness condition report the snow line lies currently around 7000 ft. So I guess there will be bigger patches of snow left in shady or north-oriented places. But can I assume that the trail in general (highest point is around 6900 ft, if I am right...) will be visible and possible to follow in regular hiking boots? Is ist realistic to find snow-free camp sites around the Lakes at approx. 6500 ft?
2.) Stream crossings: That is by far our most important concern, as we are not very experienced in this aspect and do not want to put our lives at risk. If we can not cross Frog Creek and have to skip Laurel Lake, that would be ok for us. But having to turn around at Falls Creek, Tiltill Creek or even at the Wapama Falls bridge just a few miles away from the parking lot would be really bothersome.
3.) I read that parts of the trail may be under water, especially the meadows around Beehive and Tiltill valley. What exactly do I have to expect there? How deep will the water be approx. and for what kind of distances do you have to wade through it?

Thank you very much!

avatar Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 10, 2017 04:36PM
I would assume that the trail from Beehive and beyond is very soupy and
could very well be under snow. This winter the snow pack was higher than
in previous years... like big snow years like 2010 and 2011... but ...
still... until I heard or saw otherwise... I'd really recommend that you scale
back your loop plans...
It's VERY highly unlikely that you do NOT hit a lot of snow heading over Gibson
(which you will go up to 7200 at).
At end of April the snow depth at Vernon was 4 feet...

I did Vernon and Jack Main in 2011 in early May... you can see here:

Beehive had feet of snow then... as did all of Vernon environs...

I'd suggest maybe trying for Vernon... at the most... and be prepared to turn around.
I wouldn't suggest doing the loop ...

I mean you haven't even been to Yosemite.

If you don't go to Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point when you are in the area...
you are making a big mistake.

Be safe

Chick-on is looking at you!
avatar Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 10, 2017 04:41PM
And sorry, no, I haven't been to Hetchy since Feb.

When you drive in you can see the reservoir and the higher country near Vernon...
Like Mahan Peak... and Gibson... if you see ANY snow... then...
There will be a LOT of snow ...

It is VERY typical for Gibson to hold snow into June... and you will more than likely
not be able to follow the trail with any certainty...

Have fun

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 11, 2017 05:12PM
Hi chick-on,

thank you so much for your fast reply and helpful remarks! Although these additional information made me even more sceptical towards the initial plan...
We will arrive in Yosemite two days ahead of the date of our wilderness permit and will be definetely using the first day for a drive around the valley and up to Glacier Point and are planning to go on a day hike departing from the valley on the 2nd day.
The backpacking was more thought of as a bonus, as it has been a while since we have been out in the backcountry in a tent and would just really enjoy the general camping experience and a bit more solitude in this great landscape. But if the conditions won't allow for it, we will be absolutely fine with doing some more day hikes (given that we will find suitable accommodation for the nights we initially planned to spend in the wilderness).

As I understood from your superb trail reports and pictures in this forum, you are also very familiar with SEKI... As we are planning to head further south after Yosemite, would there maybe be a more suitable option for a 1-3 nights backpacking trip regarding the snowpack, stream crossings etc. in SEKI (or maybe even in the foothills) at the moment that you could recommend? We do only have one car, so if it is not a loop or hike-in/hike-out we would be in need of any kind of public transportation between the trailheads.

Thank you again!
avatar Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 11, 2017 10:16PM
Sorry, I'm not really gonna recommend any backpacking destination for SEKI with the snow pack
the way it is and rivers running high...
basilbop has done a number of TRs from what we have done this year... but I just don't know
for people that don't live near enough to visit often if those are the best things to do with
your time .. maybe try to do just car camping as you can best (yeah, good luck with that
in Yosemite Valley)
or try to get Little Yosemite Valley permit and deal
I dunno if Lake Vernon is really something you should spend your time trying to get to
quite honestly...

Somehow someway try to do hikes out of Yosemite Valley... it is the
Incomparable Valley for a reason

For SEKI...
You could maybe do a backpack from Roads End and not hit snow... but I'm not sure
that is time best spent... since there are campgrounds there and you can dayhike...
I dunno... sorry...

I can give you conditions from Road Ends in a week first-hand more
(we only went up to Mist Fall) (and Don Cecil) (and Hotel Creek / Lewis Creek loop)
anyway.. um... yeah, sorry something like Middle Fork... I just don't know if
I'd recommend for never been and all and there were lots of crossings...

Anyway, um.. yeah, since you don't backpack and camp on snow ...
most out of GP is probably not a great idea either since never been.

Well... I'll stop there

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 13, 2017 01:28AM
Thank you very much! We are heading to the airport right now and packed our stuff to account for different options. In general, camping in snow would not be so much of an issue, but then I prefer to go out on skis in winter and have it nicely icy cold and dry, all the melting and water is what's making me nervous winking smiley
I think we will just take our time to have a look around, talk to the rangers and will surely find something fun to do thanks to all of your valuable advice and trip reports in this forum. If we come across anything we feel is of value in this regard we will certainly try to contribute after our trip...

Take care,
avatar Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 13, 2017 07:21AM
Have fun

I think you will be surprised at how dry it is in a lot of places

If I wasn't clear... I wouldn't rec Wolverton Loop...

Unless you want to hike in snow and not really do the loop and go towards
Pear... over the Hump

But Panther Gap... you can have that views with much less effort imo...

Anywho... no need to worry...

Stay in fcfs cgs as needed and go slow and soak it in

Have fun

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 14, 2017 06:44PM
Another thing you should be aware of is that the trail around Hetch Hetchy is closed at Wampa Falls right now. The park started doing this during high periods of runoff several years ago (prior to the drought), when some backpackers coming back from a trip after a storm in June made the mistake of trying to cross the three metal bridges in front of the falls even though water was running over the bridges. One of the bridges actually becomes part of the waterfall when it running high. A few of them were swept off the bridge and into the reservoir, likely dying on impact with the rocks that stick out of the water below the bridge. One of the bodies was never recovered in spite of extensive searching of the reservoir (which I witnessed).

The campsite at Rancheria Falls has been closed more often than open the past several years due to problems with bears and excessive loss of food there. Hetch Hetchy has a number of problem bears that gravitate to it because of the food opportunities it offers. The park usually drops problem bears off in the Emigrant Wilderness, which has very little food for bears except around Huckleberry Lake due to its desolate nature. Many of them head south back into the park and take up residence in the Hetch Hetchy area, which offers many more natural and human food sources. While Rancheria Falls is a very nice area, there aren't many other good places to camp for a long time if you continue on into Tiltill Valley or up the ridge via Rancheria Mountain to Bear Valley. Tiltill Valley has exactly one suitable place to camp where there is a break along the creek in the giant weeds that grow in that swampy area, but good luck in getting there without a machete.
Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 23, 2017 10:15AM
Hey there Jonas and crew,

Been watching this thread for the last two weeks... my crew is in the same situation as Jonas, except we have a backcountry permit for the area this weekend. I have no illusions that we'll be able to make a loop; but am hoping to do some camping and day hikes. Camp 4 will probably be a zoo (Memorial day weekend and all) so was thinking to start first night in the Hetch Hetchy backpackers camp and feel things out from there.

Firstly, I'm curious if you explored the area or did any pack camping in the area? Was it soupy, or were you able to make it anywhere near Vernon? Overall conditions?

Secondly, I'd love to hear hear any of your backup plans (or primary, if you changed them). Would be great to hear conditions...

Many thanks and hope your trip was successful!

Re: Current Conditions: Laurel Lake - Lake Vernon - Rancheria Falls
May 14, 2017 09:24PM
There are still some backpacking options about Yosemite however one could argue that day hiking within and from Yosemite Valley while camping at say walk in Camp 4 would be a more interesting and enjoyable option. Both the below options as well as along part of the trail you had been planning on hiking are within the Rim fire zone with forest unpleasant.

Outside the park boarders is a trail on the Tuolumne River just beyond the Kirkwood powerhouse at 2300 feet at this trailhead at the map crosshairs:


That follows the river for a bit less than 5 miles to Preston Falls at 2750 feet shown on that map. The river is interesting to hike beside. I've personally made the hike. Late spring wildflowers will still be about along the way. There are places to tent both at those falls and a mile downstream.

Another choice inside the park is a few miles upstream with the trailhead here:


The destination is Poopenaut Valley, a stiff steep trail hike of less than two miles down to the river at 3350 feet. I have never personally hiked the trail.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/14/2017 09:30PM by DavidSenesac.
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