Yosemite Diaries: Arriving in Hetch Hetchy

Sept. 19, 2015: Hetch Hetchy Backpackers Camp

Our alarm in Chicago went off at 4:30 am; it was quiet and dark on our street. After groggily rolling out of bed and getting dressed, I took our dog for a walk before leaving for the airport. My brother, who was housesitting for us, would arrive later that day to take care of her and our cats. As River and I walked along our block, I caught a glimpse of a skunk lurking in our neighbors’ front yard. I guess that counts as the first wildlife sighting of our vacation.

We took a taxi to the airport and a little over four hours later, landed in San Francisco (my in-flight move: Pitch Perfect 2; Kurt’s: Focus). After picking up our rental car, we left the city immediately, heading southeast towards Yosemite, with one quick stop at an REI in Pleasanton to purchase fuel for our Jetboil (as we couldn’t carry it onto the plane). There was an attempt at In-N-Out Burger for lunch, but a line snaked around the parking lot so we gave up and hit McDonald’s. My last non-dehydrated meal for the foreseeable future was a Big Mac. After stopping near Stockton to use a gas station bathroom that looked like about 50 junkies died in it, we finally reached the Yosemite area. Our cell reception went from spotty to nonexistent. The pines began to tower over us, and I was reminded of Special Agent Dale Cooper’s first impressions of Twin Peaks: “Oh Diane, I almost forgot. Got to find out what kind of trees these are. They’re really something.”

We arrived at the Hetch Hetchy entrance to Yosemite around 3:30 pm and checked in with the ranger to get our backcountry permit. The ranger checked our packs to make sure that we had bear canisters for storing our food: “A bear got some food at Lake Vernon about a month ago, so they might be a little more aggressive.” She mentioned that one bear near Snow Pass had gotten smart enough to roll bear cans off of cliffs to break them open, allowing her access to the food inside. Oh yes, we were officially in bear country for the next few weeks.

P1060800After arriving at the backcountry campground, we selected a site for our tent and threw our food and toiletries into a bear vault. We drove our rental Nissan around the loop, giving us a fantastic view of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco’s drinking water. In the early twentieth century, John Muir had unsuccessfully protested the damming of the Tuolumne River, as Hetch Hetchy Valley was one of his favorite sites in the Yosemite River. We took a short walk from our campsite up past a helipad landing area to get a higher view of the reservoir and Kolana Rock.

Tomorrow, our adventure would begin.

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