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[Yosemite]

Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laurel

Hiking, backpacking, running, biking, climbing, rafting, and other human-powered activities in Yosemite National Park

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Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laurel

Postby huynguyen1 » Tue Jan 26, 2016 11:53 pm

I'd greatly appreciate any feedback on my first (of many, hopefully) Yosemite backpacking trip: I'm planning a 4-day trip in late September or early October 2016 on the Hetch Hetchy loop for a party of 4-7 guys, ranging in age from early-30s to mid-40s. We'll go counterclockwise (seems a better way to ease into it), camping at Rancheria Falls, Lake Vernon and Laurel Lake.

1. What are the pros/cons of going clockwise vs. counterclockwise?
2. Avg. temps for the Valley at this time are roughly mid-70s hi/ mid-40s low. How much cooler will it likely be on this loop? (I understand snow/rain may happen, but I'm wondering about what's likely.)
3. Should I be concerned about there being enough water to use? I'm guessing this year's snow might help in this regard?
4. How's the fishing at those two lakes?
5. The other trip option is the Buena Vista loop starting from Bridalveil, but I'm concerned about (1) the higher elevs (colder; snow more likely) and (2) finding good first and last night campsites that don't make the first or last day hikes too long. Night 2 would be at Buena Vista or Royal Arch. I'm leaning heavily towards Hetch Hetchy, but thinking about this one because I've heard the scenery is more lush at this elevation.
6. Any other comments or concerns would be appreciated. Thanks for your help!
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby balzaccom » Thu Jan 28, 2016 10:50 pm

In either direction, you have a steep climb...either up out of Tiltill Valley, or up to the Beehive. But if you give me a choice, I always prefer climbing with a lighter pack. Counterclockwise gives you one full day of hiking (and eating your food) before you have to start uphill. Clockwise, and you are climbing the minute you get across the dam...

Average temps really don't mean anything. The only thing that means anything is the weather report the day before you leave. Figure that the temperature drops about 3 degrees F for every 1000 feet you climb in elevation. Lake Vernon is about 2500 feet high than Yosemite Valley, so it will be about 8-10 degrees cooler.

You should have water at Wapama Falls (you can access the reservoir there, too) and at Rancheria Creek. The climb up out of Tiltill Valley and over the ridge to Vernon could be pretty dry, but it's not that far. Tiltill Creek should have water in it. From Laurel to Hetch-hetchy could be dry, but there is a spring just below the Beehive.

I fished Vernon a few years ago, and wasn't impressed with the fishing. I've heard Laurel is better, but we got snowed/highwatered out the last time we had that on our itinerary.

The trip to Buena Vista has some pretty non-scenic sections until you get to Chilnualna Creek and beyond, That first eight miles or so section only gives you a rare glance through the trees of what's around you. That's not true of the hike out of Hetch-hetchy. You get good views just about everywhere on that hike...
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby huynguyen1 » Tue Sep 06, 2016 12:40 pm

Thanks for the great feedback way back in January. Now that our trip is a few weeks away, does anyone know what the current situation is regarding water availability and mosquitoes for this loop? Thanks!
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Sep 06, 2016 1:10 pm

No mosquitoes, but you will be cold. It was in the 20s at 9000 feet last weekend. The forecast is higher for the next few weeks, but you can expect the weather patterns to change radically by October - you'll want to be ready for snow.

Lakes will have water, and some of the larger streams will be flowing. Without significant rainfall, that is.

Elevations are similar in both locations you mention, unless you spend the trip at Rancheria Falls. The trees are the same, the meadows are the same, the fishing will be the same. Vernon is a larger lake so may have larger fish. Most lakes have brook trout, usually small and overpopulated, rainbows, or both. Some have no fish at all. There's more granite and views on the Hetch Hetchy loop.

This is the time of year I start to carry zero degree gear, and plan SHORT trips. No interest in digging out the car and putting on chains for miles and miles. October can have some iffy weather. You need to carry chains or cables, a shovel, blankets, extra water, etc in the car, just in case.
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby huynguyen1 » Tue Sep 06, 2016 10:22 pm

Thanks! Our trip is 9/23-9/26, so fingers crossed that the weather will be decent. Balzaccom mentions a reservoir at Wapama Falls: does he mean there's a container of some sort that we can tap for water? Or is it a natural formation where the water collects before running to Hetch Hetchy?
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Sep 06, 2016 10:24 pm

Hetch Hetchy, the lake, is called a reservoir.

Don't place bets on the weather. The winter nip is already in the air.
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby balzaccom » Wed Sep 07, 2016 8:15 am

Yes, on both counts!
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby huynguyen1 » Mon Sep 12, 2016 2:09 pm

Thanks! Now for fuel capacity: we'll be five guys on this trip. We'll have three pocket stoves to speed up the meals. Last year the same number of guys were in Big Sur for the same duration and we used two 8oz cans. I'm thinking for insurance double that capacity to 32oz this year. I thought I read somewhere that fuel burns less efficiently at higher elevations, but even then, this seems sufficient. Any thoughts?

Now for bear canister capacity: we're renting canisters from the entrance station and I'm wondering if it's a stretch to think that we can share one canister for two guys. I'm assuming all food and smellies go in the canister, except for the first day's lunch and dinner. Any thoughts?
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Sep 12, 2016 2:58 pm

Canister stoves work great at any elevation. What they do not like is extreme cold - if it's below 30F, the efficiency will drop significantly. That can be offset by putting the canister in the foot box of the sleeping bag at night so the contents don't get that cold and so work fine in the morning despite the chilly sub freezing temps at breakfast time. You will also want to put water filters in there as well so they don't become permanently damaged by freezing, as well, by the way.

How much fuel you use depends on how much you use the stove, of course. So you need to figure out if all you will do is boil water -- I can use an 8 oz canister for more than a week if I boil twice a day, breakfast and dinner. If you are cooking instead of boiling water and rehydrating, good luck -- bring plenty of fuel.
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby huynguyen1 » Mon Sep 12, 2016 3:15 pm

Thanks! We were already planning to sleep with our water filters, and now we'll include the fuel canisters. We'll just be boiling water for food packs and coffee, in addition to frying some trout if we catch any.
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby Phil » Mon Sep 12, 2016 6:07 pm

At sea level and 70 degrees F, you get about 1 hour of burn time out of an 8oz isobutane canister. That's the environment in which they measure stove and fuel performance. For practical purposes, in colder temps, cut that time at least in half, especially with cooking fish. Plan your meals as they relate to fuel use: number of people, number of meals per day, volume of water required to prepare the food and drinks, and give yourselves about 20% more on the conservative side. For my stoves, I usually calculate about 8-10 minutes of run-time per liter boiled, and find that to be generally realistic. Bring 4 canisters and split the load. If you have extra, oh well.

Canisters are usually a mix ratio of 80/20 isobutane (<2% n-butane) to propane. It's a little bit confusing at first, and all very esoteric, but cold temps are boiling points, not freezing points: the point where the fuel will no longer convert from a liquid to a gaseous state. Propane has a lower boiling point (-44F) than butane (31f) and isobutane (11f), so if it's below freezing, your stove will only burn the propane and none/almost none of the other gases. But, for every 1000 ft of altitude gain, and lower outside air pressure that comes with it, the performance of the fuel types will allow you to lower the above limits by about 1 degree F. Besides keeping the canisters warm at night, and even if you don't, if your stove and/or fuel line allow it, invert the canister while the stove is running. That way you go from a pressurized system that requires liquid fuel to vaporize, to one where the liquid mixture is fed by gravity, and you won't get canister fade or complete failure. The result will be better fuel efficiency and a completely empty canister when you're done. It also helps to be more patient and use a lower valve setting than full-on roaring jet engine mode. And one other trick is to use a wind screen or rocks piled up in order to keep the canister warmer as the fuel inside it is depleted.
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby balzaccom » Tue Sep 13, 2016 2:00 pm

A quick response to the stove question:

My wife and I use an MSR Pocket Rocket, and we figure that we get a full week of cooking out of one gas canister. That heats a quart of water in the morning for oatmeal and cocoa, and another quart of water in the evening for Miso soup and our freeze dried dinner. So with our stove, a single canister heats about 15 quarts of water to boiling. Your mileage may vary---depending on what kind of food you cook, what altitude and temps you are experiencing, etc.

But as stated above, an extra gas can is not much to pay for a little peace of mind.
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby MadDiver » Mon Sep 19, 2016 2:30 pm

huynguyen1 wrote:Now for bear canister capacity: we're renting canisters from the entrance station and I'm wondering if it's a stretch to think that we can share one canister for two guys. I'm assuming all food and smellies go in the canister, except for the first day's lunch and dinner. Any thoughts?


If you don't, like me, have much experience with bear cans you'll probably find it tough to use one can for two guys. I was unable to pack a solo 5 night trip food supply into one the first time I tried (thankfully was staying in the tenting area at GA that first night so I used the bear lockers). You could try though, rent a couple, pack em up right there, rent another if needed... And correct, everything smelly goes in the can - lotion, food, toothpaste, lipbalm, etc...

Have fun!
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby huynguyen1 » Fri Mar 10, 2017 10:50 pm

It took me awhile to finish the report for this September trip (I'm a father of two young boys), but here it is anyway: http://yellowbelliedmarmot.tumblr.com. Let me know if you spot any "alternative facts" and, unlike the White House, I'll thank you kindly and make the revision. Thanks!
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Re: Sept/Oct: Hetch Hetchy Loop to Rancheria, Vernon, & Laur

Postby balzaccom » Sat Mar 11, 2017 7:54 am

Nice report--although you caught me by surprise by continuing on to another hike in Big Sur.

really nice photos, no alternative facts that I spotted. But two comments. One photo shows a guy in a headnet. In autumn? really?

And the other comment is more generic. While you talk with awe and wonder about the steepness of the climbs and the elevations you reach, you might take into account the fact that this is pretty much a lower elevation and not very steep hike for Yosemite. Taking a hike out of Tuolumne Meadows or climbing out of Yosemite Valley itself would put this one into perspective.

That said, I loved the photos, loved the commentary, and really enjoyed the sense of teamwork and joy you brought to the report. Keep 'em coming! (The reports, no necessarily the arrivals noted before Big Sur!)
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