Yosemite Hetch Hetchy Backpacking: I Saw a Bear! I Saw a Rattlesnake!

I saw a bear! I saw a rattlesnake! I got so so many mosquito bites! I spent the weekend backpacking in Yosemite.

Driving to Yosemite is one of my favorite things to do. You throw your backpack and tent in the trunk, get gas, make sure you have extra water and car snacks. I have the whole route down to a science: where I stop for dinner or coffee, depending on the time of day, the last gas before you get really into the park, podcasts queued up, camera at the helm in the passenger seat. And all of this is just in anticipation of the adventure that is to come.

I drove out to Hetch Hetchy on a Thursday afternoon so that I could take my time (I pull over for photos, a lot) and stay in the backpacker’s camp the night before our trip. I made it just as the sun was getting low, nabbed a campsite and settled in with my book for the evening. 

Friday morning the rest of the campers showed up and our group leader, Graham, dolled out gear and food for the group to divvy up. In the Yosemite backcountry bear canisters are required—large plastic tubs that you keep food and any scented toiletries in to prevent bears from wrecking havoc. These are large and cumbersome, especially when stuffed into a backpacking backpack with all your other gear. Fortunately we got to share and only had one canister per two people—I managed to pawn mine off on a backpacking newbie, taking an extra tent instead. He was there for the full experience, after all.

After teaching us how to pack our gear and having a quick meal at the trailhead, we were off! And up! For six to seven (let’s call it seven) miles of moderate (but let’s call it strenuous) totally uphill (largely flat) hiking. We went through a tunnel. We crossed bridges. We saw a rainbow. We got pummeled by a waterfall. Standard backpacking fare.

We got to camp just as the light was softening and the sun was beginning to dip behind the granite mountains. A perfect time to set up tents, collect water from the creek for the night, and get started on dinner: pizza, of all things! Let me tell you, pizza is great on a normal day. Think about pizza after hiking up a mountain (or, you know, along one), deep in the Yosemite backcountry. I think folks stayed up a little later than me but I was pretty much in bed after that pizza. Mmm, pizza.

The next morning saw us making a leisurely breakfast of coffee, eggs, and hash browns before setting out on a day hike. We slathered ourselves in sunscreen and left most of our gear at camp before hiking, you guessed it, up a mountain! I exaggerate. A little. We did see another waterfall. We stopped in a field to enjoy a lunch of tuna and crackers, where we watched a storm roll in, hoping it would continue to roll right on over.

After lunch we hiked back to camp, downhill!, where we were rewarded for all our downhill! hiking with a free couple hours before dinner. We all scrambled down to Rancheria Creek and explored farther, finding a large granite slab perfect for sunbathing (and portraits!) with (you guessed it) a waterfall and view of the reservoir. Then back to camp for cards and tacos. Mmm, tacos. We even witnessed Graham eat something extremely out of character for his nutrition and fitness obsessed self, but I promised I wouldn’t leak photos so you’ll have to use your imaginations on this one. Again, I was pretty much first in my tent right after dinner. The other campers might have partied with some bears all night, but I slept peacefully in my tent. Didn’t even stay up for any star photos. Hiking up so many mountains really takes it out of you.

Sunday morning we were up! We had oatmeal and coffee! We packed up our gear and were out of there! Fastest seven miles down a mountain I have ever hiked. In fact, I was taking up the rear the whole time. My fellow speedy backpackers even zoomed by a bear, A BEAR, just off the trail, without even noticing. I noticed. I stopped, I watched, I quietly squealed, I fumbled with my camera settings and got this photo of its hindquarters. I was thrilled.

We made it back down to our cars at the trailhead before noon, exchanged high fives and traded back gear.  Most folks had to drive all the way back to Southern California, so we were grateful for the early day. And the dirt, sweat, and mosquito bites of the last three days. Can’t wait to do it all again.

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