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218. Chilnualna Falls (06/30/01)

Hikers (9): Cynthia, Eugene, Jean, Miwako, Peter, Russ, Steve, Taylor, Wei-Kai
Distance: 8 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 10 beauty
Park info: Yosemite National Park

Write-up by Peter

It was the start of the big Yosemite weekend, and the plan was to kick it off with a moderate "warm up" hike to get the juices flowing. For a change of pace, I chose a hike outside the valley (close to Wawona) -- an area in which we had never visited before.

As it turned out, the place was a little farther away than I had anticipated, and by the time we finally got to the trailhead and everyone (Rusty and Jean) got their act together, we were almost an hour and half behind schedule. No time to waste -- let's get going!

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

We started heading uphill right from the get-go and within a quarter-mile of the start, we found ourselves walking up some steep steps along the side of a beautiful waterfall. Welcome to Yosemite! This was definitely looking like a good hike.

In just a few short minutes, Steve disappeared out of view, and I found myself staring up at nothing but boulders all the way to the top of the waterfall. How the heck were we supposed to go up there? I had told myself that I would not let my usual fear of heights get to me on this trip, so I decided to forge ahead.

Despite my good intentions, I found myself in trouble pretty quickly. I had scrambled between and over a few boulders and crossed part of the falls, and now I found myself stuck on a small ledge in the middle of the water with no clear way forward. Looking back, I saw Cynthia and Taylor had followed me part of the way, but the others were all still back on the steps and wanted no part of this. Hmmmmm .... it was not clear where to go from here. I continued to look around for a few moments, and then heard people calling me back. It turns out we had missed a sharp switchback and had gotten off the trail.

I scrambled to get back to the trail (no easy task). I had to slide down on my butt part of the way and hang on to some sharp rocks and brush to avoid sliding down all the way. By the time I made it back to the trail, my heart was pounding and I was sweating like a pig. We hadn't even gone half a mile yet and I was already exhausted!

Knowing that we were even more behind schedule now, I couldn't stop to rest. I wanted to make sure we all got to the end of the trail and back before dark. In addition, Taylor said the cafeteria at Yosemite closed pretty early (8 pm -- what's up with that?) so we had to pick up the pace if we wanted to get back in time for dinner.

The trail itself was very pleasant -- winding its way through the woods and up to the top of the ridge. The footing was good (highly appreciated by my bad knees) and the trees provided much-needed shade on this warm summer afternoon. Off in the distance, we could hear the falls cascading down from the top. As a general observation, we had noticed that the falls at Yosemite did not have as much water as in previous years due to the dry winter.

It was not long before the altitude began to take its toll. Miwako stopped to rest. Myself, Cynthia, Taylor, and Weikai continued on. We figured Eugene, Rusty, and Jean were not too far behind and they would catch up with Miwako.

It was not much longer before Taylor and Cynthia started slowing down as well. For some reason, I did not feel tired at all (trust me, it's not because I was in great shape!), but I stopped and rested with them a few times. With an eye on the clock, I encouraged them to keep going. We were almost there.

Well, the "almost there" turned out to be another mile or so, but once we got above the tree line and found ourselves walking up some granite steps, I knew were finally close to the end. The falls were getting louder with each step, and as I came around a large boulder, there they were. What a great sight!

The top of the falls was about another half-mile further up and I remember reading that the trail continued all the way up, but this seemed like a good place to stop. I threw off my backpack and walked to the edge of the water. No sign of anyone else (including Steve). I had the whole place to myself!

This whole area was pretty flat (no danger of being swept over the falls), so I began exploring the nooks and crannies and made my way closer to the falls. I found a nice warm flat boulder and stretched out and waited for the others to show up. This felt great! I could just lie here forever.

A few minutes later, Taylor and Cynthia showed up. They were was excited about the place as I was, and whipped out their cameras and began taking pictures. Strike a pose!

Before too long, Weikai showed up as well. It didn't take too long for him to peel off his boots and socks and get in the water. Very refreshing! A few minutes later, we saw Steve coming down the trail that led to the top. As I had surmised, he had not missed the switchback near the start and had taken the correct trail all the way to the top. He tried to give us some abuse for not going all the way, but we didn't care. We were happy!

I would have liked to spend more time there, but it was getting late, so we had to turn back. Just as we were heading out, Eugene showed up, so we took a quick picture of him and then began the trip back down. Weikai stayed back to wait for Miwako.

It turned out the others were not too far away. We met up with Miwako, Jean, and The Man about half a mile down the trail. We told them the story, and they decided to keep going to see the falls. Good attitude!

The rest of us stumbled back down to the cars and headed out. Time for food! We made it back to the dinner buffet just in the nick of time (Rusty and Jean didn't make it in time and had to go the pizzeria later). Yosemite weekend was off to a great start!

Milestones:
Eugene's 120th leaf
Wei-Kai's 20th leaf



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