Thursday, March 27, 2014

Enjoy hike to little known Yosemite shoreline

Brown trout - nonative to Yosemite National Park
- are common on the Tuolumne River in the
Poopenaut Valley. Photo courtesy Yosemite NPS.

Trail includes 1,229-foot descent
in Hetch Hetchy section

Yosemite National Park day hikers can head to a secluded and utterly peaceful section of the Tuolumne River on the Poopenaut Valley Trail.

The 2.6-mile round-trip trail in the park’s Hetch Hetchy section isn’t for slouches, though. It involves a 1,299-foot descent – which has to be hiked back up – and so only families with older teenagers or college-aged kids should tackle it.

Summer marks the best time to hike the trail, as the river valley is pleasantly comfortable. Of course, the ascent will be made all that more difficult by the increasingly warm air as one gains elevation, so make sure you plenty of drinking water.

Shade trees and boulders
To reach the trailhead, from Yosemite Valley, drive Big Oak Flat road north to Calif. Hwy. 120. Turn left onto Hwy. 120. Past Hodgdon Meadow Campground, turn right onto Evergreen Road. In about eight miles is a T-intersection at Camp Mather; turn right at this intersection onto Hetch Hetchy Road. After passing the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station, in four miles you’ll see a sign for the trail on the road’s left side. Park on the turnout on the road’s right side.

The trail starts in open country and parallels the road for a few dozen feet and then enters woodland where it quickly begins the long descent into the Poopenaut Valley. There are some steep sections, so watch your footing.

Upon reaching the river valley, you’ll find yourself in a pleasant meadow with lots of large boulders perfect for relaxing upon. This section of the river is about four miles below the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which holds back the river to form the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Black cottonwood, red willow and shiny willow dominate the valley floor with sedge grasses covering the marshy section. You’ll also find cottonwood, ponderosa pine, white alder, and white fir here. Brown and rainbow trout, with brown dominating in this section of the valley, are common in the river.

Polar plunge
Though the calm river water looks like the perfect swimming hole, be prepared for it to be ice cold. The river flows off the High Sierra snowmelt and won’t warm up for many more miles downstream.

After taking in the scenes and resting for a while, make the long trek back up. Be sure to pace yourself and remember that an ascent takes much longer than the descent. Leave in plenty of time before darkness falls; during summer the road gates at Camp Mather close no later than 9 p.m. and sometimes earlier (The Yosemite road conditions line at 209-372-0200 – enter 1 after the first two voice prompts – lists the current closing time.).

A couple of other safety notes: Be careful of poison oak along the way. Also, some hikers have reported rattlesnakes on the trail, so remain alert.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.