MAY BUSTERS

As of May 1, we are at 204% of average rainfall for Northern CA, 191% for Central Sierra, and 171% for Southern Sierra. April was quite stormy and we officially passed the wettest year on record for Northern CA. As for the snowpack, we are at 198% of average for North, 201% for Central, and 178% for South. Because April was so stormy, the snow has not really started melting much yet – though it is definitely starting now with the hot weather this week. Normally the peak snowmelt is at the beginning to mid April, that will not be the case this year. I love it that waterfall season is going to be lasting all summer long this year! So what do you make of this winter?

To me, it is very clear that the abundant rainfall this year is entirely God’s doing, a blessing and an answer to all our prayers. I believe prayer works, and I know many many people were praying during the drought. Let’s think about this: NOT ONE SINGLE weather forecaster predicted the huge amount of rainfall this year. In fact, I am certain that every single one predicted we would have a BELOW AVERAGE year (not to even mention 200% of average). With a weak La Nina, that forecast would make sense. Not! My wife will say that just proves they are always wrong! Consider last year when we had a very strong El Nino: almost every single forecaster (not all, but certainly most) predicted we would have well above average rainfall that year. What happened? We only had an AVERAGE winter. Again, they were almost all wrong that year as well. I was pleased we had a decent year after four years of drought, but indeed, I admit it was a bit disappointing because of all the hype surrounding the strong El Nino. In reality, though, God had bigger plans. He gave us that strong El Nino and a decent winter because we were in desperate need of it due to the drought, then provided us the kicker and drought-buster this year in an unlikely weak La Nina year. That is so like God.

Another thing I found interesting this past year: It seems to me that no one (in California) is talking about global warming this year, not really too much. They are all pretty quiet. Am I the only one that has noticed this? When we were in the midst of the drought, scientists were saying constantly that this is the “new normal”, that we would essentially be in “perpetual drought”, with maybe the odd good year thrown in, but basically get used to having no water in the future forever and ever, with continuing awful forest fires, and all because of global warming / climate change. I know this is true because I distinctly remember thinking to myself that I do not believe that nonsense – I refuse to believe it – the rain will return to California. And it did! Where are those people now? The drought is officially over. Perhaps we will have another drought soon. Perhaps not. There will certainly be another drought eventually – that is just the way it is (but hopefully, not too soon). If and when we do have another one in the future, it will also end. God is the one in control, and we need to trust in Him, not in scientists or others. Perhaps you do not believe what I am saying here. That is fine, everyone has their own opinions, but at least please consider that what I am saying is truth. (btw, I did not say that I do not believe in global warming / climate change).

Anyhow, enough of all that. I’m sure you want to get back to the waterfalls. This photo is from my backpacking trip last May to Rancheria Falls in Yosemite. I got there close to peak snow melt last year, and it was an amazing sight and a spectacular waterfall. This year I am excited to do more backpacking, especially after the big debacle a couple weeks ago, and I told my wife I still need to go on my spring backpacking trip, so that will be soon, in the next few weeks. Where should I go? Yosemite? Or somewhere else? Stay tuned …

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EPISODE II. THE MIDDLE FORK MENACE

Don’t you love my clever blog titles from my Yosemite trip? I thought they were clever, anyway. Maybe I’m the only one. Sigh.

In the morning, I thought I would try to find this new waterfall on the Middle Fork Tuolumne River. It was not my first choice but my first choice was X’ed out due to a big snow patch I encountered on the road. I was thus late getting started down to the MF Tuolumne. There were clouds, though, so perhaps it would be ok. Then there were no clouds. Then a few minutes later there were clouds again. And on and on it goes.  Crazy weather. For photography, it was touch and go all morning long.

The first part of the hike was easy enough, hiking along a road. Then I had to get off the road and head down the mountain. The wildflowers were abundant through here, and it was pretty much unavoidable stepping on them. It was like hiking on Table Mountain in Oroville, but minus the killer cows. I suppose there were killer bears around but I did not see any.  As I got down closer to the waterfall, I found it was far too cliffy to continue any further. It is a fantastic 60 ft. waterfall but I could see no way to get any clear view of it. Perhaps I will try again another day, but I think the only way is to repel down to the bottom. Not my cup of tea. I like living.

Speaking of living, it was really nice to hear that the missing hiker (Cody Michael) and his dog were found today. They were backpacking in the Sierra and were missing for a few days. The area is very close to where I am planning to hike next weekend. But I don’t really understand what happened. He was not injured. So it seems he just got lost. Well, I don’t get it. Why did he not have GPS? And why no rescue device? It does not seem like he was very well prepared for backpacking in the Sierra Nevada backcountry. I always bring GPS with extra charged batteries, as well as my SPOT device on every hike I do, backpacking or not, easy hike or not. And not to mention, bear spray as well. You never know what will happen. Anyway, he seems like a nice guy, so I am very happy he is safe home now.

Back to the MF Tuolumne, here is one weird thing: While I was down there, I saw a backpack down by the brink of the falls. There was no one around. It seemed to be hanging on the cliff edge (I was a distance away, but I saw it clearly). Did someone accidentally drop it off the cliff, and then could not get down to get it? After this, I moved away to a different spot and when I looked again, I could no longer see the backpack. What happened to it? I know I did not imagine seeing it! I looked and looked but could not see it. I just have no clue.

By the time I got back up the mountain to the car, I was quite tired. My big backpack trip was starting the next day, and I was already tired. Perhaps I should not have done this pre-trip hike. But it was certainly fun.

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EPISODE I. RETURN OF THE MADMAN

I woke up excited about starting my vacation to Yosemite. But I was in no hurry or rush to get going early, I just wanted to be over there by sunset. So I took it easy, did some small tasks, then watched an episode of TV on Netflix. Well all of a sudden after that, I had lost my motivation for going on the trip. I just felt like lounging around the house all week on my vacation. It is strange how TV can do that to you! Anyway, I forced myself out of the house and drove to Yosemite as planned. If you are wondering why I went on vacation by myself this year, it is a bit of a hodge podge year in the Turnbull household. My son Jadon went on his vacation to Washington DC with his school mates, and he also gets to go to New Orleans later this summer with his youth group. My wife and daughter are going to Alaska for their vacation in the summer. Well I could not be left out on vacation this year, so I chose a week in Yosemite. Where else?

I had my lunch in Groveland at a new place. I ordered a burger well done as I always do. It came well done all right, but also included a well done bun and well done bacon. I did not think it was necessary to say only the patty well done, please. Otherwise, it was good.

I drove first to Cherry Lake and Eleanor Lake. Eleanor was almost full, but Cherry was very low. I was surprised by that. It is not like they have been releasing any water yet from the lake. How could it be so low, still? Last year I saw Kibbie Falls from across the other side of Lake Eleanor. This year I wanted to get up close to it on the north side of the lake. It was not difficult to follow the shoreline to Kibbie Creek. From there, however, things got very messy. It was an extremely difficult climb up the mountain to the falls, through thick awful brush. I was literally crawling on my hands and knees through the stuff. I got very wet and very dirty, and despite it all, I could not get any decent view of the falls from closeup. Is this a good start to my trip?

On the way back down the mountain, I slipped on a wet rock, and came down hard, landing on my arm. I almost broke it. No joke. Now that would have been a really good start to my trip. Not! I was initially planning to continue past Kibbie Creek along the lake to see how far I could get, but I decided not to go any further since the hike was already way more difficult than I anticipated, my arm was dangling on its limb (or at least hurting very much), and besides that I heard thunder rolling in.

In case you are wondering, I saw zero bears on this trip to Yosemite and area. Even though I was camping in Bear City (Rancheria). I have seen many bears before, but I have never ever seen any in any national park. It is a weird thing with me. Anyhow, I did see many things that “looked like” bears. Every piece of burnt wood I saw looked like a bear in the distance, and I was hiking through the Rim Fire area. I saw many pieces of burnt wood.

After getting back to the car I continued driving to Jawbone Falls, where I have been to before, and I decided to camp here, sleeping in my car. It is a great spot to camp, it is so out in the middle of nowhere, and there was no one else around. It was very cold that night (38 degrees), but I managed. It was supposed to get much warmer by Monday. I hoped.

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EPISODE IV. THE RIVER STRIKES BACK

Well I think God was trying to tell me something on this backpacking trip. I mentioned that my belt buckle broke five minutes into the trip. In addition to this, my sunglasses broke, my tent mesh got a big hole in it (to let in all the mosquitoes), my hiking pole broke, my tripod broke (it was still workable but not very well), and my phone battery was almost dead (faster than it should have), but that is not the end of it.

I woke up early with the intention of continuing my hike up the canyon, even though my foot was extremely sore and I could barely walk on the big blisters. I looked at the river and saw that it was much higher than the night before, and this had me even more concerned, which I will explain in a bit. Nonetheless, the idea was to hike up to the upper Rancheria Falls, take photos, then come back and pack up, and continue the hike up to Tiltill Valley and Vernon Lake.

There is not a good angle of the upper falls from this side of the river, so I figured I would cross above the falls on the bridge and try to get down to the bottom on the other side. I only got halfway down. In order to continue, I would have to trounce through a huge swath of poison oak. Ummm, no thank you. I did not want to get to the bottom that badly. It was a pretty good view from this halfway point beside the creek, which was absolutely roaring and incredible, so I took some photos, then decided to go back up and try going down on the other side. That was actually quite do-able and I made it all the way to the bottom, and found a ledge right in front of the falls which was amazing. You cannot see the entire waterfall from there but it is still a spectacular viewpoint. And that is when it happened: I realized I had left my extra memory cards for the camera back at the car. Doh! Major stupidity strikes again! The sun was coming out, so I frantically deleted some photos that I did not need in order to take some shots of the upper falls from this location, but that was the final straw. I could not continue my hike now, no matter what. I would not be able to take any more photos if I continued on, so what would be the point? With my foot being so sore and the river rising I was already trying to really justify in my mind how wise it would be to continue, but now I knew I had to go back. I enjoyed eating my breakfast at the bottom of the falls as the sun came out, then walked back to my campsite to pack up.

It was a long and hot hike back to the Hetch Hetchy trailhead. When I finally got back to the Wapama Falls bridge, I found quite a big difference in the river. I got very wet crossing the bridge (remember, I was completely dry crossing it the day before). It was extremely misty, and water was starting to splash onto the bridge. It was cold (but felt great on the hot day). I found out later that the Tuolumne River had risen from 900 cfs to 1400 cfs overnight (Falls Creek is proportionally similar to the Tuolumne, so it is a good measure). That is a huge increase in one day, and it is much more substantial than I had expected. If it increased at this rate, then in a couple days Falls Creek would be in the danger zone, and it could be potentially deadly to cross the bridge, especially considering that I was planning to cross at Vernon Lake, which is more dangerous to cross than at Wapama. I could be stuck on the wrong side of the creek with no food and no way to get home for days! Could this be why God wanted me to go back early? I suspect so. As it turned out, the river did keep rising during the week but not quite at that initial rate. Had I continued to Vernon Lake, the creek may have still been crossable, but it would definitely be on the edge of the safe level.

When I got to the car, my foot was very sore, and I was extremely tired. There is no way I could do any more hiking anytime soon. Thankfully, I had cold soda in the cooler. I downed three of them promptly, then went to eat a whole pizza at my favorite place back in Groveland. Nice.

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EPISODE III. THE MADMAN AWAKENS

Episode 3? What happened to episodes 1-2? Well, it is like Star Wars when you see episodes 4-6 before 1-3. But were 4-6 better than 1-3? And what about 7? I will not get into that debate with you, but I will say this: I still remember the day in 1977 when we went to see Star Wars in the theater (I was 9 years old). Anyhow, in this case, episodes 3-4 *are* better than 1-2 and that is why I am posting them first. It also fits because this is my third attempt at hiking to these waterfalls on Rancheria Creek. Don’t you just love all the subtle nuances?

Today the big hike begins. The waterfall madman awakens from sleeping in the car at the campground. I got almost 11 hours of sleep the previous night. How sweet is that. I needed it, and I was in no big hurry to get started. I got up, made my breakfast, drank my coffee, and drove out to Hetch Hetchy to pick up my wilderness permit.

Five minutes into the hike, my belt buckle broke. I had not even gotten to the dam yet. I had Krazy glued it before I left, and I did not expect it to last through the entire backpacking trip, but five minutes??? It was still workable, but if the rest of it broke off, I would be in dear trouble. I prayed it would hold up for the trip. I guess I will need to buy a new backpack for next time, but they are kinda expensive, and I do like the one I have. I have had it since the year 1977 (or something).

The reservoir was not full, and yet they were releasing a lot of water from the dam. It made for a nice rainbow, but why are they letting out so much water? Are those SF’ers really that thirsty?

The flow in Wapama Falls was ok. It was pretty much the same flow as when I was here last year. This is exactly what I expected. I did not get wet at all crossing the bridge. (remember that statement)

Then I remembered something critical: I forgot my first aid kit back in the car. Doh! How stupid is that?? It is obviously much too far to go back to get it now. Would I need it? It is a long trip. Can I take a chance that I will not need it? What was in there that I am going to need? Well I swear that almost immediately after remembering this stupid mistake, my toe started hurting and I was starting to get a blister. Would you call that a psychological blister? I never get blisters in these hiking boots. And now I am on a long hike, and getting a blister on the first day, and nothing to treat it with? How am I going to manage this?

I finally arrived at Rancheria Falls. My wife pronounces it ranch-er-EE-a, but I have never heard it pronounced that before. I have only heard it pronounced ranch-EER-i-a. That must be correct, then. Sorry, Tara. There are two absolutely fantastic waterfalls here, and they are both much much more impressive in person than in photos. I was not expecting either of them to be as big and majestic as they are. Wow. There is also a third one as well (I will get to that later – in Episode 3.5).

Rancheria Falls is an extremely popular backpacking destination, and there is a large area for camping, and most of the sites are all shaded. There was no one else here when I arrived, and I had the place to myself. I was surprised at this. I picked out what I thought would be the best spot, but the problem is that there were mosquitoes everywhere here, and obviously they were going to be a lot worse in the evening. I had hoped that by going in early May, I would not have to deal with stupid mosquitoes. Apparently, they get a much earlier start in Yosemite than elsewhere, much to my chagrin. I dropped my bag and made a search for a better spot. I went to the top of the main falls. There were no camping sites up there. I went down to the bottom of the upper falls. Nothing there that did not have mosquitoes. I continued on down to the lower falls, going to the bottom of that waterfall. Still no good spots. Then finally back to the top of the lower falls, and there it was. It took about a full hour to find this spot, but I found it. It was breezy, there were no mosquitoes, it had a little bit of shade, access to water at the top of the falls, and it was secluded (not that it mattered with no one else around anyway). It was the perfect camping spot. I went back to retrieve my pack, and dragged it back down to my new spot, set up camp, relaxed for a bit, nursed my very painful toe with nothing to nurse it with, and watched as the thunderstorm clouds started rolling in. I was a bit exposed in this spot. There weren’t supposed to be any thunderstorms today, but it was nothing to worry about, the clouds hovered over the reservoir and stalled there. They did not look very menacing anyway (famous last words?)

Anyhow, around 4pm, I went over to the top of the falls to get some water to make my dinner, had a wonderful baked lasagna meal (well – freeze dried – is that wonderful?), and set off with my daypack back down to Tiltill Creek. Huh? Well there is a nice 40 ft. falls at the bridge over Tiltill Creek you know, and of course I wanted to get a good photo of it in good light. What I did not realize is that it is quite a walk from Tiltill Creek to Rancheria, and a big ascent. For some reason, I thought it would be much easier to get back and forth between the two. I had planned to shoot Tiltill, then the three waterfalls on Rancheria all on that same evening. But they are all much further apart then I thought. Tiltill Creek is not very easy to photograph. In fact, it is impossible to get a clear view of it. That seems to be the norm with all these waterfalls (except Lower Rancheria – pictured here). After Tiltill, I went cross country over to Rancheria Creek. I hiked up the mountain off-trail to get back to Lower Rancheria Falls. It was actually quite fun. Way over back on the trail, I noticed a large (noisy) group coming in to Rancheria for the night, the only other group that came this day to Rancheria. They went right to the spot I had initially chosen to camp (with the mosquitoes). I’m sure glad I did not setup camp there. I took many photos of Lower Rancheria. It is a fascinating waterfall with a 40 ft. drop then fanning out in an amazingly wide 60 ft. slide. I think it would make for an amazing water slide, and you might actually survive it, as long as you are certain you can get out of the water at the bottom of it, before you get to the big waterfalls below it (episode 3.5 spoiler alert). I’m not certain you actually could get out with the way Rancheria Creek was raging this day. When I got back to my campsite at the top of the falls, I went back over to the creek to my water spot, and I found it was completely flooded. The creek had risen this much in just a few hours. The next morning, it was flooded even more. I knew it would rise during the day with the warm weather, and I could not tell how much it had risen exactly, but it seemed a lot more than I would have thought, and it had me a bit concerned. But more on this in Episode 4. I fell asleep listening to the soothing roar of the creek.

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