Hetch Hetchy

Morgan Brown

Canadian Rockies
Sequoia/Kings Canyon
1998 Trips
1999 trips
Bloody Canyon
Four Mile Trail
Hetch Hetchy
Ragged Peak
Tresidder Peak
2000 trips
2001 Trips
2002 Trips

Books that Morgan

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (Wilderness Press 15-Minute Map Series) - I generally don't like 15-minute maps, but if you use one for hiking, these are a good bet. They are plastic and cover the interesting areas seamlessly. With USGS maps, you might have to buy two or more.

Hiking Yosemite National Park (FalconGuide) - The crowd pleaser. A cheap, "safe" general-interest text. Hey, that's a compliment!

Foghorn Outdoors: California Hiking - By Tom Stienstra and Anne Marie Brown. One of the most useful books we've ever purchased. Good coverage of the classic Yosemite dayhikes.

Summary Image Gallery Trip Map
  • Date: May, 1999.
  • Route: Tiltill Valley via O'Shaugnessy Dam.
  • Total distance: ~11 miles.
Click Here

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was formed in the early 1900's, after the City of San Francisco constructed O'Shaugnessy dam across Hetch Hetchy Valley and connected it to San Francisco via an aqueduct. Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy Valleys were borne of similar geologic circumstance, in the flat, sediment-filled zones near the terminus of the glaciers descending the Merced and Tuolumne River watersheds, respectively. For a detailed - and decidedly agenda-ridden - pictorial history of Hetch Hetchy Valley, visit this Sierra Club page.

Sour grapes

Sadly, before I describe our beautiful trip, I feel compelled to gripe about the Sierra Club and its associated constellation of satellite causes. Over and over again, I see calls to "preserve" or "restore" wilderness to its "natural" state. What these people perceive as the unchanging natural order of things is merely a snapshot of the infinities of time and space. Are these calls not futile, flailing attempts to grasp at immortality lost?1

So what's wrong with the dam?

Funny, but I couldn't find a simple answer on any of the "Hetch Hetchy Restoration" sites to a simple question, perhaps the most important question: Exactly why should the dam be removed? At first I thought they were Earth First-caliber radicals, that they wanted the dam removed and not rebuilt elsewhere, to return the land to its pre-evil-white-man state. But no, they have a different, more nebulous goal, worded in the subtle tones of one of their attorneys: "Our goal is to accomplish a "win-win" outcome for Hetch Hetchy Valley, and for the cities of the Bay Area and the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts that rely on Hetch Hetchy water and power -- drop for drop, kilowatt for kilowatt, and dollar for dollar -- to the extent that is technically feasible." This is code for: build another dam downstream, just out of eyeshot of the card-carrying Sierra Club members as they drive up highway 120 from San Francisco in their Range Rovers. If it was really true that the dam "has been made obsolete by better utilization and conservation of water from Lake Eleanor, Cherry Lake and local sources," then I doubt that its removal would be such an issue. But it is an issue...why?

I like Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Really, the whole thing amounts to a subjective judgment call on beauty: if restored, Hetch Hetchy valley would be more beautiful than Poopenaut Valley, so the latter should be dammed. Forget the fact that none of the advocates of this restoration have ever seen the undammed H.H. valley! But these same people are forgetting something: a flooded Hetch Hetchy Valley is quite beautiful. I've never seen anything quite like it. And guess what, you can't park a Range Rover there. Galen Rowell has similar ideas.

Morgan stops rambling

We (Kim and Morgan, Kim's brother Robert, Donna DiBona, and Debie Zorra) hit the trail mid-morning on a beautiful May day. Starting from O'Shaugnessy Dam, we hiked along the trace of the shoreline, to the mouth of Tiltill Creek, 5.3 miles one way.

We camped the night before in a nice national forest campground, which I recommend. The area near Hetch Hetchy dam affords nice views of the Poopenaut Valley. The hike begins by crossing the dam by foot and through a tunnel. Late spring is definitely the time to do this hike, since the elevation of the lake is only 3700 feet. However, considerable runoff may make the hike impossible on high-snowfall years. The stretch of the trail just after the dam has the most water crossing the trail. Wapama falls is the biggest falls, but I don't have a picture. The most conspicuous thing one notices is the whitewashed lakeshore - I'm still looking for a chemist's explanation. Is it dissolution of the oxides? Kolana Rock is another prominent landform -- the Half Dome of Hetch Hetchy (author's words)!

Great examples of glacial scouring exist along the entire route. Glacial polishing is present upon close inspection, but a promontory about 3 miles from the dam gives a more global perspective. Jutting out into the canyon, it was a prime target for the great smoothing power of the glacier. We experienced a short afternoon thundershower after arriving at beautiful Tiltill Valley. The western portion of Yosemite, including Hetch Hetchy, seems to be comparitively lush - just look at the enormous, moss-covered trees lining the western portion of the Tioga Road into Tuolumne Meadows. It is no secret that the Sequoia groves of the Sierras all lie on the western slope. We saw lots of moss and even some red salamanders.

1 - OK, I'll bury this mental masturbation at the bottom of the page, where it will hopefully never be read. Nietzsche's famous "God is dead" quote is ruthlessly and consistenly taken out of context and misinterpreted. Nietzsche was no friend of the neurotic, 19th century humanistic "enlightenment" of Europe, so the passage is certainly not a boast on the part of the author (Nietzsche) that the enlightened nouveau-Europe had finally achieved a higher morality than the Christian tradition of old. Rather, I think it is simply an observation: the "enlightened", Godless ones will soon create new Gods, which cater to the same human weaknesses and self-doubts as the old, "dead" Gods. Among the biggest self-doubts answered by a candidate God: a sense of overwhleming powerlessness in the face of an infinite, indifferent cosmos. How does modern conservationism fit in? "Save the earth," because a) you as an individual can make a difference, and b) the earth is a living, breathing, mortal being that needs nourishment, just like you. It really is too perfect.

© 2005 , Stanford Exploration Project
Department of Geophysics
Stanford University

Modified: 11/18/05, 13:53:03 PST , by morgan
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