The best Yosemite waterfall no one ever sees

Inspired by a painting that a friend of ours did, and the stories that she told of a 130 foot Yosemite waterfall that neither of us had ever seen, Tom and I set out this weekend to hike to Alder Creek Fall. I’ll point you to for full hiking trail details and descriptions. As always with a new trail, there were many discoveries to be made and we really enjoyed ourselves.

At one point, the trail crosses a ‘fire line’, with itchy, scraggly dried branches lying everywhere on one side, and the ash-filled open space of a recently burned forest on the other. Fire is so important to the ecosystem here. It’s amazing how far we’ve come from the days when fire suppression was the only management policy, but as with many things, it seems like the more we learn, the more we realize there is to learn.

Living tree totemThere are several cool things about hiking through a recent burn area. One is the holes left in the ground where trees have burned into ash, leaving a pit and tunnels where the roots led out. Also stunning are all of the tree totems that are left behind – amazing charcoal sculptures that seem to defy gravity. They are difficult to photograph because they blend into the vegetation behind, but we were both stunned when we found one impossibly balanced burnt out trunk that still had living needles at the top. Near the end of the hike, we found a short stump that had been seriously undercut, and not only was it still standing, but it managed to support Tom’s weight as well.

Tom lifting piece of railroad trackAt one point, the trail merges onto an old railroad grade, with the ties stacked neatly in piles in the center of the trail, or in some cases still buried in the ground. Tom even found a piece of track. The thought of a not-so-old-as-all-that railroad constructed specifically for the timber industry seems so incongruous with the current National Park designation, but it is a fitting reminder of how things change. How they have changed in the past and how they could change again in the future if we let it.

Tom defying gravityThe Fall itself was more than worth the hike, as we rounded yet another bend in the heavily forested trail and were treated to open granite and roaring water. I thought it was 150-200 feet tall, Tom guessed more like 70, so our friend Kay, who estimated 130 is probably right. Usually is. We ate our meager ‘lunch’ of fruit and a few nuts, and then wandered along the river a short distance trying to find a safe way to the other bank. There were many places that would be easy to cross if the water was just a little lower, and Tom probably could have found a way anyway, but I was nervous, and willing to be patient, so we turned around. There was a wonderfully precarious glacial erratic on the far bank, and I hope it hasn’t toppled before we get a chance to return.

If the trailhead were a little closer, I could see visiting more often for a short run. The first uphill stretch, is too steep for me to run in my roly poly condition, but the trail itself is remarkably smooth and runnable. It would be a great run for Tom, and who knows – I’m supposed to be getting in shape after all.

unidentified flower on the trailWhen we got back to the car we calculated a rigorous 40 minute mile pace for our exploration – due to the fact that we stopped so often. We heard robins, mountain chickadees, Stellars jays, a “motormouth” robin that was probably a black-headed grosbeak, and dozens more that we couldn’t identify. Although we spent many long minutes gazing up into the trees trying to find the birds themselves, we had basically no luck. We photographed a bunch of plants that we also can’t identify, wishing that somehow we could get a direct feed from Michael Ross to get not only the answers, but the stories behind the answers, and wandered off the trail more than once to take a look at some promising-looking boulders in the trees. From the time that we left the roadway until we returned 5 hours later, we’d seen no other people.