Most of us in the hiking community have experienced the wilderness trail to Chilnualna Falls. This well-established trail originated sometime around 1876 through hunters and trappers in the area. Its name, of uncertain meaning and origin, has been said to mean “Leaping Water.”
The Mountain Area hiking community has enjoyed this 8.2-mile round trip trail for its views of the falls and its forested canyons.
Not many of us know that on the eastern side of Chilnualna Creek is an old abandoned trail that should be only used by mountain goats.
A few weeks ago, Fred Cochran informed me that a hiker revealed to him a remote trail following the Chilnualna Creek. Needless to say after five minutes of conversation I was hooked and a date was set to explore this forgotten trail.
We contacted our third hiking partner, Clem Bingham, and the three of us prepared for this new adventure.
We drove through Wawona to the bridge crossing Chilnualna Creek. Along the road was a faint impression of a trail leading up the mountain. How little did we know, if we had four legs like a goat, this first mile would have been much easier to forge.
We understood that with any unmaintained trail there will be many obstacles to overcome - we expected a few fallen trees and overgrown ground cover - but when the trail disappeared, all that remains are game trails.
On a positive note, our early morning hiking temperature was 48 degrees and the predicted thunderstorm never materialized.
After an hour of scrambling we finally arrived at a small plateau cluttered with trees and thick undergrowth. Now we are above the steep rock wall supporting the lower falls. A spot check of our map revealed that if we continue hiking north the sound from the creek should penetrate this dense foliage and lead us to our distinction.
Twenty minutes later looking through the trees was the waters of Chilnualna Creek. Upstream through this natural canyon, mist was rising from a hidden waterfall. We forged along the high cliffs until the fall came into view. A 40-foot fall hidden along this rugged water source was concealed by the thick unspoiled tree cover.
Ten minutes later we are standing at the height of this remote waterfall. Above this fall are two separate water sources joined together to form the increased volume of water that created the mist we observed from downstream.
As I looked around this remote location I said to myself; how long has it been since anyone visited this area? Maybe a fisherman or hunter, but today three hikers from Oakhurst decided to solve another mountain mystery.
The return trek was much easier following those game trails along the plateau. The difficulty was trying to locate the tracks of our original ascent. Now there were game tracks leading down a few slots, but much too steep for my two legs.
Our objective was to locate the 200 yards of trail next to the creek leading to the road. I’ve been in this situation before, forging my way off trail. Not only are we faced with over 200 feet of cliffs, but thick foliage that blocks any visual trailblazing.
Now begins our descent of trial and error searching for our original trail. Looking down through a narrow slot were large foot prints following through pine needles, presuming to be bear prints. Could these tracks give us our first break starting our descent? My disappointment came when those tracks disappeared while leading over the rocks.
But we kept descending using trees and the rock walls to keep our balance until arriving back to the road. We did miss the original trail by two-tenths of a mile. On a positive thought; we now know two separate routes to the remote upper area of Chilnualna Creek.
This entire adventure lasted just under four hours with an elevation gain of 600-plus feet. I would only recommend this hike to seasoned hikers with cross-country skills. If you are this individual, you will not be disappointed adding this adventure to your portfolio.