Over 20 years ago I experienced my first adventure to Chilnualna Falls. Since, it has become an annual trek. This year, I added a fall adventure.
First, a warning: the first quarter-mile on the nine-mile trail is the most difficult. The stone steps climbing along the lower falls are quite steep. Then the trail levels out at the junction of the horse trail. From this point there is a steady elevation gain to 6,400 feet, total gain 2,300 feet from the trailhead. I would classify this hike as strenuous.
Spring runoff adds to the spectacle of these series of falls. While following this established trail as it increases in elevation, off in the distance the spray from the main fall fills the entire canyon behind Wawona Dome. When approaching the first fall the sound can be heard for quite a distance following this trail to the rim.
By the fall, the falls are not as impressive. But those areas hidden by the raging waters of spring are now exposed and we can see nature’s handy work. Ten feet from the crest of the main falls in the channel is a natural pool. I would not advise attempting to experience its cool waters, since the falls can be slippery along the edge; just enjoy the views into the canyon and the distant views extending past Wawona toward the Chowchilla Mountains.
Above this area is a major junction of two main trails. One leads to Glacier Point Road and the other to the Royal Arch Lake and Crescent Trail. Along the way you’ll pass Grouse, Crescent and Johnson lakes. Today I’ll hike to the area where this trail and Chilnualna Creek cross above the falls. Two miles beyond the creek is the junction of the Crescent Trail. Today will be the preview to next summer’s hike to attempt to locate the old military trail that leads down to the Snaffle Bit Trail along the South Fork of the Merced River.
I’m sharing this trek today with the Sierra Senior Hikers. Our hiking guide is Jim Cypher who also has made this trek many times in the past. Don’t let the name Senior Hikers confuse you by thinking they arrive with canes and crutches. Most of those hikers made the 4 1/2 miles to the falls before me. In my defense I have to state I hiked an extra two miles.
As this 2018 season is winding down, we still have another 30-plus days to venture into our local mountains. Our only changes will be the mode of personal transportation. We may have to adapt to snowshoes or skies earlier than expected. Soon spring will arrive and those winter snows will melt and once again we’ll seek those new and exciting adventures on our Sierra Nevada trails.