Yosemite NP: Chilnualna Falls

We rolled into Yosemite a bit late in the day with only an hour and a half of sunlight left. We were set on an overnighter and consulted with the rangers at the Wawona Visitor Center to get their recommendations. We decided on the Chilnualna Falls Trail. We figured we could cover the  4.2 miles  and set up our sleeping bags by nightfall.

The trails climbs steadily, but fairly moderately (lots of switchbacks) with mostly easy terrain. We hadn’t gone 1,000 feet when we were assaulted by hordes of face flies. They form a pesky cloud around your face. Swiping at them with both hands as I hiked, I gave up and tried blowing them out of my face. Laughable as I later learned that they love the carbon dioxide that you exhale. Arrgh! It was absolutely miserable -so bad that a couple who had started ahead of us turned back after about a quarter mile. We soldiered on, but I was thinking if it’s like tonight, it won’t make for a pleasant slumber.

Just when we’d had enough, they vanished. (Later learned, they don’t survive over 6 thousand feet elevation.) Phew! I’ve added this little, lightweight headnet to my backpack so I will never endure that misery again. To think for just $2.50 I could have spared myself that misery. (I’ll let you know if it holds up to use.) Even if it works once, it’s worth it.

In addition to the face flies, there was an acrid odor in the air and the sky was a bit hazy. (Later learned that the only fire in Yosemite was just East of the falls.) Odd that the rangers didn’t mention the face flies or the fire.  Their way of hazing late season campers or what? We woke with our sleeping bags salt and peppered with ashes. Can only imagine how great inhaling all the particles was for our lungs. Anyhoo, how was the play aside from the blight of the face flies and ashy air? Fantastic! It was late season, so nature’s infinity’s pools down from the falls were the major draw for us. Wish we’d arrived earlier, would have been splendid to luxuriate in the pools in the heat of the day. A bit chilly at sunset, but that didn’t stop me.

So we laid out our sleeping bags above the pools, had some snacks, and got ready for bed. It was a long drive from LA and enduring the face flies and smokey stench had made us both tired and a bit irritable. I asked my boyfriend, Ken, to put his Gatorade in the bear canister and put the canister at least 100 yards downwind from us. He gave me some gruff about how he didn’t think it was really necessary and how he didn’t think there were really that many bears around… We got into a little spat as I insisted on it.

It was our first night sleeping out in a while so it took us a while to get into doze mode. Finally, just as I was drifting off, I hear Ken’s panicked voice “Did you hear that?” “What?” SSSSSSSSShhhh! I think there’s something out there.” This time I heard the brush crunching and cracking near us. He shined the headlamp in the direction of the noise and light bounced off the large animal eyes – a healthy, strong buck who stared back and then sauntered off casually. “I thought it was a bear.” Yup, I don’t think I’ll get much gruff next time I insist on putting food and beverage items into the bear canister and placing it 100 yards away.

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Scenery: Great!                                                                                                                        Distance:  8.4 miles (13.5 km) round trip                                                                        Trailhead Elevation:  4,200 feet (1,280 meters)
Elevation Gain:  2,300 feet (700 meters)

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, depending on your fitness level

Notes: Be prepared for face flies! Bring your bathing suit for the falls or nature’s infinity pools.

Local color, the Hungry Horse Reservoir & a scary attic

After working up an appetite on the Avalanche Trail in Glacier National Park, we stopped in for some sustenance at a local watering hole…It was very “colorful” as they say…Friendly barmaid and a handful of Montana mountain men.

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On the way back to Columbia Falls, we swung by the scenic  Hungry Horse Dam, the 11th highest concrete dam in the  US at 544 ft tall, 2115 ft wide, 39 ft thick at the top, and 330 ft at the base. There’s a 15 mile loop you can drive or bike, but it started pouring rain and visibility was poor so we opted out.

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Stopped for a cocktail at the Blue Moon Bar and Casino.

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Have I mentioned that it’s all about hunting in these parts? Taxidermy shops and small bars / casinos are as common as nail salons back in LA. When I walked into the Blue Moon, it was like walking into a natural history museum (and I’m not talking about just the patrons either).

 

Later, the granddaughter of the owner took me on a private tour of the attic that was jam packed with the owner’s “trophies” of big game from Canada, Alaska, Montana, etc…It was like something out of a horror movie, a bit creepy, and way over the top for this animal lover.