Exploring Hetch Hetchy with National Geographic
By John P. DeGrazio
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”–John Muir
I’ve always been the kind of person to say yes to requests for my time often before knowing the details of the duties I am expected to perform. I like to think of it as helping others while feeding my adventurous side. I received an email in October asking if I’d be willing to lead a Yosemite backpack trip for a travel writer visiting Tuolumne County. Naturally, I agreed to guide the 2 day trek without hesitation. While looking over the details of the email, I noticed there was a request for an expert on backpacking in Yosemite to visit the waterfalls of Hetch Hetchy (score) and discuss John Muir and his contributions to the place (double score).
I was to host Robert Reid, National Geographic’s Digital Nomad, on a two day journey through one of my favorite places in Yosemite. My original thought was to extensively research John Muir’s involvement in the fight for Hetch Hetchy and prepare some quotes to share. In the end, I decided I was confident in the knowledge I had already obtained about Muir and the history of the area. I also chose to forego researching who Robert was because I wanted him to tell me his story in his own way. When we met, I admitted to Robert that I would have jumped at the opportunity to escape into the wilderness for a couple of days regardless of who I was hosting. I like to believe that despite the way it may sound, he fully appreciated my honesty without being insulted. After a brief gear check in the parking lot, we were on our way.
If Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt were on America’s Most Important Camping Trip in 1903, I would call this the almost important one. Although we discussed a wide range of topics including what it takes to be a humanist, we both agreed we would not be solving any of the world’s current problems on this endeavor into the wilderness. Instead, we enjoyed many conversations over a 14 mile roundtrip hike to Hetch Hetchy’s well known (Wapama) and lesser visited (Rancheria) waterfalls. Although we did not sit by a campfire, they were prohibited at our elevation, we gathered around the Jetboil and shared stories as I prepared my famous trail burritos.
I was fascinated by all Robert’s journeys around the world, and his stories inspired me to broaden my horizons. His attention to the details of the people he met on his travels was impressive. It was also a joy to witness him rekindle his love of nature while he disconnected from his digital world.
Nightfall came, and a nearly full moon illuminated our tents as we turned in. It was a restful sleep with the melodious cascades serenading us from the waterfall below. We were camped at Rancheria Falls so I was anticipating bear activity but was surprised to see none when I when I popped out of my tent as the sun was rising. I did manage to venture away from camp for a few brief moments to capture some images along the creek.
When I returned, Robert had already begun to turn down his tent in an efficient manner. He was determined to use this trip as a springboard for more camping adventures. He very modestly referred to himself as a city slicker, but he displayed a high level of comfort in the outdoors and was longing to stay more than just one night.
We broke camp after noshing on some bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon and returned to the trail for some photographic opportunities. We continued our discussion on John Muir’s influence on the establishment of Yosemite National Park along with his undying love of Hetch Hetchy. He was well versed on the history of this place so I felt no need to try to impress him with an overabundance of facts. Our conversations were natural and neither tried to change the other’s mind about the politics of Hetch Hetchy. However, we each were in agreement on almost every topic.
The most consistent aspect of the day was the changing light and how it presented so many wonderful photographic opportunities. Our 7 mile return trip seemed effortless as we continued to snap images until our final walk through the tunnel. We both agreed the unquestioned beauty of Hetch Hetchy will endure for millenia with or without a dam.
Robert Reid is the Digital Nomad for National Geographic Intelligent Travel and his own Blog Site, Reid on Travel. He is.. I’ll let him tell you with 36 things about Robert Reid. This is the story he wrote about our encounter titled “Channeling John Muir in Hetch Hetchy”.