Pywiack Cascade

Yosemite National Park / Tenaya Canyon, California, USA

Rating: 2     Difficulty: 3.5
Pywiack Cascade

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Pywiack Cascade (sometimes known as Slide Falls) is an interesting sliding waterfall at the head of the rugged Tenaya Canyon. It's said to slide from a cumulative height of 600ft though it seemed to be difficult to get a full view that would have made us confirm or deny that plausibility of that claim. Moreover, it's another one of those Yosemite Waterfalls that manages to elude most of the park's visitors since it's rather hidden in addition to difficult to view satisfactorily. This characteristic seems to be typical of waterfalls in Tenaya Canyon (another example is the elusiveness of Snow Creek Falls) and I suspect a big reason why would be the inaccessibility of Tenaya Canyon itself.

To illustrate how elusive Pywiack Cascade was, we either had to be very observant from the lookouts near Glacier Point, or we had to go an a bit of a little-known minimum of six-mile round-trip out-and-back back overlooking parts of Tenaya Canyon. I'm sure there must be ways to gain better views than we were able to attain given a photo we saw in the Osborne book on Yosemite Waterfalls, but it seemed to be a bit too much trouble for something that didn't seem worth an inordinate amount of effort to see.

Even though this waterfall is on Tenaya Creek so it's sourced by Tenaya Lake, I believe Tenaya Creek still only has seasonal flow. This claim is supported by the fact that Mirror Lake tends to dry up once the snowmelt period is over in the mid- to late Summer. Thus, a visit to this waterfall would require timing to be in the late Spring.

To my knowledge, there is no official trail to get to the base of this waterfall for Tenaya Canyon is too rugged and said to require technical gear to navigate through the terrain. However, the following is how we managed to experience this cascade.


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Hike to Pywiack Cascade Viewpoint

Contextual look at the Pywiack Cascade
In order to get the view you see in the photos above, we had to start our hike from Olmstead Point, which is at signpost T24 along the Tioga Road (Route 120). The Tioga Road cuts across Yosemite's high country, but is closed during the Winter due to snow and avalanche danger.

Glacial erratics and Jeffrey Pines at Olmstead PointOlmstead Point was a pretty popular spot for photographs as there were glacial erratics (i.e. lone boulders seemingly dropped onto the scene) along with Jeffrey Pine Trees settling on exposed granite as if they were subjects of some kind of art piece. In the distance was an unusual view of Half Dome and its saddle, which was the side of the iconic rock formation where we would ascend to its summit if you did the epic Half Dome hike. Looking along the Tioga Road, there was also Tenaya Lake, which was a beautiful natural lake backed by granite domes.

Then, the trail (which wasn't very well signposted) descended from the granite outcrop, followed some well-placed line of rocks, and then went into a somewhat shaded pine forest passing by some reflective ponds en route. The trail then meandered amongst the trees while undulating in elevation. Eventually, the trail lost a total of 500ft in a stretch of nearly two miles before it started to climb again.

From here the trail started to present views of Tenaya Canyon, an unnamed ephemeral cascade, and ultimately a partial view of Pywiack Cascade. Unfortunately, the official trail only afforded us views of about a half to two-thirds of the waterfall as a granite hill (possibly Mt Watkins) sat in the way between our vantage point and the cascade itself.

In order to overcome this visual obstacle, we continued further west to a short scramble for better views between trees. I'm sure it might have been possible to climb up the nearby Mt Watkins for an unobstructed view straight down at the impressive cascade (but we didn't actually do that so we're not sure if this truly the case or not).

This was the turnaround point for us. However, we could have extended the hike by continuing further to the Snow Creek Trail. If we didn't arrange for a shuttle to make it a one-way point-to-point hike, then that might push the limits of what we'd be willing to do as an out-and-back hike in a day. The Snow Creek Trail ultimately would descend into Tenaya Canyon and join up with the Mirror Lake Loop for a total loss of 4000ft in elevation, and I believe it's 11 miles one-way from Olmstead Point into Tenaya Canyon.


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Distant Viewpoints

Pywiack Cascade and Cloud's Rest as seen from Glacier Point
If you're not up for a 6-mile return hike to see the Pywiack Cascade, there are a handful of vantage points where you might spot part of this waterfall if you're observant.

Perhaps the most obvious lookout spot would be at Glacier Point (signpost G11), where we were able to look deep into Tenaya Canyon beyond Half Dome and spot this cascade in the distance. In order to photograph the waterfall, we needed a telephoto lens to bring it up closer to our field of view.

Alternately, we were also spotted a similar view of Pywiack Cascade on the summit of Sentinel Dome (trailhead at signpost G8). Since this viewpoint was a bit further than Glacier Point, it wasn't the most obvious place to spot it. Plus, an even more powerful telephoto lens would be required to photograph it without the waterfall being a small dot in the picture.

Finally, we were able to get perhaps the closest views of Pywiack Cascade from the south side of Tenaya Canyon by doing the Half Dome hike. Unfortunately, getting to where we started to see the waterfall was about 6 or 7 miles into the gruelling hike (just before we started to make the last stretch of climbing onto the Half Dome saddle). But since the Half Dome hike was much more gruelling than the hike we've suggested earlier to see the cascade, it might not be worth your while if the cascade was the sole purpose for doing the longer hike. For details on the Half Dome hike, see the Snow Creek Falls page.





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PHOTO JOURNAL

View of Tenaya Lake from Olmstead Point, which was our preferred starting point to get the closest view of Pywiack CascadeView of Tenaya Lake from Olmstead Point, which was our preferred starting point to get the closest view of Pywiack Cascade
A marmot laying out on the granite with Half Dome looming in the backgroundA marmot laying out on the granite with Half Dome looming in the background
One of the less obvious places to glimpse the Pywiack Cascade is from Glacier Point, but you have to pay real close attention to see it, which is hard to do given the mindblowing views hereOne of the less obvious places to glimpse the Pywiack Cascade is from Glacier Point, but you have to pay real close attention to see it, which is hard to do given the mindblowing views here
Glacial Erratics and Jeffrey Pine Trees arranged like a work of art at Olmstead PointGlacial Erratics and Jeffrey Pine Trees arranged like a work of art at Olmstead Point

Distant view of Tenaya Lake and surrounding granite formations from Olmstead PointDistant view of Tenaya Lake and surrounding granite formations from Olmstead Point

Half Dome from Olmstead PointHalf Dome from Olmstead Point

Rocks lined up to define the trail on the granite as you leave Olmstead PointRocks lined up to define the trail on the granite as you leave Olmstead Point

Mom following thoughtfully-placed rocks to mark the trail leading towards the Snow Creek Trail from Olmstead PointMom following thoghtfully-placed rocks to mark the trail leading towards the Snow Creek Trail from Olmstead Point

Calm, reflective ponds along the trailCalm, reflective ponds along the trail

These ponds along the Pywiack Cascade Trail had a real mirror like quality to themThese ponds had a real mirror like quality to them

The trail narrowed and started to climb briefly as it started to get more exposed to the sunThe trail narrowed and started to climb briefly as it started to get more exposed to the sun

Mom on the trail overlooking Tenaya Canyon somewhere near the ephemeral cascadeMom on the trail overlooking Tenaya Canyon somewhere near the ephemeral cascade

The thin, ephemeral waterfall spilling into the upper sections of Tenaya CanyonThe thin, ephemeral waterfall spilling into the upper sections of Tenaya Canyon

Mom headed back to the trailhead amidst the granite wildernessMom headed back to the trailhead amidst the granite wilderness

Pywiack Cascade as seen from the Half Dome TrailPywiack Cascade as seen from the Half Dome Trail


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS




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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

We'll describe the directions to our favored starting point at Olmstead Point from Mammoth Lakes. This is a Summer only route since the Tioga Road needs to be snow-free and free from avalanche danger to be open to the public.

Basically, we go east on Route 203 to the Hwy 395, then take Hwy 395 north for about 30 minutes or so in the direction of Lee Vining. Before reaching town, we turned left onto Route 120 (Tioga Road) and climbed up the steep and rugged road to Tioga Pass. About another half-hour's drive or so would lead us beyond Tenaya Lake and towards Olmstead Point, which has a well-established pullout area.

Driving to Mammoth Lakes from Los Angeles typically takes roughly 5 hours without traffic (via the Hwy 14 and Hwy 395).




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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RELATED PAGES



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What Other Visitors Have Said

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Elusive Pywiack 
Yep, Pywiack is an elusive falls, tucked in fold in a canyon and viewable from narrow angles. I once did a one day trek from Tenaya Lake to Yosemite …

Pywiack Cascade hiking accident fatal to Tahoe doctor 
There were two missing hikers in Yosemite one morning in 1970 and the rangers requested several of the more or less permanent rock climbers in Camp 4 to …

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