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Re: Trip Report: Red Peak & Merced Peak 8/20-8/23

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Trip Report: Red Peak & Merced Peak 8/20-8/23
September 22, 2020 02:55PM
Summary: Spent 3 nights at Lower Ottoway Lake. Scrambled up Red Peak & Merced Peak. ~38 miles, +7.1K Elevation.

I headed out for my annual solo Yosemite hike. I camped on the west shore of Lower Ottoway. I spent 4 days fishing, hiking, scrambling, and getting to know the area. It was a bit smokey due to the wildfires, but not enough to stop me. Although I was inspired by Bob Burd's double-peak adventures, I only climbed Red and Merced Peaks across two days.

Day 1 - Thursday, 8/20
Left Mono Meadow - 9:40a
Lower Ottoway Lake - 5:30p

With an early start, I left the Bay Area at 4:30a. Unfortunately, both Yosemite Lakes Country Store and Crane Flat gas station were closed so I headed to the valley for water and breakfast. Thankfully, the village visitor center was open. After fueling up at the valley, I arrived at Mono Meadow trailhead at 9:30a.

Mono Meadow trailhead starts with two steep declines. Everytime I’m at this trailhead I say to myself, “wow this is going to stink coming up, but that’s a problem for later.” I passed a few day hikers on their way back. It was overall a quiet, smokey day.

I ran into my first pair of backpackers after crossing Red Creek. They were a happy group, euphoric with the hike down from Lower Ottoway. The older gentleman said “You’re going up to Lower Ottoway? Christ, it’ll take you 2.5 hrs from the trail junction, have fun.” I figured his comment came with his age and brushed it off.

The second gentleman advised me on camp sites for later in the day. “I dislike lake water, so if you want to drink from the spring, head to the left.” I never noticed the difference between lake/spring water, but now I may be ruined by that knowledge.

As the day continued on I found myself continuing up Illilouette Creek. The mileage, elevation gain, and altitude were getting to me. I started to become hopeful I’d arrive soon at the next trail junction. Getting your hopes up on the trail is never a good idea.

I finally made it to the Merced Pass trail junction and debated stopping for the day. It was only 3:15p with plenty of light left, so I decided to continue on. 2.5 hrs later (almost exactly; the old man was right) I made it up to Lower Ottoway Lake at 5:30p.

Absolutely dog tired, I searched for a camp spot. My bar was low: near the water, dirt bottom (not rock), flat, and hidden from the trail. I found a spot that hit most of the criteria and declared the hunt over.

I got situated and prepared for the next day. I’d go on to tackle Red Peak first, figuring it was the easier of the two.

I went down with the sun and was asleep by 8:15p.

Day 2 - Friday, 8/21
Left Camp - 8:45a
Upper Ottoway - 9:27a
Red Peak Pass - 9:53a
Red Peak 10:57a, left 12:00p
Back To Camp 12:55p

I started off nice and early with a Jet Boil oatmeal. Two packets of burn-your-mouth-hot goodness on a crisp morning. I grabbed my Tenkara Rod and moseyed down to the lake.

Luckily the fish were biting and I caught 3 within the first 20 casts. I was happy after the 1st one, the rest was house money. The 10K ft trout were small.

I left camp at 8:45a to make my way up Red Peak Pass and eventually Red Peak. I passed a hiker on the way up, ultralight-er. My summit pack looked bigger than his backpacking pack. I respected his style and I like the woods, but I will carry a tent to prevent carpenter ants from crawling on me during the night.

After passing Upper Ottoway Lake, I started the switch backs up the Red Peak Pass. At 11K ft, the pass is the highest trail point in Yosemite. It was a breather the entire way up. After getting to the pass, I took a break. Then I set out to achieve my ultimate goal: summiting the peak.

I started straight up the ridge towards the peak. About 10 minutes in I saw some class 4 coming towards me and I opted to take a straighter approach. I visually saw my check points and got to work.

The rock was loose, but not bad. I enjoyed the rock exposure, which kept me on my toes. A little over three hours after I left camp, I made it to the top of Red Peak. There was only one guest book and it was completely filled. The last entry was 2013. I hope the book wasn’t completely alone for the past 7 years. I’ll be carrying a replacement register books with me next time.

Video from the top:https://i.imgur.com/w4VJT2w.mp4

Then I decided to have some fun and head down the west face for my return journey. The beginning was fine, but I was met with small to medium sized loose red rock. I lost my footing a few times and got plenty of scrapes on my legs. I made my way over to a sandy path and slid down.

Getting back to the trail, I eventually got back to camp just over an hour after leaving the peak. It was 1:00p and I had the rest of the day to fish and relax. Tomorrow I had my sights set on the mountain that had stared me in the face all day: Merced Peak.

Day 3 - Saturday 8/22
Left Camp 8:15a
Merced Peak 11:16a, left 11:56a
Back to Camp 2:11p

Riding off the good vibes of the day before, I was ready to take on the harder of the two peaks, Merced Peak.

Merced Peak sits to the south of Red Peak and can be seen all throughout the bowl I was camping in. I read Bob’s trip report and saw he went up the north saddle. After looking at that spot the previous day, I decided I’d try a less intimidating looking route on the west side. After two more packets of cinnamon apple oatmeal, I left camp at 8:15a.

The trail up was the same to Red Peak Pass so I was in familiar territory. I met a backpacker, Kat, on the way up. She was on a 5 day loop starting at Chiquito Trailhead. It was her first backpacking trip and she was elated. I was energized by her happiness to be out there.

I departed the trail towards the west saddle right before hitting Upper Ottoway. It was a gorgeous stroll with no one else in sight.

My hunch was right. Getting up and over the ridge at the saddle was easy. That’s a fun part about mountains, from a distance they look tough, but once you’re up close, they’re easier. A human body is small and lightweight compared to the rocks surrounding you.

Once I got over the ridge I set my mark and started the traverse towards Merced Peak. The rocks were annoyingly “medium sized.” Too big to walk comfortably, too small to trust they wouldn’t move under my feet. This made for slow moving.

I made my way to the south east saddle of Merced and realized I was aiming at the wrong peak the whole time. Whoops. Luckily the real Merced Peak was a quick scramble behind me. As I took a break I looked over to the east at Triple Divide peak.

I had planned to hike TDP in the same day, but the effort it took to get where I was (and the looming climb down) convinced me otherwise.
I headed up the south ridge of Merced which was a mix of class 2 (some class 3 if you wanted it). I was breathing heavy, I was on exposed rock, and the sun was out -- exactly what I wanted.

Getting to the top gave me that addicting 360° view I was looking for. It was warm with a slight breeze, the insects were out, and I was glad to discover blank pages in the summit book. The last person to sign the book came up the peak two weeks prior to my visit. I made some tuna tacos for lunch and enjoyed the wind cover of the rocks.

Video from the top: https://i.imgur.com/MflQX9S.mp4

On my way down I decided to try another path again. I looked toward the north at the path Bob mentioned. If he can do it, I can do it, right? The feeling of “I’m not sure what I’m getting into” motivates me to try new routes. I headed down.

The other funny thing about mountain scrambling is that you never know what you’re getting into until you finally get over a ridge and see for yourself. As I finally got to see what was over the north ridge, my fears were calmed. I saw a straight forward path to the north saddle.

I made my way down, all the while getting gorgeous views of Lyell, Maclure, Banner, Ritter, and the Minarets. Sitting at the saddle, I could see my path back down to the Ottoway Lakes. Instead of rushing, I took my time.

Video from notch: https://i.imgur.com/zFkQk2D.mp4

Along the way I stopped at each lake I could. I took the long path along their shores. Each one was as beautiful and clear as the next.

I eventually made it back to the spot where I departed the trail and made my way back down. No other hikers to exchange stories with. I found myself stopping and looking back up at Merced Peak feeling the awesomeness of the day. My arms were sunburnt. I was ready to sit down in a nice chair. Unfortunately, only rocks awaited me at camp.

After getting back and soaking my feet in the lake, it was time to start fishing again before dinner. Tomorrow would be 15 miles back out to Mono Meadow.

Day 4 - Sunday 8/23
Left Camp 7:32a
Merced Lake Junction 8:25a
Valley Ottoway Junction 11:17a
Mono Meadow 1:00p

Jazzed and ready to get back to my bed, I woke up with the sun at 6:15a and started the morning routine. Oatmeal, instant coffee, take in the views.

I packed up my camp and took my farewell pictures. One last look at Merced and Red Peaks before I headed out. My legs were now 3 days of hiking strong, and my breathing was 3 days of 10K feet acclimated. I was looking forward to the smooth trip down.

I left camp and as expected, started pounding the trail. Even running some of the downhills. The landmarks I remembered on the way up started to pass me by. I was going quick, the stretch from the Merced Junction to Lower Ottoway that took me 2.5hrs on the way up only took me 1hr on the way down. Although, this says more about how tired I was on the way up than how fast I was on the way down.

I didn’t see anyone on the trail for the first 12 miles until near the Illilouette Creek crossing. Here there were a few groups enjoying the sun and playing in the water. I would have stayed but I was on a mission to get back.

The last stretch was the 1K ft climb back up to Mono Meadows. It was hot, smokey, and sweaty. I crossed over the log-bridged mud of the meadow and made my way up the last .25 mile to the trail head.

I got to the car and took a quick inventory of the windows. No breaks and no sign of bears. Sometimes you just never know.

I headed back down through the valley for the 4hr drive back to San Francisco. Stopped at Chipotle on the way back. As I was indulging on fresh salted chips, the euphoric “that was awesome” feeling started to settle in.
Re: Trip Report: Red Peak & Merced Peak 8/20-8/23
September 23, 2020 02:19PM
Great area to explore..seldom see many visiters there, and great fishing too....my .favorite Yosemite area.
Kudos to you for doing it well, and solo.too!!!!

However, a pet gripe...(just my high school teacher's past coming through)...your TR becomes hard to read as every sentence starts with/ has the word "I" in it ....sigh!
Maybe make it a little more about the trail (third person) instead of always telling iti in the first.
avatar Re: Trip Report: Red Peak & Merced Peak 8/20-8/23
September 23, 2020 03:09PM
Great TR and photos. Loved that area as well when I went through there in 2016, despite altitude sickness.

"I" don't mind the sentences starting with "I" -- it is about what you did on a solo trip, after all. (but I do agree generally with Mark's point about writing style crutches to avoid).

- Billy Joel

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/23/2020 03:10PM by JRinGeorgia.
Re: Trip Report: Red Peak & Merced Peak 8/20-8/23
September 23, 2020 06:26PM
The euphoric feeling you mention brings back some memories.

There have been times in the Park when, overcome by the sheer 'Yosemite of it all', I
wanted to drop to the ground and cry like a baby, while shaking a fist at the sky and
unleashing a Tarzan yell of victory, both at the same time.

Whatever this feeling is called, it only happens in one place.

Enjoyable trip report. Nice work.
avatar Re: Trip Report: Red Peak & Merced Peak 8/20-8/23
October 18, 2020 08:41AM
There have been times in the Park when, overcome by the sheer 'Yosemite of it all', I
wanted to drop to the ground and cry like a baby, while shaking a fist at the sky and
unleashing a Tarzan yell of victory, both at the same time.]

Upon witnessing such behavior, just smile back with quiet amusement and move on. And yes, it's contagious.
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