2005 A 50 mile trip up into the Clark Range
For this trip into the mountains of Yosemite National Park, my old
friend David and I decided to take to new paths. The last time, we were
Vogelsang, which took us on a northeast trail after reaching Merced
Lake in the Little Yosemite Valley. Now, we were going to retrace the
first day of that route, but then branch southeast, doing a loop up
through Red Peak Pass in the Clark Range. So again, the base camp was
in the Valley.
New larger bearboxes have been installed, maybe because the park has
more money these days…
This is the most energetic multi-day hike we have so far undertaken.
With an estimated 5-6 days on the trail, the most strenuous are the
first three, both because of the elevation gain, and the fact that your
bear canister of food is full. We left camp in the valley (alt. 4000
feet) after parking at the Happy Isles trailhead, hiked up
and out via Vernal Falls, and then along the John Muir trail up to
Reaching the top of Nevada Fall by late morning with typical beautiful
sunny skies, we stopped for a quick lunch, and then scooted through the
Little Yosemite Valley toward Bunnell Point. By
mid-afternoon, we were starting to climb again near Moraine Dome,
and came across a work party out building a stone bridge.
The only other "visitor" I came across was a big lazy Southern
Pacific Rattlesnake, basking in the sun on a flat rock right next to
the trail. By the time I came round the corner, he was already heading
into the nearest bush off-trail, and had no interest in looking my way.
Making a bit of noise on the trail isn't just good for warning bears!
Knowing that we would be camping at the same spot as last time, after
switchbacks at Bunnell Point, we pumped lots of water and headed up to
make camp (7200'). It was a beautiful evening with clear skies (as
usual) and the temperature moderated from 90 in the day to perhaps
40ish that night.
The next morning, fresh with energy, we continued toward Echo Valley,
on the way to Merced Lake, which was our jumping off point to
The rocks in this area have been heavily worked by glaciers and water,
with cracks and potholes giving trees some unique opportunities.
For a bit of the perspective, cross your eyes to see the stereo view…
Approaching Echo Valley we cross another bridge, enjoy the river
scenery, and spot some deer out for their morning exercise.
The glacier action is hard to miss when you see polished and
work-hardened rocks like this:
...not to mention the bear's leaving their signature scratches on a
Finally, at Merced Lake for lunch, the Maitre D' greets us at our table
which has a nice lakeside view
After lunch, it's onward and upward to Washburn Lake and beyond. We
make it up to the Lyell Fork stream and make camp just before the
switchbacks heading toward Red Devil Lake.
That night, the clouds started collecting pretty quickly, and it looked
like we were going to get put to the boot. But while it was cool at
night, the morning dawned clear. As it turns out though, a couple of
days later I met a solo hiker who had come the other way, and on
Fletcher Pass that night, he put up with hours of rain and sleet!
The clouds had dumped before they got to us.
Big rocks everywhere and Breakfast at Tiffany's
Before breaking camp, I took a jaunt back to the creek nearby, and
snapped a pic of the water quality gauging station...just in the middle
of nowhere, with a solar panel to keep it ready for spring thaws and
A couple of hours of switchbacks and the view shows us the tree line
which is followed by alpine meadows for a few miles
Another gorgeous day, and lunch this time is at the trail junction 6
miles from Red Peak Pass.
After soaking up some sun, the climbing begins again. By
mid-afternoon, we are approaching the local tree line, and off in
the distance appears a cabin turned to stone, straight out
Lords of The Rings.
The vistas are increasing in expanse as we start looking to make
camp near Red Devil Lake
Now Red Devil Lake by GPS and map shows to be a couple of hundred feet
below the trail. Fortunately, there are very small and beautiful lakes
right at the trail, before getting to Red Devil. We camped at the 2nd
one, had a great dinner, and our tents kept us sleeping soundly with
nighttime temps dipping to 14 F.
campsite lake pano
Like all clear mornings in the upper mountains, it's very cold until
the sun actually shines on you. Then it's time to shed the extra fleece
layers and get going. Today is Red Peak Pass Day, and the first
hours get us right into the switchbacks and mid-sized talus everywhere.
Mid-morning, I stop to chat with Mark Cronin, who was also a few days
out, having put up with the storm's sleet two nights ago. Yosemite is
his favorite hiking place, and he had traveled from the Midwest
to do that hike. We talked about mountain hiking in the Panamint
Mountains of Death Valley, and then parted ways with best wishes.
and Yours Truly enjoying the view as well:
Remnants of the past winter snows abound everywhere. They feed little
rivulets, and yet granite bridges have been built in several places
along the trail, so there are permanent waterways on the incline.
Sunshine glancing on a small pool of water sets off
reflections and refractions of the ice on top.
Finally, the switchbacks through fields of talus deliver well-exercised
hikers to the divide
The view looking west from Red Peak Pass
Now the trail descended toward the Ottoway Lakes, and we made good time
on another sunny but windy day. Deciding to press on past the
traditional stops, we passed a well-fed Marmot coming out to
investigate us. Leave your pack near one of these guys and you won't
need a black bear to relieve you of your food…
Finally, after a bit of a slog, we landed at Lower Merced Pass Lake,
where, if nothing else, we had to pump water, having not filled up
earlier in the day. After all, why carry more than you need, if you're
confident you will reach a wet stream soon. Being pretty much done for
the day, we camped at the lake.
Sunshine again on tap, after a cool night. All of the day's hiking is
downhill, largely through forests until mid-afternoon. With
autumn already here, the local animals are invisibly busy preparing for
the snow. Part way down the trail, there is a pool of sunlight,
and in the middle of it is a cluster of freshly harvested broad leaves.
John Muir wrote about this many years ago: in the alpine regions, Pikas
will cut grasses and leaves, placing them to dry in the sun, before
get loaded into the larder for winter feeding. And here was a bunch
just drying out nicely.
Later in the day, approaching Mt. Starr King, the forest shows clear
evidence of past forest fires, but with new trees growing strongly.
Further along the trail, we come out into large open areas that are
forests of burned-out trunks and little else. Two years ago, there was
a large fire in this area when we were doing the Vogelsang hike. I'll
bet this area was Ground Zero for that.
Toward 4 o'clock, we are approaching Panorama Cliff, and Half Dome
comes into view
We camp right before the trail joins the Panorama Cliff trail, and I
experiment with a time lapse photo through the door of my tent…looking
Sun beams in over the trails we have traveled on the way out. We'll be
the valley tonight…
On the way down the staircase below Nevada Fall, you can see the
amount of work it took to prepare these trails, rough and tumble as
some of them are. Can you count the blast holes in this piece of
granite, just to make a manageable step, as one of thousands?
Then it's back into the trees for the rest of the way down to Vernal
Vernal Fall is always a sight, and even though the water is much
reduced at this time of year, it still shows well
Finally, at the bottom, it's time to start thinking of a few cold beers
and pizza at Degnan's Loft in the village…and then planning for the
next few days' activities…
The next morning, after a good feed, and sleep, we're paid a friendly
visit by the Ranger, Kirk Robinson, who is just ensuring that people
are behaving themselves, especially by storing food ONLY in the
bearboxes, and NOT their cars.
After a good breakfast, David and I decided to head out toward the
eastern Sierra, over the Tioga Pass. This meant we'd be in Lee
Vining for lunch!
Coming down out of the mountains toward Lee Vining at Mono Lake.
Lunch at the Mobil Rest Stop, and the Whoa Nellie Deli, which is always
popular (for good reason)
3960 desert travelers
That night we stayed in Bishop at the El Rancho motel (highly
recommended), and then set out on a variety of day trip
adventures. First a stop for gas, and a sign that any marketing
guy would shudder to see:
Eventually we found our way up into the mountains again for a night at
the Horseshoe Meadow camp, just south of Mount Whitney and 8000 feet
up. Looking down into the valley the next morning:
and then in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine later on, we see Mt.
Whitney framed through one of the arches in the hills
Heading out of town later on, in search of a good photo op, we get paid
a visit by a couple of wandering burros, quite friendly.
And after a long day driving in the nearby Saline Valley, we decide to
head back toward San Francisco via the Monitor/ Ebbett's Pass route
just south of Tahoe. We spend the night at altitude and enjoy brisk
mountain air again the next morning.
Nearing the end of our trip, we arrive back in San Francisco, and I
take the opportunity to do some night shots around the city.
As a sidelight before going to the beaches up in Pacifica, just south
of downtown, we pay a visit to the Fry's electronic store in Fremont.
If you look carefully, you will see the long line of cash registers
standing by. There are actually 58 of them, so imagine how busy it is
on a heavy shopping day. I've seen lineups in this store, and a
traffic director to point you to the open cashiers.
The beaches are very popular as entertainment sites. People come for
all reasons, particularly families...and the entertainment is often
provided by expert kite makers and "pilots". They are quite the crowd
4153 quick blast-off
That evening, we visited Fisherman's Wharf, and got some friendly help
identifying a great CD being piped onto the sidewalk. Roberta of the
Really, Really Great Gifts store solved the puzzle for me, and I'm glad
to says thanks with a picture!
Right at the seafood places, Boudin has built a new bakery building,
and you won't get better sourdough anywhere, not to mention the
And so we made our way to the Cafe8, which is owned by Alioto's, and
both these establishments share a long and illustrious history. Highly
And down to the last day, we took it easy. A visit to San Jose State
University took the place of visiting the Tech Museum, which is closed
Mondays during the "winter" season. The campus doesn't seem to be
suffering to much under the winter weather…
And then it was time to stop and finish up.
Our flight left early the next morning, and before the clouds made a
floor under us, I caught a last glimpse of the Oakland cranes. Maybe
they were waving goodbye 'till next time!
Comments, critques, suggestions? I'd love to hear from you.