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TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

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TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Mon Oct 24, 2011 1:34 pm

I have a friend who is a noob backpacker. He begged me to take him on a multi-day trip into the backcountry, so I agreed. First I prepared him as best I could by taking him on an early season trip (Kibbie Lake) so he could get familiar with all of the gear I was outfitting him with and get used to a way of life he was not used to and learn the rules to keep him safe. (“No gawking while you are walking!”) After that I decided on a moderate hike within his abilities with lots of bang for the buck. Even though I have done parts of this hike four times, I decided to take him on the Ottoway Lake Loop September 23 to the 29th. (I did a story in Sierra Trails for the first time I did it: http://www.doylewdonehoo.com/ottoway/ottoway001.htm). I heard tell there was a daisy wandering around out there at about the same time, but I saw neither hide nor hair.
I thought as a compromise I could do a few trail segments I have not done yet, but my trail partner was not up to it, so I did not get to do anything new. What was interesting was that I have always done this trip at the end of September, but this September was unlike any September I have ever experienced in the Sierra. The flora and weather was more like mid-August than late September: the streams were full, the meadows (the high ones) were green, there was still snow around the passes, there was still plenty of flowers, and there were still a few mosquitoes around in the wet areas. Streams that were dried up in other trips were flowing and often wet crossings. Here is a map of the route: http://www.doylewdonehoo.com/ottoway/ottowaymap.htm.
Sept 23rd, Day 1, 7.1 miles, 1422+ 1494- altitude gain and lost: We started from glacier point around 2PM, unfortunately. The weather was threatening, and rain would dog our trip for the next three days. There would not be time to go around Panorama Point and take the higher trail to Clark Fork, so we headed down the Illilouette drainage trail. It was not long before we were stopped (one of many) by the occasional showers. On this days segment, the start and endpoints are about the same altitude, with a downhill and uphill dip in the middle. Illilouette Creek was a broad-ish wet crossing, but by that time the weather was improving and it would be dry the rest of the day. It was the usual trudge up the hill to the Clark Fork, which we reached just about sundown. So, I familiarized my pard with the evening drill of making camp and getting dinner together in the dark, no small task for the uninitiated. One thing about “bad” weather: it can make for dramatic pictures.
Sept 24th, Day 2, 9.3 Miles, 3090+, 542-: It was a sunny morning, but there were clouds in the sky, never a good sign in the Sierra. It would be a day of dramatic weather in the Sierra, and a bit scary. As we ascended and gained the granite paved high country, the thunder began. I have never experienced anything like it. Peals, crashes, rips, and explosions of thunder that tore across the sky from horizon to horizon that went on and on with barely a pause between events that lasted for hours. Once in a while it would drizzle a bit and we would park under a tree and listen to the uproar. Occasionally there would be a flash, but mostly it was cloud to cloud. We were basically in deep forest NW of Merced Pass Lake at that point, but by the time we got to the trail junction, it was settling down and to the west of us. The rest of the way to Ottoway Lake was warm and dry, and I was again surprised by all the water in the streams (all dry in other years), requiring some rock-hopping skills. With the slow pace, I had time to take note of all of the camp-sites and potential camp-sites along the way near falls, meadows and pools. They may come in handy in the crowded mid-season. Anyway, we got to camp at Ottoway Lake (a really good one), still a bit too late for my liking. We had missed out on the Panorama Trail route, and this night we also missed out on what is usually one the best alpine-glow spots of the Sierra because of the cantankerous weather. Oh well, we made it on schedule, which meant the rest of the trip was assured. More than one time I thought I would have to change plans to accommodate my inexperienced pard. I was practically leaping for joy when he made it into camp. That night was clear, which made for a great star-gazing session. When I returned from this trip, I had heard that funds had been raised, and nearly this whole route had been worked over by trail crews. I saw the evidence everywhere, in particular with clean new stairs here and there. They also took out the unsightly huge fire pit in camp, a big improvement.
Sept 25th, Day 3, 7.7 Miles, 1867+, 2405-: Another mostly clear morning, but again there were clouds, not a good sign when you would be going over a pass. We got out of camp as quickly as possible, and as it got more and more cloudy, I started to lash the whip on my pard to pick up his normally slow pace. I did not want to be on a pass in a thunderstorm. I would turn back if that was a possibility. The clouds were getting very dark overhead, but fortunately, it was fairly clear over the pass. I gave my pard a High-5 when he reached the pass summit, telling him he was a REAL backpacker now that he had cleared his first pass.
After an extended rest and no threat from the weather (it got down-right sunny), we headed down. The first obstacle was frozen ice and snow on the trail near the top. Not much of a problem for me, but I needed to take precautions for my pack-buddy. So I chopped some steps in the icy snow and we relayed the packs (and ourselves) past the steep slippery spot, and were on our way.
This section is pretty spectacular, with far views, the contact zone between metamorphic and granite, the talus cluttered terrain studded with ponds, the birds eye view of Red Devil Lake, and the ever changing flora. The trail was still as rocky as ever with the occasional annoying rock filled trail-bins (which I tended to go around), but there were so real trail improvements. I remember one trail section that dumps you out on the high plateau that was pretty bad, but now has been transformed with a sweeping curved staircase.
By this time it was getting cloudy again as we continued our slow way to the Triple Fork camp. Actually, knowing what I know now, we should have made our way down to the small lakes on the Merced Peak Fork. A missed opportunity. By the time we got to camp, it was getting late and it started to rain. We spent an uncomfortable night there, but the next morning the skies were clear, as they would be for the rest of the trip. The night had brought a welcome freeze and icy tents. So that morning I decided we should take advantage of the ample slab-granite to dry out all of our gear. Soon an expanse of dry granite resembled a yard-sale with our drying gear. This gave us a rare opportunity to explore the white granite covered countryside. Eventually everything was once again bone-dry so we could pack up and leave.
I will post more later in Part 2. (Pictures may be in reverse order below. There were more pictures, but I maxed the limit. ;))
Attachments
GaryDay3 y3.jpg
Looking back towards Red peak Pass.
Day3 y2.jpg
On the trail near the Merced Fork.
Day3 y1.jpg
Looking towards the Mt. Lyell group from the Ped Peak Pass area. Red Devil Lake below.
Day3Gary x10.jpg
Coming down the north side of Red Peak Pass. The pass is the "U" on the right horizon.
Day3Gary x4.jpg
Heading for Red Peak Pass with upper Ottoway lakes in the background.
Day2Gary x6.jpg
Day 3: Leaving Ottoway Lake.
Day2Gary x5.jpg
The view from camp at Ottoway Lake on a moody day.
Day2Gary x4.jpg
Camp at Ottoway Lake.
Day2Gary x1.jpg
Day2: Gaining altitude along Illilouette Creek, with Mt. Starr King in the background.
Day1Gary x1.jpg
The trail near Mono Creek:
Last edited by DoyleWDonehoo on Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th, Part 1.

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Mon Oct 24, 2011 1:40 pm

Lets see if I can get a few more pictures in. More story later.
Attachments
4473.jpg
Morning in the Triple Fork canyon:
4498.jpg
Looking up the Triple Fork canyon at me:
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th, Part 1.

Postby The Other Tom » Mon Oct 24, 2011 5:10 pm

Thanks for your in depth report. I know it takes a lot of time to do this sort of thing and I appreciate it.
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th, Part 2.

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Mon Oct 24, 2011 9:44 pm

Part 2: Day 4, 5.4 miles, 308 + and 1614- feet gain/loss: I was going to head for the high trail, but I concluded I had to give the new guy a break and give him some easy days suitable for his experience and fitness level. So, I gave up the third and final thing that I was personally looking forward to on this trip. It turned out OK because with all of the water and August like conditions, I would see the next part with new eyes and in different conditions than I experienced in the past. So, after packing up our now dry gear, we headed down the Triple Fork canyon that was decorated with green meadows and swirling waters. The meadows in this section are quite ideal and impressive, more so due to the then mid-season conditions. Most of the rest of the hike would be down-hill on good trail, so it was easy hiking and smooth sailing with plenty of time to see the sights. Soon we reached what I called the Five Canyon Overlook that is the top of the drop out of Triple Fork down to the Merced River. After a rest and snack we headed down to the canyon bottom on blasted granite trail. I was taken by surprise by the waterfall of the Triple Fork plunging a thousand feet or more to the bottom of the canyon junction. I had never seen this fall before on past trips and never suspected such an impressive falls was even there. Actually from the Triple Fork to the junction with the Lyell Fork, it is spectacular every step of the way, with aspens, firs, water-slides, cascades, falls, pools and acre after acre of polished open granite pavements. I took over 700 pictures as a result (ya gotta love digital cameras) on this trip (not all taken by me).
After a while we hit the bridge at Lyell Fork for a break, then headed down river to a place I always wanted to camp but always bypassed. Not this trip. After a section of deep forest, we broke out to an open area where below the trail was the Merced River in its rocky channel featuring a number of pools and cascades. Down there was an ideal camp where we spent the night. I finally got a decent nights sleep and the star-gazing was particularly nice. The pictures tell the story.
This is a good spot to end Part 2. Part 3 later. (Reverse order pictures again.)
Attachments
4686.jpg
The Merced River canyon walls as seen from camp.
4666.jpg
The Merced River near camp.
4662.jpg
The cascade next to the camp (unused fire ring). In the backfground is the Lyell Fork of the Merced River. It was a nice place for a bath.
4630.jpg
A small fall on the Merced Fork near the trail.
4615.jpg
The waterfalls of the Triple Fork in the Five Canyon junction.
4550.jpg
The overlook of the Five Canyons. That is Washburn Lake in the background and me in the foreground.
4529.jpg
The meadows of the Triple Fork, looking up-canyon towards Post Peak Pass.
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th, Part 1.

Postby markskor » Mon Oct 24, 2011 9:48 pm

Nice trip - nice route.
Interesting to see what the north side of Red Peak Pass looks like without being covered by 10 feet of snow. Obviously not a fisherman though, unless unmentioned in part 1, you passed right by two of the great trout lakes of Yosemite :crybaby: with nary a mention of wetting a line...tsk tsk.
Probably waiting to teach your buddy the finer aspects of backpacking on his second trip?
Great photography.
Thanks,
Mark
Mountainman who swims with trout
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th, Part 1.

Postby Cross Country » Mon Oct 24, 2011 11:03 pm

You did a great TR, as usual. That nice place to camp is a water slide (a little slow) too. You know me and water slides. There are some good cross country places close to your route.
Where did you buy the chairs and how much do they weigh?
As you said, this was a different year than ever for us mortals. This years TRs are different than anything I experienced in a lot of backpacking.
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Tue Oct 25, 2011 2:33 pm

markskor: Despite the fact I a have an extremely lightweight pack rod and reel, I gave up on fishing some time ago. I have seen schools of trout swimming around my bait...and nothing. Can fish sneer? I think so. I would need expert instruction. I am a great eater of fish though. I am willing to clean and cook for fish. :unibrow:
Which lakes were the good fish ones? Ottoway Lakes, sure. The other: Red Devil Lake or the lakes above it, or the lakes in the Edna group? Or the little lakes on the Merced Fork?

Probably waiting to teach your buddy the finer aspects of backpacking on his second trip?


If you mean fishing, probably not. :confused:

Cross Country :
Where did you buy the chairs and how much do they weigh?

The chair weighs about a pound. I would leave my sleeping pad behind before I would leave my chair behind. You need back support out there. It is very useful: I have taken naps in it (has a head rest). It is called a Sling-Light: http://www.slinglight.com/ See a video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDWkfHZIx5k
If you get one, mention me. (Pictures below.)

There are some good cross country places close to your route.

An ideal area to base-camp and visit a huge available number of things.
Attachments
4753.jpg
Chairs in camp.
chair.jpg
How to attach the Sling-Light.
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Tue Oct 25, 2011 5:35 pm

Part 3: Day 5, 4.2 miles, 231 + and 736- feet gain/loss: I was sad to leave such a nice camp with my nice level sheltered tent-spot, but we were in no big hurry to leave (after all we were only going about 4 miles). We had rinsed out sweaty clothes the day before, and some stuff was still on the line drying. Eventually we got it together and left camp.
This next section, while pleasant, is sorta tame compared with what is below it and above it. Lots of thick forest, a fall or two, some trail blasted out of solid rock, with the highlight was Washburn Lake, John Muirs “Shadow Lake”. He said he waited out a snow storm there under a rock, and I found several very cozy candidates that would have made great shelters. Caves practically. I took pictures if anybody is interested.
While not as spectacular as other areas, it still was a Yosemite-Valley-like canyon with high rock walls and two large lakes. My friend surprised me by saying what I have often said to others: take some of this scenery and move it back east and the people back there would turn it into a national monument and people would flock to it.
Before Washburn Lake is a falls that is on the map, and for once there was water in it, so that was nice. It was doing better than Yosemite Falls at that time, which was dry. Beyond that was the lake and we went over to the south shore and toyed with the idea of camping there. Nah. We continued on to the north shore and looked around (like at the rock-cave), checked out the nice camping there and took some pictures. Leaving the lake the trail is carved out of solid rock, and below in the deep waters of the river I could see fair sized fish drifting here and there. At this point the canyon narrows and the north-east wall is over 2000 feet high and nearly as high is the south-west wall. After that the hike was a pleasant trudge with occasional access points to the river and a few nice cascades. My friend wanted to stop all the time and check out every little falls, and I would say, “Nah, take a look and lets go: this is nothing compared to what you will see tomorrow.” After a while we entered the lush deep forest and broad flat valley of lake-bottom of the much larger post ice-age Merced Lake (or perhaps it was East Merced Lake). Skirting the 2000 foot east wall, we came to a drift fence and the Ranger Station and the Ranger! The place had been remodeled and spruced up these past few years. So we got to talk to people, a novelty after so many days without seeing anyone, and not talking to anyone else since the trip started. We chatted a while and moved on, crossed the three bridges of Lewis Creek and right after that took a left into a broad flat sparsely forested area to camp, the same camp I used the last two times I was there. We used the remainder of the day to make camp, clean up and rest for the next day of hiking. I told my pard it was 7 miles to Little Yosemite Valley, but it was really 10.5 miles. He would have freaked if he had known the actual miles. It is hard to explain to a noob that he was acclimated, his load was lighter, it was down-hill most of the way, and it would be, really, an easy day. He would just have to experience it to know. Ignorance is bliss.
So, once again I would have a very pleasant night and a good sleep to set up a great day of hiking the next day.
More in Part 4. (Be sure to click on the photos to see them full size.)
Attachments
4698.jpg
The mapped falls upstream from Washburn Lake.
4701sm.jpg
Washburn Lake looking North (from the South shore).
4725sm.jpg
Washburn Lake looking South.
4729.jpg
That is me and my friend Washburn Lake.
4738.jpg
The outlet area of Washburn Lake.
4754.jpg
Our camp near the Merced RS.
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

Postby RoguePhotonic » Tue Oct 25, 2011 7:51 pm

You should have stopped in with the trail crew at Lower Ottoway Lake. They camp NW from the lake a couple hundred yards and are a fun bunch to hang out with. They have stayed for the whole season in this location for 6 years now but they told me this is their last.

They like company and are happy to feed you a great dinner!
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Thu Oct 27, 2011 3:23 pm

Well, RoguePhotonic, we got in so late, we had little time to be social. We knew there were people around. Saw some too. I like trail crew. had a blast with Benson Lake crew.
OK, last part, honest!:

Part 4: Day 6, 10.5 miles, 1432 + and 2607- feet gain/loss: Another sunny fine day and ideal conditions. Quite a contrast to the first three days. This day was basically a return to civilization, more-so as we reached the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. Ok, it was not in operation (and may not have been this last season: I don’t know), but it is still quite a sprawling establishment, as was the backpacker CG just beyond. We saw a few people in the area, but that was it.
Merced Lake was as beautiful as ever, with it polished white granite wall across the lake. At the outlet we walked along the solid unbroken granite trough of the Merced River outlet, with the groove of the trail carved alongside.
Soon we were in Echo Valley. This first time I visited this valley over 20 years ago, it had been burned. Now it was full of young trees alongside the tall survivors of the fire. After that began the most scenic part of the days hike, and a highlight of the trip. I would still like to visit this section in early season during runoff. Here we traveled along the steep granite gash that held the Merced River. For the fist time in my visits to this area, there was a fair amount of water in the river, which made all the difference. My favorite section is between the two bridges of this section. Here the canyon is the deepest in the nearly unbroken granite. The trail is most entertaining (in this direction), featuring walks over solid slab granite, strolls through lush forest, and vertical drops on crazily zigzagging switch-backed trail. Riding a horse or mule on this section would be…er…a thrill. Hiking up this thing going the opposite direction would be a real chore. Again I was surprised by small late season runoff streams here and there still gurgling along. Just before the second bridge is a spot I always make a point to stop at for food and views. Here the Merced River slides over a small fall in the center of a large flat granite area, an ideal early lunch spot. If you were heading in the upward direction, you would probably want to rest here before hiking up the crazy stairs and switchbacks.
After a lengthily break, we traveled on down the Merced trough, enjoying the cascades, pools and monster-sized waterslides. Lost Valley as always was a cool shaded break from the exposed hot granite sections, and I knew we were near the last pool and waterslide that dumps into Little Yosemite Valley (LYV).
Once in LYV, I paused to take a look that the extensive camp there near the pool: nobody was home, but you could see it got some heavy use. Moving on, it was the usual trudge that reminded me of the section of trail from Roads End to the steel bridge in Kings Canyon. Again I was amused by the remains of the old paved path that is slowly fading away. Soon enough, we reached civilization and the LYV organized camp and toilets, an area crawling with people and Rangers (all pretty nice). A female Ranger came by camp to check our permit (first time that trip) and chat. She looked at our gear and said, “You guys look like you know what you are doing.” We visited the lone fire-pit that evening which attracted about a dozen people. I left after a while for bed and book.
Day 7, 6.5 miles, 2458+ and 1408- feet gain/loss: Well, back to Glacier Point. The day was semi-overcast, and clear by the time I got to the Point, which guaranteed a hot last pull to the TH. There is not much to report here: billions of words have been written about Yosemite Valley, which we skirted on our way to the Point, so I will say little here. Besides the very scenic panoramas, we kept coming across tall blond German girls (I got to practice my German), all of which looked like runway models, most of which we blew by (we were in good shape by then). Everybody we met wanted to talk and ask where we had been. Eventually we got to the TH in good shape and it was time for one of my favorite parts: a shower, and a beer and pizza on the Pizza Deck in Yosemite Valley. Life is good!

(Pictures below in reverse order. Don't forget to click on the pictures for the full-sized view.)
Attachments
4874sm.jpg
The last fall/slide before going into Little Yosemite Valley.
4799sm.jpg
Looking up the Merced River canyon.
MercedGARYx5sm.jpg
The rest-stop on the Merced River.
4797.jpg
The top section of the Merced River canyon (between the bridges) before the trail drops down to the river. Looking NE.
4776.jpg
The outlet of Merced Lake.
4773.jpg
Morning reflection in Merced Lake.
4764sm.jpg
A bit of Merced Lake.
4758sm.jpg
The approach the the HSC and Merced Lake.
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

Postby maverick » Thu Oct 27, 2011 3:34 pm

Very enjoyable read Doyle, and cool pictures of one of the best places in Yosemite. Thanks
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Re: TR: Ottoway Lake Loop Sept. 23rd to 29th.

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:57 am

Thanks to all who read this. One last picture below of something I thought was cool.
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4239.jpg
Illilouette Creek near the trail.
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