Upper Merced Pass Lake, Yosmite

Backpacking Clark Fork of Illilouette Creek to Merced Pass Lakes – Day 2 to Ottoway Lake

The second day of Kate, Kris, Jacquie, Dan, Curtis & I’s backpacking trip to Ottoway lake turned out to be a bigger adventure than I had planed (See day 1’s blog here).  The goal was to travel from our previous night’s campsite, at the Clark Fork of the Illilouette, to Lower Ottoway Lake – approximately 10 miles of total hiking. I knew it would be a hard day of hiking up hill, but with an ample reward of the splendid alpine Ottoway Lakes. As it turned out it was a hard day of hiking up hill, but then discovering something completely unexpected – Merced Pass Lake!

Day 2 Backpacking: from the Clark Fork of Illilouette Creek to Upper Merced Pass Lake (8/25/13)

Topo Map of  trip Backpacking from Mono Meadows to Ottoway Lake, Yosemite

Topo map of Ottoway Lake Trail, click to enlarge

Trailhead: Mono Meadows (See Day 1)
Distance: 6.5-ish miles, a steady climb from around 7000 ft  to just below 9000 ft elevation. This stretch of trail seems extra long in my memory banks – probably because there is so much distance without a trail crossing or a proper landmark.

In obtaining the wilderness permit for this trip the ranger had informed us that the trail here does have a resident bear, but it a nice wild bear – does bear stuff, eats bear things, etc. I had not seen a bear since last October when one had barreled out in front of my parents rental car when we were leaving Hetch Hetchy, and so shrugged the possibility off. I mean, I know what to do if there is a bear, but bears rarely seem to find me, so why get all excited about it?

Well prepare to get excited – because less than 2 miles after we set off from the our campsite, bear straight ahead!

Bear in Yosemite Wilderness

Black bear, near where the trail grazes Illilouette Creek. He was a good distance away from us, which makes for poor quality pictures, but safe viewing without too much disturbance. Non-animated image in gallery at bottom of post.

We ended up hanging back and traveling slowly along this part of the path for a while, the bear anticipating our movement up trail, causing us to slow again as we waited for it to move on. Typical bears, Just rambling along as it pleased as we lost precious time on our hike! Kidding of course, it was a true wilderness experience, something not just any Yosemite tourist gets to see.

The remainder of the trail to the Merced Pass Lakes trail junction was how I remembered it from our previous trip: Long-ish, uphill, offering a few good glimpses at Illilouette creek tumbling down granite, and mount Clark looming overhead. We stopped from lunch at the last crossing of Illilouette Creek, a spot we would latter return to, and pushed through to get to the trail junction.

Illilouette Creek

Illilouette Creek as it runs down the canyon beside the trail

Looking at the map for the trail junction to Ottoway lake it appears as if the Trail moves right along the edge of Merced Pass Lakes. As we had found it, both durring this trip and on our earlier season trip in the beginning of July 2012, the Merced pass lakes are not readily accessible from the main trail. Here we instead met a series of dry creeks crisscrossing the landscape between unseen lakes. I was not optimistic about staying in this location, knowing the the splendor of Ottoway Lake was a short 3-ish miles up the trail, but am able to acknowledge that my multiple summers backpacking in the Sierra have hardened me. What I saw as a hill to complain about and hoof up, was a improbable obstacle after a long hike and adrenaline filled morning to others. It was decided that we should put more effort into finding the lakes, and make this campsite happen.

First Curtis and I ran off to scout out where the larger Lower Merced Pass Lake should have been. Following the map and the dry creek beds I  began to worry, unable to make out anything but a few damp puddles. Darting over a larger creek bed towards a granite ridge I finally spotted it – a pool of glistening blue water, eureka! After calling Curtis to the spot we decided that he should go down to the lake and continue to scout for camping spots, and I would return back to the group to tell them that at the very least there was water available for camping that evening.  As it was, Curtis promptly returned with a negative on camping for the six of us… too bad considering I was so pumped to find that lake – but an action which prompted Jacquie and I to take a trip down a promising user path right night to the Ottoway lake trail.

Upper Merced Pass Lake

The view of Upper Merced Pass Lake that opened up after reaching the end of the use trail.

Kate Helping to scope out  potential camping sights from her Granite nest!

Kate helping to scope out potential camping sights from her Granite nest!

The conclusion to that user path was magical, there right before our eyes was not just a water source or an alright place to camp, but an honest-to-god Sierra lake. And thank goodness, we rallied the troops and set up camp. A bit of an earlier end to our day, but allowing for rest, swimming, stretching, photos opts, and relaxation.

More images in the Gallery below, & look for the trip to Ottoway lake & conclusion to our backpacking trip up on tomorrow’s post.