TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

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TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by torpified » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:28 pm

TR starts below -- I figured out how to add photos, but idiotically added them to a reply to my original post. Sorry!!
Last edited by torpified on Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:14 pm, edited 3 times in total.








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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by torpified » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:31 pm

see above and below!
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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by rlown » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:34 pm

Nice report!

Pictures are simple. First make sure they are ~1MB. you can use paint to reduce the size until you see in properties that is ~1MB, or a resize tool.
In your report or the edit window, there is an "Add Attachments" button below which allows you to pick files to add.
Before you do a "place inline", make sure your cursor is where you want it on the page, or it might overlay itself in your text.

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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by torpified » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:44 pm

rlown wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:34 pm
Nice report!

Pictures are simple. First make sure they are ~1MB. you can use paint to reduce the size until you see in properties that is ~1MB, or a resize tool.
In your report or the edit window, there is an "Add Attachments" button below which allows you to pick files to add.
Before you do a "place inline", make sure your cursor is where you want it on the page, or it might overlay itself in your text.
Thanks! I searched the forums and realized I need to downsize. I'm working on that now!
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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by torpified » Thu Aug 15, 2019 4:48 pm

This is my first trip report here. Please correct my misidentifications, forgive my cruddy photos---and answer my natural history questions, which I’ll put in a separate reply so you don’t have to sift through the whole TR (which I'm sorry is so long!) to find them!

Highly omittable background: I grew up, and have lived most of my life, in places that have been relief-free since the last Ice Age. It might be impossible to explain to people who are used to mountains how mind-bending it is to first encounter them as an adult. It’s not just the raw sense of awe that the earth can get up to such things. It’s also realizing how impoverished my ways of thinking about landforms are. Topographical maps of Illinois don’t have contour lines. If a map is two dimensional, so is the terrain it represents. In the Sierra, this is not so. In Illinois, routes form a perfect grid, and if there are rivers, that just means there are bridges where those rivers intersect the grid. In the mountains, the water organizes and is organized by the terrain, and the routes---at least the kind of routes I walk—reflect the organization. Which brings us to what attracted me to the Red Peak Pass Loop: leaving central Yosemite along Illilouette Creek and returning along the Merced River, it’s basically a tour of some of headwaters of the Merced, and an object lesson in how many more ways there are for land and water to interact than are dreamt of by the Chicago River.

Each of the past two summers, I had permits and travel logistics sorted for a Red Peak Pass loop, but had to abandon due to wildfires. (Don’t worry---I improvised superfun trips in SEKI instead.) Just now, I managed a loop to and from Glacier Point, heading out along Illilouette Creek and returning along the Merced. Only I did not cross Red Peak Pass, which is becoming my white whale. Daunted by reports of a snowfield on the north side of the pass, I went the long way round, via Merced, Fernandez, and Post Peak Passes. Here is how it happened.

9 August 2019: I drive to Wawona, collect my permit, and shuttle off the Mariposa Grove to pay my respects to that eminent vegetable, the Grizzly Giant. Then I can’t sleep because I’m so excited to go on a walk tomorrow.

10 August 2019 (Glacier Point to Upper Merced Pass Lake; 14* miles [*mileages are guesstimates based on Sierra Mapper]): Ruthless efficiency is not among the Wawona’s considerable charms, and I get a late start. Somehow I manage not to drive off Washburn point while gaping wide-eyed at Half Dome. After stashing the smellables not accompanying me in a food locker and strolling to Glacier Point, I head down the Panorama Trail. The population density immediately plummets: two parties of three intrepid day hikers are the last people I’ll see until mid-afternoon. What I see in abundance are views that are simply surreal.
geology exhibit.jpg

After the Panorama Trail peels off to drop to Illilouette Falls, I descend through woods to join Illilouette Creek, who is good company---clear and cheerful but not too boisterous, and hence easy to cross when the time comes. Then a short trudge up a sandy slope under the watchful eyes of Mt Starr King delivers me to a longish spell of walking through woods scarred by fires of various vintages—the Sierra in low gear, maybe even idling. Around the Clark Fork, I encounter a party of 6 on the rebound from Red Peak Pass. They report that they’d gone to the pass, then thought better of continuing when they had a gander at the snow field. Declaring Lower Ottoway Lake “revelatory,” they encourage me to camp there and dayhike the pass.

Around 7600’, a shift into a higher gear: The scenery opens up to reveal various granite extravagances, including a broad grey slope criss-crossed by white bands that look like schuss marks left by the gods, and a ferny stretches that feel like dinosaur habit. I meet another party of three on the rebound from Red Peak Pass. They report that they’d gone to the pass, then thought better of continuing when they had a gander at the sun cups on the other side. Declaring Lower Ottoway Lake “sweet,” they encourage me to camp there and dayhike the pass.

I call it a day at Upper Merced Pass Lake, a quick jaunt down an obvious use trail branching to the left just after the Red Peak Pass junction. 14 miles and 8900 feet seems far enough and high enough for a person of my advanced age and fragile dignity. Also at this point I have something like 4 plans – backpack up and over RPP, backpack out and back to RPP, the much touted Ottoway + RPP dayhike option, and the mysterious Merced-Fernandez-Post Peak Long Way round – in play, and UMPL is consistent with them all.

The lake itself is a little dinky with mostly marshy shores over which hover a curtain of mosquitos. But there’s a small rocky stretch of shore perfect for collecting water—for one thing, its curtain of mosquitos expresses no interest in me. There’s also a jumble of granite slabs to the southwest nestling campsites the mosquitos don’t reach but the views of Red Peak---which gets even redder as the sun sets---do. It takes me a long time to fall asleep because I can’t decide which plan to follow tomorrow.
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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by torpified » Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:07 pm

11 August 2019 (Upper Merced Pass Lake to Lake 10005; 16 miles). Overnight I decide to take the Mysterious Long Way round. Partly I don’t trust my future self not to do something unwise if she heads up toward Red Peak Pass AND there really is a dicey snowfield on the other side. But I also want to find out what the Mysterious Long Way is like. My semi-determined searches and inquiries (I ended almost 5 years of lurking here to ask!) hadn’t turned up much information, and I’m perfectly situated to collect some. If the route works out, there’s the bonus that I’ll tour even more of the Merced’s headwaters, and also circle that hydrological oddity, Triple Divide Peak. So I head toward Merced Pass.

The walk takes me through meadows both frosty and flowery, and while it’s wooded, occasional breaks in the trees or short forays off trail afford views of the Buena Vista Crest.
on the way to MP.jpg
One of my many character flaws is an insufficient appreciation for forests. While I walk, I wonder why I am resenting these woods less than I resented yesterday’s woods. For some reason, what keeps coming to mind is the Martian’s reply when Bugs Bunny asked him why he wanted to destroy the earth: “it obstructs my view of Venus.”

Merced Pass (9310’) is criminally easy to reach, and appropriately modest: a forested saddle boasting boulders but no views. Still, it’s the divide between the South Fork of the Merced---which flows into Wawona, where I slept two nights ago---and its more celebrated sibling, the real Merced. And that’s something to write home about.

The trail descends to Moraine Meadows, then starts a nearly imperceptible ascent through pleasant (but buggy) meadows toward Fernandez Pass. Things kick into a higher gear after the Breeze Lake junction. The trees drop away and the trail soars rockily. It’s impressively engineered --- in one place, even the retaining walls have retaining walls --- and the spectacle of Gale Peak looming over Breeze Lake and her little brother make me feel like I’ve finally made it to the High Sierra.

I ain’t seen nothing yet, I learn from a Sierra Enthusiast I encounter about 50 feet below Fernandez pass. He’s walking from Mammoth to Wawona, and he raves not only about the pass itself but also about the walk up through the Ansel Adams Wilderness on the other side. He is correct. Passes tend to give me a though-the-looking-glass feeling: I’m, well, passing from one world to another. Fernandez Pass does this with a vengeance. Whereas a few minutes ago, I was enthralled to see two lakes and a mountain, from Fernandez Pass (10180 and the divide between the S Merced and the San Joaquin drainages), I can see the Minarets and the Ritter Range and whatever comes next to them, sprawling across the entire far horizon. I feel like I’m beholding the entire High Sierra. This merits a granola bar, and I eat one.
fernandez pass.jpg
I keep staring on the descent as the trail switchbacks gently toward the forest I’ll be in through mid-afternoon. Nothing against this forest, but it’s definitely the Sierra in low gear. I turn off the Fernandez Pass trail and onto the Post Peak Pass trail, and start to appreciate the downsides of voyages of discovery. These include the fact that you don’t know what you’re getting into. So far, although the Mysterious Long Way trails haven’t been superhighways, they’ve been easy for me to follow. And while I’m following the Post Peak Pass trail fine, there are places where I couldn’t tell you how I was following it--- that is, identify the cues that are guiding me. That I can’t always articulately recognize the trail while I’m following it makes me worry whether I could find it again if I lost it, and also worry whether I could reproduce what feels like a series of providential guesses to follow it in reverse if I backtrack.

Which I might need to do. On the 7.5 minute topo, the trail is demoted from a dashed line to a dotted one when it emerges from the woods less than a mile south of Porphyry lake. If that means it’s even harder to follow, it’s a long way from a lock that I’ll manage. And even if I make it to the lake, for all I know snowfields above my pay grade will stand between me and the pass, or between the pass and my day’s destination, the friendly confines of YNP. Backtracking would mean returning through all those trees and never following the Merced at all. The low point of the trip is contemplating all this while eating lunch and treating a blister next to a lovely lake, ornamented with a single island sustaining a single tree. The lake deserves much better from its apparently infrequent visitors.

My mood skyrockets when I get out of the woods. The approach to Porphyry Lake is hilarious. Scattered boulders start getting the idea that they should sport grey and tan and olive blotches. They look like they’re dressed in deer hunter camouflage. Then some sort of peer pressure takes over, and by the time you get to the lake, nearly EVERY rock is wearing an absurd camouflage outfit. (One of my natural history questions will be: WHAT GIVES???)
camo.jpg
What is more, the trail to the pass is marvelously engineered---steps and cobble and berms galore. (My best guess about the map notation is that the transition to the open/dotted line trail is where the barbaric blazing---the horizontal slashes hacked into trailside trees—stops.) Maybe 4 times the trail goes under a short snowfield, but three of those times, it’s trivial for someone of my advanced age and fragile dignity to figure out where it emerges and walk around the snowfield to rejoin it. The other time I wind up off course. But the overall plot of the trail---it’s switchbacking up a shallow gully--- is obvious enough that I’m back on the conspicuous trail in a matter of minutes.

Post Peak Pass (10780, the divide between the real Merced and the San Joaquin) reruns the views from Fernandez, except with all the principals much larger. The trail follows a ridge for about half a mile, with ridiculous views north toward the back end of the peaks featured on the Sentinel Dome webcam, as well as south. (Something I liked about this whole walk is how many times I got to see familiar characters---Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and their known associates; Ritter, Banner, and the Minarets---in unfamiliar situations.) Although I keep wandering off trail because I’m paying more attention to the sights than my feet, I can see enough of the straightforward run into YNP and Lake 10005 that I’m beginning to believe I’ll make it there.
PPP.jpg
I do. There is a 2 ft wide beach on the north side, whose shore is buggy enough that fish jumping for dinner splash me as a I collect water, and spectacular bugless campsites, overlooking the Merced’s Triple Divide and Merced Peak Forks, about 200 yards uphill from the beach. A steep gully drops northwest from the sites, and I hope there aren’t any of those enculturated bears around, the ones who know that one way to get into a bear canister is to roll it off a convenient cliff. [This might be foreshadowing.] The Perseids are scheduled. I don’t pitch my fly, so that I can watch for meteors.

camp two.jpg
Around dusk, I am startled by clanging, and turn panic-stricken expecting to see an enculturated bear hurling all my food and also my sunscreen down the gully. Nothing (other than me) is disturbed. This makes it very easy to stay awake looking for meteors, and despite the full moon, I see a few before drifting off to sleep.

12 August 2019 (Lake 10005 to [DOH!] LYV, 21 miles). Almost immediately, I solve, at least to my own satisfaction, the mystery of last night’s clanging: there are crisp hoofprints and moist equine deposits on the trail. The clanging might have been a packer passing by on their dusky way to some secluded packer camp.

I have never walked downhill ALL DAY before. This is the way to do it. The trail descends mostly gradually, and in the splendid company of the youthful Merced, who is exuberant, extroverted, and obviously very attractive: over the course of the day, the Triple Peak Fork is joined by Foerster Creek, the Lyell Fork, the Merced Peak Fork, the Red and Grey Peak Forks, and Lewis and Echo Creeks, among others. It reminds me of the getting-the-team-together scenes at the start of a heist movie.
bouncing baby merced.jpg
TPF merced meandering.jpg
unnamed falls.jpg
Sometimes the team meanders through meadows, other times it leaps frothing over cliffs to land on long steep granite slopes, over which it proceeds to drape itself like a silvery magic garment. The trail itself traverses these same slopes, only much more gradually. Often the treadway resembles a long, narrow, rusty carpet, worn by generations of footfalls into the grey granite.

I could do this forever. This is a good thing, because I wind up having to do it for quite a while. My determined research into conditions on the far side of this loop came at the cost of not really thinking at all about where to camp my last night. The Bunnell Cascade sounds fairly congenial, so I’m aiming for there. Only---and in some sense I “know” this, I just have it filed some place where it fails to inform my deliberation about this walk---there’s a burn zone that encompasses the Bunnell Cascade and extends into the day use area that itself extends to the border of LYV campground. (I know I’ve reached the day use area when I encounter a burnt-to- the-verge-of-illegibility half effective sign whose pictographs indicate that both camping and fires are prohibited.)
bunnell burnout.jpg
I don’t mind the extra bit of walking—the trail is a roadway, complete with intermittent asphalt, and it’s going downhill. Plus the burn zone is a mesmerizing cocktail of charred tree skeletons, intense green undergrowth, flowers madly blossoming, and the luminous walls of Little Yosemite Valley. What I mind is the prospect of overnighting in the LYV campground, where I’m imaging the living will be hard for an introvert who doesn’t want to see a bear and who does want a decent bath. Still, I reconcile myself to my fate. After all, if there were a YNP merit badge, spending the night in LYV would probably be one of the things you’d have to do to earn it.

And it isn’t so bad. The dominant tone is set by incipient thru-hikers frenetically bonding. Some show a friendly interest in me, but I can’t manage to convey to them what (instead of the JMT) I’m doing. All hands turn in by 10 pm. With my rainfly up for privacy, I don’t watch for meteors and sleep pretty well through a night delightfully free of marauding bears.

13 August 2019 (LYV to GP, 7.5 miles). I think in my heart, my backpacking trip ended late yesterday afternoon, when I entered the LYV campground. Today feels less like backpacking than like an unusually long and incredibly scenic post-hike stroll back to my car through the front country. I count 43 dayhikers, presumably headed for Half Dome, between LYV and the top of Nevada Falls. There I experience a proprietary pride in the waters of the Merced, a river I’ve known since it was a baby, as they achieve their fame and glory.
nevada falls selfie.jpg
I find Panorama Point, and acknowledge that it is appropriately named. I reach Illilouette Falls, and wonder where it is. I lose count of the number of dayhikers headed down the Panorama trail I pass as I walk back up to Glacier Point. Driving out, just after Washburn Point, I finally see a mammal who is neither a rodent nor a human: a young buck with spritely velvet antlers grazing roadside.
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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by wildhiker » Thu Aug 15, 2019 10:10 pm

Thanks for the well-written report that really makes me feel like I'm hiking along with you. Except that I could/would never backpack that far each day! This would be a 7 day hike for me. The upper Merced is one of my favorite areas in the Sierra.
-Phil

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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by dougieb » Thu Aug 15, 2019 10:50 pm

Great writing! Your sense of awe and appreciation for the experience and the environment comes across clearly. Some of what you write also echos some of my own internal dialogue out there too. It is neat thinking aboit how as you hike, you are touring the course of a river, following a watershed and following along on this educational tour haha. Thanks for sharing!

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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by c9h13no3 » Thu Aug 15, 2019 11:14 pm

Nice avatar, trip report ain't half bad either.
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Re: TR: Merced headwaters tour via Fernandez and Post Peak Passes, 8/10-13

Post by kylekuzma » Fri Aug 16, 2019 12:01 am

So crazy how I missed you literally by one day! Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did

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