Merced Peak P1K SPS / WSC
Triple Divide Peak P500 WSC

Sat, Sep 30, 1995

With: Ray Bloker

Merced Peak
Triple Divide Peak
Story Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Merced Peak later climbed Fri, Jul 11, 2008

Ray and I decided to spend three days in southern Yosemite, my idea of complementing a brief excursion into northern Yosemite I had done earlier in the month. We drove my Suzuki Samurai out to the Chiquito Pass TH on Thursday night, the only problem being that we didn't actually find the trailhead in the dark. We took most of the correct turns on the very long dirt road leading to it, but somewhere we missed the last one. Figuring we could find it in the morning, we found a flat spot at the end of one of the side spurs and slept outside for the night.

Come morning, it was easy enough for us to backtrack and find the right spur along with the trailhead. Ours was the only car at the trailhead Friday morning, but there would be half a dozen others when we returned on Sunday. Shouldering our packs loaded with too much gear for two nights out, we headed out for the southern end of the Clark Range, Merced and Red Peaks our goal. We had to actually climb down from the TH to Chiquito Pass, then a long, mostly flat haul north to Moraine Meadow. From there we turned west towards Morraine Mtn, then north over Merced Pass. A loss of 500 feet (ugh!) took us into the Illilouette Creek drainage before climbing back up following Ottoway Creek. After 15 miles we were pretty spent, and decided to set up camp at Lower Ottoway Lake, along a small peninsula the stuck into the lake on the northern side.

In the morning the two of us set out to climb Merced Peak. The optimisitic plan called for us to climb Merced, followed by Triple Divide, and finally Red Peak. It would make for a long day to be sure. Ray wasn't into the peakbagging experience to the degree I was, but he was a good sport and came along for the adventure. We took the trail up towards Red Peak Pass for almost 800ft in little more than a mile. At around 10,400ft we left the trail, skirted the northern shore of Upper Ottoway Lake, and climbed to the pass between Ottoway and Merced Peaks. From there it was a short 500ft of blocky talus to the summit of Merced Peak. We found the register and signed in, spending about 30 minutes or so for lunch on the summit. The weather was quite fine, not warm at the summit, but not cold either.

We could see Triple Divide Peak about a mile and half to the east, and set out along the connecting ridgeline to reach it. We would have been much better off had we dropped down to the basin south of the ridge as it would have been much easier travelling between the two peaks. But we were hesitant to lose the additional 200-400ft of elevation it would cost us, and instead spent several hours climing the tedious ridge, up and over an intermediate summit at Peak 11,588ft. It was only after we had gone up and over this other summit that we realized our savings in elevation gain was no savings in time. When we got to the saddle between Peak 11,588ft and Triple Divide Peak, Ray decided he'd had enough of the boulder hopping and scree slogging. He agreed to wait for me at the saddle while I went the last half mile to the summit.

It turned out to be the easiest section of the traverse, and I wasted little time in reaching the summit and returning to the saddle. Back at the saddle, Ray was a bit rested and feeling better. We now had to get down to Edna Lake to the north. I led us down a loose chute for about 150ft where we encountered a snowfield below us. The snow was very hard and steep, and we had no crampons or axes. We considered using rocks for axe points, but it looked quite iffy. I tossed a rock down to see where it would land, guessing it would give an idea how far we might slide were we to slip. I was hoping the snow further down where it was less steep and more in the sun might be softer, but the rock just flew down the slope for over 200ft before coming to a rest. We decided to climb back out of our chute and find another way.

This turned out to be the smart move, as it didn't take us that long to recover the 150ft we'd climbed down the chute. It was then pretty easy to find a way further east that didn't take us over any snowfields. At Edna Lake we went around the eastern shore before dropping down another steep 200ft to the gentler slopes below. At an unnamed lake we then started to climb back up over easy ground for half a mile before we intersected the Red Peak Trail. We were tired by now, but still had 1,000ft to climb up to Red Peak Pass and over three miles to return to camp. We managed, but had no energy or desire any longer to climb Red Peak. That would wait for another time.

Back at camp we were both beat, but I wanted very much to take a dip in the lake to clean off the sweat and dirt. Ray watched as I stripped off my clothes and swam out to a small island about 50 yards out in the lake. The temperature of the water was probably in the low 40s though it seemed damned near ice-water. On the swim back my head began to throb from the extreme cold and it struck me as a really dumb way to die - either due to exposure or heart failure. Back ashore I dried off and put on some fresh clothes, but I couldn't manage to warm myself adequately as the sun began to set to the west. I had all my dry clothes on, mittens, hat, and heavy jacket, but I was still shivering for nearly an hour before I warmed up. The swim was definitely not a good idea.

The next day we packed up and hoofed it out taking only quick breaks, returning to the car in five hours, well before noon. On the drive out I got impatient behind a slower vehicle taking its time on the dusty road. In passing I managed to hit a sharp rock that blew out my rear tire. I imagined the other driver found this all very amusing as he passed me by. Worse, I managed to strip one of the bolts when replacing one of the lugnuts after we changed the spare. It was on so tight that when they tried to remove it with a pneumatic wrench back in San Jose, the guy broke the stud off. I never did get a replacement for it, and drove the car another 5 years with only four lugnuts on that tire, a friendly reminder of a fun trip to Ottoway Lakes.

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