Merced Peak 2x P1K SPS / WSC

Fri, Jul 11, 2008
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile
previously climbed Sat, Sep 30, 1995

Merced Peak rises as the highpoint of the Clark Range in the southern part of Yosemite National Park. Though only class 2 from most directions, the peak lies deep in the park, far from any trailhead, making for a long dayhike. I had climbed the peak some 13 years earlier on one of my first backpack trips to the park. By that same route it would be more than 30 miles roundtrip from one of the southern trailheads near Chiquito Pass, a long way indeed. I found a trip report that described an easy climb of the South Ridge, and with a more direct approach from the south the trip could be shaved to about 23 miles. That would have required the use of the Quartz Mtn TH, the one I used on my first visit. My only recollection of the drive was that there was a non-trivial amount of dirt road driving, and I had gotten a flat on the drive out to boot. So I choose to use the longer, but easier-to-drive-to Chiquito Pass TH only a few miles from the paved Beasore Rd. It would make for a 28 mile day using this TH.

I left San Jose around 8p, taking about five hours to make the long drive out to the trailhead. Upon my arrival I set my alarm for 3a and promptly went to bed in the back of the van. I think I had too much caffeine on the drive because I don't recall getting much sleep in those two hours. Still, it was nice to rest in a cozy sleeping bag after the steady concentration demanded of the long drive.

Somewhat rested, I was up, dressed, and on my way in about fifteen minutes after the alarm. I zipped up the trail, entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness at some point, Yosemite Park shortly afterwards, passed by unseen Chiquito Lake and several trail junctions around Chiquito Pass all in the darkness of that first hour. By 5:30a it had grown sufficiently light and when I reached the South Fork of the Merced River and Moraine Meadow at 6a it was just before sunrise. I turned right towards Fernandez Pass, following the trail for another mile or thereabouts.

Where the trail crossed over the river I turned left, following cross-country up the river, now a creek, as it lead northeast towards Merced Peak. The trip report I had read said there was a use trail on the left side of the creek, but in several miles I never found one despite my wanderings back and forth in the search. More than a mile up I found a trail on the right side of the river, so maybe it was on that side all along? Not sure, since I didn't come back this way to find out. It was beautiful country, forested lower down, alpine meadows further up. It might have been even more enjoyable except for a certain well-known stress inducer - mosquitoes. The day was starting to warm as I started the cross-country stint, and combined with the standing water in wet meadows, it was a mosquito free-for-all. Normally the mosquitoes only attack with vigor when a person is standing still, but these pregnant ladies must have been very hungry indeed, not giving me a moment's respite almost the entire way to the summit. Oh well, at least I wouldn't be camping out in their midst tonight.

I proceeded up to the cirque on the south side of the Merced-Triple Divide crest, following the easier grassy places wherever I could find them to avoid talus. Smoke from numerous California fires filled most of the park, and even lower in the cirque it was quite evident. Too bad the smoke did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the mosquito hordes. I followed a small cascading stream up towards the SE Face of Merced, past several lovely tarns, and higher through talus and boulder slopes. The peak did not come into continuous view until about half an hour from the summit, and hardly looked as impressive as a range highpoint ought to. I headed for the South Ridge, reaching it just above the saddle with nearby Pt. 11,266ft just to the south. From there I followed the class 2 blocky ridge up to the summit, reaching it just before 9a.

The mosquitoes were still present even at the summit, though in diminished numbers that allowed me to sit for a needed rest. There was a nice breeze blowing in from the west that helped keep them at bay, but the same breeze is probably what brought all the smoke in from elsewhere in California. I could barely see Red and Gray Peaks to the north, and even Triple Divide not far to the east was shrouded in the haze. It was not a day for views, to be sure. The register I found at the summit was fairly new, only dating back to 2003. I found Matthew's entry as well as many other familiar names in the register, though my own first entry from 1995 was lost in a previous register that has ended up who-knows-where (Bancroft Library? the trash?).

For the descent I decided to take a different route, choosing a broad class 2-3 chute on the SW Face that drops directly from the summit. There were no hidden drops in the chute and it looked as though there were several other similar chutes on this face that could have been used in a similar fashion. In fact, the only difficult route from this side appears to be the somewhat torturous West Ridge described in Secor's book. I made sure to traverse left (south) as I emerged from the chute in order to drop into the proper drainage. The drainage leading down to Moraine Meadows was both confusing and interesting, a mix of granite slabs, small interleaving meadows, and babbling brooks (did I just say "babbling brooks"?). For the most part I just followed the flow of water downhill through the grassy alpine meadows. I wandered about, taking my time and photographing the abundant wildflowers that were on display, careful not to linger too long lest the mosquitoes would have a chance to take blood samples. With more careful map reading I could probably have made a more direct line to the trail junction at Moraine Meadows, but as it was my lazy meanderings brought me down to the trail about a mile east of the junction, very close to where I had left it in the morning. Somewhere in the forest I came across a couple juvenile marmots. They seemed not to know what to make of me. I was surprised to see them this low in the forest, but I was equally surprised that they did not immediately run away. While I stood there staring at them, and they returning the favor, I stumbled for my camera. Before I could get it out, one of them took off, the other quick on his heels. I then spotted Mom in the background taking off as well.

It took about two hours to descend from the summit to Moraine Meadows, and from there it was a long nine miles back to the trailhead, taking until just before 2p. I met not another soul the entire outing, no other cars at the trailhead, and none in the first 10 miles of the drive back out Beasore Rd. And with my departure, the place was left to just the bears, marmots and other critters who make it their home.


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