Camp: Upper Ottoway Lake, Yosemite National Park
Abstract: Day 1: Mono Meadows TH 7200' to Upper Ottoway Lake 10,400 15.7 miles and 3200 feet. Day 2: Upper Ottoway Lake Red Peak, Gray Peak, back to camp. Day 3: Upper Ottoway Lake Merced Peak. Hike out 15.7 miles to Mono Meadows TH
July 19, 2007 We camped overnight at the Mono Meadows Trailhead on Glacier Point Road in Yosemite. The views of Half Dome are amazing from the Point and I highly recommend a stop there if you do this trip. We braved the crowds of tourists who knew not what they saw.
Day 1- July 20, 2007: We walked away from the cars at 7:30 AM and proceeded on our long hike in to Upper Ottoway Lake. On the way in, you go through the Illilouette Creek drainage, gentle uphill slope through forests of Jeffrey and red fir, lodgepole pine. There have been several fires here over the years and some of the forests have become meadows of dead snags with an incredible carpet of wildflowers. These wildflowers were some of the best I'd seen all summer. The bog orchids were plentiful and many fantastic displays are there to greet the eye. At a leisurely pace, we arrived at Lower Ottoway Lake at 4:00 PM, met Rod McCalley who was joining us after hiking in over Chiquito Pass (small radios made the joining up easier), and arrived at our Upper Ottoway Lake camp at 5:30 PM. Campsites at Upper Ottoway are hard to find, but we were able to find some gravel sites on the west side of the lake that weren't exposed and where we wouldn't trample the wildflowers. Even though this is in the heart of Yosemite, not too many hikers come by here and we had the place to ourselves.
Day 2-July 21st, 2007 RED & GRAY: We started at 6:00 AM. Secor says to go to Red Peak Pass, climb Red from there. This route avoids much of the scree, but does involve some exposed 3rd Class moves. It actually does go, but you have to drop onto the North side of the Pass to actually find the route. Just on the north side, drop down about 50 feet and you'll find a route on clean granite that leads to a notch below Red Peak.
Climbing Red 11,699: Our Route: But we didn't take that route. We followed Steve Eckert's excellent trip report as follows: Go up the trail to Red Peak Pass about 1/4 mile. On your left, you will see a low granite bench, about 10 feet high and 30 feet long, and just to the right of that, a pile of red talus. Leave the trail at that point and climb the talus to the peak. Oh, sounds so simple but what talus it was. This talus consists of Shoebox size all the way to suitcase size rocks that are very unstable. We speculated that the instability is the result of the way the rock has fractured, into roughly triangular or trapezoidal pieces, making them very unstable. At any rate (slow) we reached the summit of Red at 8:15 AM to a great view of Gray and Clark, and Echo Peaks to the north. The weather was fantastic! From there, it's a downclimb to a small pass just northwest of Red Peak. It's easiest to stay on the ridge almost to the pass, and then drop down as the rock is less unstable. From the small pass, drop back down to the lake at 10, 470 and you're just about at the elevation where you started.
Climbing Gray 11,573: The route up Gray has several slabs to choose from. The Southeastern slabs (a bit steep) are followed by second set of slabs (a friction climb with lots of handholds) that run halfway up to the summit. We chose a route in between these slabs up a sandy set of rocks and sand gullies, but it would have been better if we had chosen the second set of slabs, as we had to cross these anyway and they proved to be easy climbing, if a bit exposed. But there are plentiful defects running across the slabs and handholds as well. It was good friction climbing practice for some of us. The 'true' summit of Gray is the northwest summit and that is where the all-important register is to be found. Another party had climbed the marked map summit (on all of topo maps). It would appear that this peak isn't climbed too often; but that's because most climbers miss the register summit.
Back to camp: - One could go back to camp the way they came, traversing about 200 feet below Red and down the scree slope on the south side of Red. But it was getting late and we wanted a quicker route back. The best way to return to Upper Ottoway is to go to the pass ('Reddy Pass') due north of Red Peak. Climb to the pass over easy slabs, and drop down to other side to a small lake at the foot of a glacier. From there, it's about .5 mile and a drop of 300 feet to the trail. Head due east until you intersect the trail up the north side of Red Peak Pass. We quickly gained the trail and and all hands made it back to camp by nightfall.
Day 3-July 22nd, 2007: Climb Merced, Campsite to TH With a 6:15 AM start, Alex and I started our climb. Climb the easy slabs to the small pass NNW of Merced Peak, about 1 mile of climbing and 800 feet higher than the lake. We stayed to the south of the creek, there are some small cliffs to go around and it's best to stay about 100 feet above the drainage on the south side where there are no obstacles. From the small pass, you have your choice of slabs, CL2 climbing and we were at the summit by 8:00 AM. We could easily see our camp and we waved to Rod and David. We were back at camp by 10:00 AM, and started our hike out.
The hike out: Down the Illilouette drainage Great views of Starr King and the lesser domes, incredible gardens of wildflowers and a lot faster than we thought We left Lower Ottoway Lake at 12:50 PM, and we reached the cars by 8:30 PM and started the long drive home to the Bay Area.
All in all, a successful weekend trip and a good time was had by all.