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Upper Merced Loop, CA
mini location map2022-06-23
74 by photographer avatarchumley
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Upper Merced Loop, CA 
Upper Merced Loop, CA
Backpack67.60 Miles 11,052 AEG
Backpack67.60 Miles5 Days         
11,052 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
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Last summer we did a great loop that introduced me to the upper reaches of the Merced River. This area is as impressive as any that Yosemite has to offer. Pretty much as soon as we got home from last summer's trip, we began looking at options to make a new route for this year that would bring us back to this beautiful area. Getting permits proved a challenge, but a few days out everything lined up and we set out for the mountains.

Day 1 (Thursday) - Tuolumne Meadow to Lewis Creek
14.15mi - 2,510aeg
We set out right about 10am with temps in the chilly low 50s. The first 1.5 miles is a JMT section and we saw a good number of other hikers. After that we turned up Rafferty Creek toward Vogelsang and saw only one or two groups over the next 10 miles. Vogelsang was deserted, despite the stunning landscape that surrounds it. Continuing on we climbed past Vogelsang Lake and crested the pass at 10,700. The forecast called for 70% chance of rain (snow level below 11k) so we expected to get rained on. Somehow we dodged all the showers, despite seeing them in all directions (including snow falling over the Cathedral Range). Heading down Lewis Creek we were looking for a good spot to camp, but were finding little luck. Finally we found a spot that required a treacherous creek crossing, but it turned out to be a pleasant spot to spend the night. We saw a group of three near the pass, and besides a lone hiker Saturday evening, we wouldn't see another soul until later on Sunday afternoon.

Day 2 (Friday) - Lewis to Triple Peak Fork via the high route
14.06mi - 3,469aeg
The day started with a 1000-foot climb where we headed south on the slope parallel to the Merced river valley about 2000 feet below us. While the trail was largely wooded, plenty of clearings provided outstanding opportunities for a view of the snowcapped Clark Range across the valley. There were several ups and downs, none larger than the Lyell Fork crossing. Ryan and I waded across, while 9L found a dry crossing a few minutes upstream. The climb out was steep. I'd been eyeing a trip up to Isberg Pass, but as we passed by the trail junction, the weather was threatening and we all really wanted to finish the day and set up camp. A couple of miles later we found a great spot at Triple Peak Fork near the Red Peak Pass trail junction where we had hiked down last summer.

Day 3 (Saturday) - Triple Peak Fork to Merced Lake
11.31mi - 472aeg
This was gonna be an "easy" downhill day for us and it turned out great. Easy strolling along the river, enjoying the views and the majestic waterfalls along the way. Despite plans to get to the backpackers camp at the Merced HSC, we decided to stay near the unoccupied ranger station instead. This is the third year that all the HSC camps have been closed and it looks like the ranger station hasn't been staffed either. There's a nice picnic table and a fire pit that made for bougie convenience for our evening.

Day hike - 2.48mi - 148aeg
After setting up camp we hiked over to the HSC and checked out the falls. In a spot that should usually have 50+ people camping, we saw nobody else and enjoyed the solitude.

Day 4 (Sunday) - Merced Lake to Emeric Lake
5.48 miles - 2066aeg
It's not a long hike, but it is a big climb. It was also the surprise gem of the trip. The trail follows the Fletcher Creek drainage, and while we were climbing 2000 feet, that water was falling 2000 feet, in a lot of beautiful ways. In the valley between Babcock and Fletcher Lake there had been what looked like a beetle kill with lots of dead standing pines and some deadfall obstacles. At the top of the creek near Emeric Lake, the climb ends at a picturesque high mountain meadow. On an adjacent ridge we set up camp before heading out to the lake.

Day Hike A - 8.32mi - 785aeg
Because we knew we had a short 5 miles to Emeric Lake, we started the day with an out-n-back hike down the Merced to Echo Valley. I would have liked to make it down all the way to Bunnell Cascade, but the extra couple of miles seemed excessive, so we called it at the bridge. It was a little warm in the sun down along the river, and it provided an opportunity to swim in the *refreshing* brisk water :) We ended up hiking a bit apart from each other on the way back and 9L spotted a bear before getting back to camp.

Day Hike B - 1.83mi - 429aeg
After setting up camp we took a happy hour walk over to Emeric Lake before climbing up the adjacent knoll which provided great views of our immediate surroundings as daylight began to fade.

Day 5 (Monday) - Emeric Lake to Tuolumne Meadows
9.86mi - 865aeg
Exit day started with an alarm. No sleeping in when you have to hike 10 miles and then drive 10 hours! The first three miles climbs gently while following Emeric Creek past some grassy wetlands, marshy bogs, and Boothe Lake. Arriving at Tuolumne Pass, we took a break before returning via the first seven miles along Rafferty Creek that we ascended several days earlier. We were finished shortly after 11 and got all settled for the long drive back to phx.

Notes: It's amazing to me how few people there are in this valley (same as last year) with the HSC camps closed. Without covid closures, I would expect a less peaceful experience in a few spots along this route.

Mosquitoes! They were mostly bad. :sweat: ](*,) We all had head nets which were very effective. 100% Deet also does what it claims to do (it apparently takes longer to kill us than the critters, but will also probably be effective at that eventually too :o ). I had treated my camp clothes with permethrin and found it to be very helpful. Thankfully, they the little suckers settled into their overnight slumber shortly after sunset and didn't really start moving in the morning until an hour or two after sunrise. There was generally no issue while in motion. Stopping was time to go on defense.

I'd still like to explore more in the Isberg Pass area. The remoteness makes it a challenge!
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