Winter at Ottaway Lakes


Day 1: Happy Isles to Merced Meadow (March 26, 2014)

This was my third snowshoing trip up Happy Isles into the Yosemite high country. The climb is always a challenge, and this year it was wet and snowy. NOAA had issued a winter weather advisory for the area we were heading into, calling for winds above 30 mph and significant snowfall above 6,000 ft.

IMG_6813Flurries were already falling as we packed up our gear and started up the trail. When we reached the bottom of Nevada Falls it was snowing steadily. By the time we crossed the top of the falls, the snow was falling fast and the wind was begining to pick up. As we continued up the ridge above the falls, we passed a group of day hikers heading back to the valley. It was clear the weather had caught them by surprise.

My legs were feeling the load of a full pack and 5,000 ft of climbing out of the valley as we crested the ridge. The snow was now about 6 inches deep as we made our way past Mt Starr King.

We made camp near Merced Meadow. It was snowing hard as we set up camp and retrieted into our tents. The snow turned to rain as the sun set.

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Crossing the top of Nevada Falls

Day 2: Merced Meadow to Lower Merced Pass Lake (March 27, 2014)

I woke up to the sound of an owl hooting near by. Snow continued to fall last night until sometime after I fell asleep. The air was chilly and the sky blue when I climbed out of the tent.

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We hit the trail around 9:00 AM. The trail was burried under about 8 inches of snow as we made our way through long stretches of redwoods, sagging under the weight of fresh IMG_6891snowfall. After a few miles, the trail begain to climb towards Merced Pass Lake. As we climbed, the snow became deeper until we were setting new tracks into knee deep powder.

Clouds began to cover the sky as we came up to Lower Merced Pass Lake. The lake was frozen over and covered in a thick layer of snow. We made camp at the lake edge.

As the sun began to set, I cleaned up from dinner and climbed into the tent. The air was still and the temperature had dropped significantly as I climbed into my sleeping bag for the night. The sound of sleet falling on the tent started up as I drifted off to sleep.

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Camp at Lower Merced Pass Lake

Day 3: Lower Merced Pass Lake to Lower Ottoway Lake (March 28, 2016)

The night was cold.

When the sun started to shine, I could see that the inside of the tent was covered in frost. It looked like the inside of a freezer. Getting up was a challenge. Every move knocked frost from the sides of the tent down on me. I felt like it was snowing inside the tent!

Outside, the sky was clear and the air brisk. My boots were icy and stiff, but warmed up quick as I moved around making breakfast and coffee.

IMG_6955We started up the trail putting first tracks in the deep powdery snow as we made our way up to Lower Ottoway Lake. The day warmed up quickly, and the snow became soft and heavy under our feet. Along the way we got a view back towards the valley. The south face of Half Dome looked like just another distant rolling hill of the High Sierra.

Ottoway Lake was covered in snow with an outlet stream flowing slowly down towards the valley. At the edge of the lake we stood at the base of three large peaks that towered above (Red Peak, Ottoway Peak, and Merced Peak). The view was fantastic!

We hung out at the lake for a while, eating lunch before heading back to camp at Merced Lake. It was a warm, quick hike back.

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Lower Ottoway Lake

Day 4: Lower Merced Pass Lake to Happy Isles (March 29, 2016)

IMG_7018It was another cold night. The sky was cloudy as we packed up camp and made our way back to the car. The hike back was down hill and fast. We quickly decended out of the snow, and were back on snow free trail as we made our way past Mt Starr King towards Nevada Falls. All the snow that had fallen on our first day out had melted in the last couple days.

Back at the car, the clouds grew thicker and a light rain began to fall as we loaded up and headed back home.


See more photos from this trip on Flickr!

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