Lawd Have Merced
(Climb-O-Rama 2002)

17-25 Aug 2002 - by Steve Eckert

The 7th annual C-O-R was more of a Sampler, not so much of a Cleanout. This year we covered lots of ground and selected peaks to climb instead of hanging out in a small area and climbing everything.

Individual days are written up separately:


We entered at Happy Isle, in Yosemite Valley, and walked up a trail crowded with dayhikers until the Half Dome turnoff. We went past Merced Lake before cutting cross-country up the Red Peak Fork of the Merced River - a wonderful slab climb leading to Red Devil Lake. We could have climbed something that afternoon but the water was warm and the living was easy. The next day was pure peakbagging, well deserved after two backpacking days in a row. Day 3 saw us on trail below Isberg Pass (where several people split to climb oft-neglected Isberg Peak) and off trail to Harriet Lake (which was sort of an Outer Mongolia experience). Then we invented a nice loop including Foerster and Ansel Adams, packed into the Lyell Fork, and bagged Florence and Maclure from the side people don't often climb. On Day 7 we went up the Merced and over an undocumented pass near Electra into the San Joaquin drainage, with stops along the way for Electra and Rodgers. Everyone was so relaxed that we skipped planned peaks and just packed out past Davis Lakes and over Donohue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows. Something like 70 miles of backpacking in addition to 8 peaks or so made this a real sampler of the varied scenery in Yosemite.

From here down is a more detailed account...

Day 2 - packing up the Red Peak Fork to Red Devil Lake

Going from the spigot-and-flush-toilet luxury of the Merced Lake Backpacker's Camp to cross-country climbing and isolated camping with no one else in sight, this day really made us feel like we were finally in the backcountry. The Merced River was easy to cross where the Red Peak Fork comes in from the south. It might give you trouble in early season on a wet year, but we hopped across easily without wading near waypoint RDPKFK.

Red Peak Fork at around 8000'

We went up the west side of the drainage to 8000' before crossing to the east side for the rest of the climb, but if I had it to do over again I'd stay on the east the whole way up. In the center of the drainage are water polished slabs, on the edges are trees but not much brush. This is a GREAT cross-country route with no real navigation problems or tough footing. We took the right fork at of the canyon at 9200' but I think either way would work.

Stephane and Kirsten swam the width of Red Devil Lake just to prove how warm it was at 9700'. (They made it back also!) We got there around 230pm, and quickly abandoned the plan to climb something that afternoon. This started a pattern of moving just a bit too slowly to do an afternoon peak. No one minded, however, since the campsites were generally great and the whole group got along well. We camped near a lagoon SE of the lake's only large island (waypoint RDCAMP).

Day 3 - climbing Triple Divide, Merced, Red, Ottoway

Red Peak from camp at Red Devil Lake

Chris, Dave and I headed for Triple Divide first (because it's not on the SPS list and I'd climbed the others in the area). We crossed the main trail at waypoint REDTR2 (9900', NW of the easternmost lake that drains toward Red Devil Lake). From here there was an amazing grassy ramp that lead over to the Merced Peak Fork drainage, and we were able to contour almost level (150' above another lake) to the base of the waterfall coming from Edna Lake.

Triple Divide Peak - Edna is in the darkest shadow, our ramp is in the center

The ramp to the Triple Divide ridge is more obvious when climbing than when looking at the map. That obvious ramp is really great walking! The entire south side of the ridge from Merced to Triple Divide is class 2, but the north side has some impassable cliffs. The northwest ridge of Triple Divide is an aesthetic knife edge, but remains second class to the summit. (By the way, that bump on the left in the picture above is NOT the peak, the high point is the next bump to the right.)

We spent 40 min on Triple Divide, not the SPS List one, and then traversed into valley south of the Triple/Merced saddle, going down to around 10600' for easier walking. We found a trickle of water even in this dry year, had a long lunch in a dry meadow, then headed up the southeast face of Merced Peak where we topped out on the ridge about 50' below the summit, all 2nd class. (This route isn't mentioned in Secor, but the SE face leads to the summit from the headwaters South Fork of the Merced River, where you would be to climb Gale and Sing via Chiquito Pass, and there seems to be a use trail to the peak on this side.)

Interesting that Merced Peak drains both north AND south into the Merced River! The other half of the group had long since come and gone on Merced, done Ottoway, and was on their way to Red Peak.

We traversed under east face of Ottoway at 10900' on easy slabs and boulders, then dropped down to cross the Merced Peak Fork of the Merced River at the outlet of the highest lake (10300), and somehow managed to get to camp an hour before the others.

Plenty of time for a dip in the lake, and then Stephane entertained us all by shouting at the lake and making the surface dance. You've really got to see it to believe it!

Day 4 - climbing Isberg Peak, packing to Harriet Lake

The backpack from Red Devil to Harriet Lake went smoothly - we stayed on trail to the Isberg Pass junction, where Stephane, Chris, and I climbed 1000' to Isberg Peak while the others packed on. This ignored peak is well worth climbing - from the trail junction it's mostly slabs with a few hundred feet of boulders/talus at the top (where the color turns red). Great view of the Minarets!

We stayed on trail to where it levels off at about 9800', then headed northeast toward Harriet Lake. We went past two lakes, 10000 and 10200, the second of which is where we should have camped: Rich meadows with soft deep moss near the lake and a stunning cliff as a backdrop. The saddle east of Point 10449 was a grassy ramp on both sides, but going over it was like leaving the Sierra Nevada and walking into the high steppes of the Andes (or perhaps Outer Mongolia). It was windy, dry, and rocky by Harriet Lake, but the first wave of our group had established a refugee camp behind some boulders on the southwest shore.

High, Dry, and Cold at Harriet Lake (Ron in the foreground)

We strained shrimp out of the water and wondered where all the rodents were, then erected a tarp windbreak for cooking and settled in for a windy night. Ron observed overnight temps below 20 degrees, and several people had frozen water filters in the morning!

Day 5 - climbing Foerster and Ansel Adams, packing to the Lyell Fork

Shortly after dawn, we headed NW from Harriet Lake, climbing a broad talus fan that breaks the cliffs. Don't climb all the way to the top of this slope - it's better to traverse left at around 10600' until you cross Foerster Creek, then climb to 10800' and traverse around Foerster at that altitude (heading due north). When I was last here with the SPS we crossed Foerster Creek at lower altitude, and I think the higher traverse works better. The bowl at 11100' (NNW of Foerster) had a surprising amount of water and rodents, implying that the dryness around Harriet had driven the varmits out this year.

We dropped our full packs at the highest saddle on Foerster at 830am, and switched to day packs to bag Foerster and Ansel Adams. Kirsten sat out these (and all remaining) peaks with a worsening chest cold.

Steve on Foerster - Lyell, Maclure, Rodgers in the background

Instead of returning to the packs, we dropped to the east saddle on easy sand-and-boulders, and then dropped into the bowl between Foerster and Ansel Adams. We quickly traded fun sand for nasty boulders. Our pace slowed and Dave went back to the packs to sit out the second peak. Linda went for a pony ride when a huge boulder went downhill with her on it, but somehow she managed to keep her legs from being crushed by the other boulders as they crashed into the one she was straddling. Aaron managed to tilt a 300 pound rock onto his ankle, pinning him down until Chris managed to dislodge it. Lucky for Aaron, some of the weight must have been on another rock and he got away with only a bruise.

It didn't seem that terribly loose to me, but a lot happened in that half mile! The traverse at 11300' worked, but would be easier in early season when snow covers the boulders. There were still some snowfields, which we generally avoided because they were icy.

The fabled south face route on Ansel Adams exists, but no one seems to report on climbing it. (Uh, that's why we DID climb it this way!) Perhaps the lack of beta is because it was was so poorly described in early guide books that no one could find it. Secor has dropped the south approach from his second edition. Even Secor's current description of the north face route says you should "climb onto the class 3 south face from the notch." Folks, I'm here to tell you I don't think the south face is class 3, and you never want to be on it when climbing this peak! Really.

The north and south face routes meet at the saddle shown in my south face picture (below), the first low spot east of the peak. If only the guidebooks had said that, we would have spent a lot less time scoping out some other route up the face. From the south, you ascend the talus chute which goes north from the far east end of the bowl between Foerster and Ansel Adams. (The corresponding chute on the north face was blocked by water ice so we were very lucky to have used this approach - see the north face picture further below.)

South Face of Ansel Adams (climbed via the notch on the right)

The saddle is less than 200' elevation below the summit and has a cliff on the east side. The west side of the saddle looks bad also, but allows a short (100') traverse to the southwest into a chute that starts as talus and turns into 3rd class as it broadens to become what Secor refers to as the south face. This chute (or ramp) is not the south face! It's not even close to the true south face. In fact, it's a broad chute that leads northwest back to the ridgeline about 100' above the saddle. Then you climb a narrowing ramp around above the north face into yet another chute that leads 20' up and south to the ridgeline again, at which point you're about 30' from the summit. This upper chute has some minor loose rock in it, and drops precariously onto the north face, so some may want a belay here even though the moves are basic class 3. (One of our group took a short belay on the way down.)

It was a tedious backpack down to the Lyell Fork. We dropped from the saddle where we left our packs directly to the lake between there and Ansel Adams, then down the drainage to the Lyell Fork of the Merced. We hoped to avoid more loose boulders, but the descent went slowly. In the end we probably should have followed the north shoulder of Foerster all the way down (which would have kept us just west of the drainage we followed). On a prior trip, I took an entirely different route almost a mile to the west (crossing into the Lyell Fork just east of Point 11210) and I recommend that route if you're not climbing these two peaks along the way.

Day 6 - climbing Florence and Maclure from Hutching Creek

Just above our camping lake (at 10200 in the Lyell Fork drainage) is an obvious ledge with grassy slopes and a few small lakes that leads up and west around 10500' toward the Hutching Creek drainage. Sadly, it does not go all the way across this face, and the rest of the face is tedious boulders or alternating sand and slabs.

North Face of Ansel Adams (the sharp notch in the shadow matches the south face chute)

Crossing into the Hutchings drainage by traversing at about 10500', we (Stephane, Linda, and Steve) headed up Hutching toward Maclure while others headed toward Florence on the same initial route. (The Florence team apparently didn't follow the guidebook, so hopefully one of them will write up their route for posterity.) An hour out of camp I discovered I had left my lunch in my bear cannister, so I did this day on a few handfulls of begged nuts. Good thing I started off well fed!

On the other hand, we found Hutching Creek absolutely stunning. This is a destination backpack even if you're not planning to climb anything. Lots of waterfalls, fresh wildflowers, lakes, lush meadows, and slabs combined to make us forget this was a dry year. Either side of the valley will work. As you climb up toward the Lyell-Maclure saddle the tundra gives way to boulders and slabs but the footing remains good to excellent up to 11200'.

We looked for the 3rd class chute on the south face of Maclure. We didn't like what we saw. Lots of rubble, no distinct or obvious route, and only a vague description in the guide book... so we went on up to the saddle which featured a much shorter climb with only a few feet of class 4 at the bottom. (NOTE: Secor mentions the class 4 part when describing Lyell, as part of the Lyell-Maclure route, but not when describing Maclure.)

The chute to the saddle wasn't a huge problem, but the guide book says "Keep to the north side of the ridge before climbing a chute that leads to the crest of the summit ridge." Standing there, this made no sense. We kept thinking this was a description of how to climb the chute, but later decided it applies to the ridge AFTER you reach the saddle. Duh. From the saddle to Maclure is straightforward, and just barely class 3. On the way down, we rappelled the 4th class bit at the base of the chute and managed to flip the rap sling off the horn so we didn't leave any gear to mark our route.

Since it was already 3pm when we left the summit of Maclure, we didn't even try for Lyell. We stormed back down the Hutching drainage, short on food but drinking obsessively, and made it to camp after 7pm (13 hours, 3700') just in time to catch the evening light on the north face of Ansel Adams (see above).

NOTE: After scouting from both sides, crossing into Hutching Creek at the saddle northeast of Point 12113 would have been MUCH better than the route we took. It seemed too risky without scouting, but there is an obvious ramp from that saddle over to Lake 11139 which involves less than 300' of lost altitude and I would recommend it for future trips.

Aaron Schuman interjects:

> The Florence team apparently didn't follow the guidebook, so hopefully
> one of them will write up their route for posterity.

On 8/22/2002, Ron Norton, Chris Franchuk, Dave McCracken and I traversed west into the Hutching drainage. Hutching turned out to be a spectacular location, with lush terraced meadows fed by streams. There was no sign of use by campers or fishermen. It would have been easy to spend the whole day there making sketches of the scenery and splashing in the pools.

Secor's advice to parties approaching from the east is "traverse around to the southern side of the mountain from high on Hutching Creek and climb the south slope rather than the east slope."

We climbed the loose class 3 east slope, not toward the summit, but rather toward the saddle between Mount Florence and point 11647. Instead of working our way over to the south slope, we turned up the southeast rib that connects Florence to point 11647, and climbed enjoyable class 2 and 3 rock. The rib took us all the way to the summit.

I certainly wouldn't claim this as a first ascent of a new route on Mount Florence, but it is a climb of a variation that hasn't been previously documented in guide books or trip reports.

(End of Aaron's remarks. Steve continues from here.)

Day 7 - climbing Electra and Rodgers, packing into San Joaquin drainage

Stephane and Kirsten packed out because her cough was getting worse, while the rest of us headed up the Lyell Fork to about 11000' where Ron gave us a lesson in May Flies before we headed east toward Electra. I was surprised to have a great cell phone signal in a bowl 1000' below the peak and 17 miles due east of Yosemite Valley. Go figure.

We crossed the ridge just north of Electra, as I did several years ago on a solo trip. There are cliffs all along this ridge, but if you start about 50' above the 12200' low point (a tenth of a mile north of Electra) and look carefully for a defect or ledge that heads from the ridge over toward Mt Ritter, you can make your way to a group of whiter boulders. This ledge is class 2, cutting through the class 3-4 cliffs. It leads you east to boulders (or snow if you're here earlier in the season), and then you can drop north toward Lake 11815.

From the lake at 11500, just south of Rodgers, the best ascent route is to head for the dark cliff band or outcropping, traversing up and right just BELOW it, then going straight up (north) to the ridge when you get above the outcropping at about 11900'. The footing is actually quite good, in spite of how loose the south face seems from far away.

North Fork of the San Joaquin River (Banner, Ritter, and the Minarets from Rodgers)

Ron, Chris, and I climbed Rodgers while the others headed down the drainage toward camp. The view from Rodgers is really amazing, and the picture above doesn't do it justice. The two drumstick-shaped lakes just to my right and directly below the summit of Banner are where we camped. We re-assembled in camp with enough time to eat before it got dark, and spent a surprisingly warm night at 10500'.

WARNING: The drainage that goes east from the bowl just south of Rodgers looks OK on the map, but is class 4 below the lake at 11k. You must traverse north at 11300' until you are below the cliffs marking the end of Rodgers' east ridge, then you can drop safely down talus into the North Fork of the San Joaquin River.

Day 8 - packing over passes

We crossed the Mono/Madera county line at the saddle just southeast of Point 3621m. Footing was great until the last few hundred feet, where we all spread out on moving boulders. Perhaps we should have taken the next saddle northwest, but this one worked and the map didn't show a permanent snowfield at the bottom of it! We did hunt around a bit through a cliff band on the northeast side, and eventually detoured almost to Davis Lakes on our way down to Rodgers Lakes.

We trudged up the trail to Donohue Pass, finally meeting people. We hadn't talked to other groups since we left the Merced River at the Red Peak Fork. Donohue was nice, and it was where we had originally planned to camp, but we were being goaded to keep going by Ron (who wanted to get out early so he could get home for a family cookout).

Looking up a cirque to the ridge east of Lyell, from the trail west of Donohue Pass

We finally got to camp at 5pm, near 9k where Kuna Creek comes in. It was warm, calm, and we camped in tall trees - quite a change from the tundra and slabs of the previous night. We could have walked all the way out (it took only 3 hours to do so the next morning) but no one wanted to drive home after midnight and one last group dinner was more fun in the trees than at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill!

About that name... Lawd Have Merced

Yes, "Lawd" is a phonetic spelling of "Lord", in an American dialect of English.

Yes, "Merced" in Spanish means "Mercy" in English.

Yes, most of this trip was in drainages that empty into the "Merced River".

Yes, "Lord Have Mercy" expressed this way is Politically Incorrect.

Yes, we meant it to be Politically Incorrect! Now go climb something!

PS: My favorite register quote from this trip was on Ansel Adams: "Lord, please save me from your followers! Amen." That's almost a paraphrase of "Lawd Have Merced", isn't it?

GPS Waypoints, some just for reference! (we didn't actually go all these places)

info Download the Waypoint+ data below as a
GPX file for your GPS.

Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0
RouteName,1 ,DAY 1 - SAT
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RoutePoint,D,LITYOS, 37.7305579185,-119.5229749680,07/24/2002,03:59:35,LITTLE YOSEMITE JCT
RoutePoint,D,BUNNEL, 37.7438061237,-119.4610908031,07/24/2002,04:02:39,BUNNELL POINT FOOTBRIDGE
RoutePoint,D,ECHJCT, 37.7453664541,-119.4358698130,07/24/2002,04:03:14,ECHO VALLEY JCT
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RouteName,2 ,DAY 2 - SUN
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RoutePoint,D,WSHBRN, 37.7179504633,-119.3742340803,07/24/2002,04:09:11,WASHBURN LAKE OUTLET
RoutePoint,D,RDPKFK, 37.7058262825,-119.3618690968,07/24/2002,04:09:31,RED PEAK FORK
RoutePoint,D,RDCAMP, 37.6641900539,-119.3857699633,09/10/2002,21:32:02,RED DEVIL CAMPSITE
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RoutePoint,D,RDCAMP, 37.6641900539,-119.3857699633,09/10/2002,21:32:02,RED DEVIL CAMPSITE
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RoutePoint,D,REDTR3, 37.6561725140,-119.3794041872,08/13/2002,15:17:59,RED DEVIL TRAIL JCT
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RouteName,6 ,DAY 6 - THUR
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RouteName,8 ,DAY 8 - SAT
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RoutePoint,D,R21P04, 37.7436276674,-119.2804783583,03/27/2001,22:53:13,MACLURE MT
RoutePoint,D,R21P05, 37.7393498421,-119.2714729309,03/27/2001,22:53:13,LYELL MT
RoutePoint,D,SIMMON, 37.7605726719,-119.2942228317,08/07/2002,22:17:03,SIMMONS PK 12497
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RoutePoint,D,R21P08, 37.8998401165,-119.2210409641,03/27/2001,22:53:13,DANA MT
RoutePoint,D,R21P09, 37.7918711901,-119.3353905678,03/27/2001,22:53:13,FLETCHER PEAK
RoutePoint,D,R21P10, 37.8149327040,-119.3556668758,03/27/2001,22:53:13,RAFFERTY PEAK
RoutePoint,D,R21P11, 37.8457475901,-119.3818187714,03/27/2001,22:53:13,UNICORN PEAK
RoutePoint,D,R21P12, 37.8355284929,-119.3845121861,03/27/2001,22:53:13,COCKSCOMB N
RoutePoint,D,R21P13, 37.8238115311,-119.3970628977,03/27/2001,22:53:13,MATTHES CREST
RoutePoint,D,R21P14, 37.8327043056,-119.4033157825,07/26/2001,16:52:48,ECHO PEAKS
RoutePoint,D,R21P15, 37.8454805613,-119.4095605612,03/27/2001,22:53:13,EICHORN PINNACLE
RoutePoint,D,R21P16, 37.8285443783,-119.4434446096,03/27/2001,22:53:13,TENAYA PEAK
RouteName,12 ,RITTER RANGE
RoutePoint,D,R19P01, 37.6115800142,-119.1644699574,03/27/2001,22:53:13,IRON MTN
RoutePoint,D,R19P02, 37.6603599787,-119.1738899946,03/27/2001,22:53:13,CLYDE MINARET
RoutePoint,D,R19P03, 37.6890200377,-119.1994899511,03/27/2001,22:53:13,RITTER MT
RoutePoint,D,R19P04, 37.6965099573,-119.1946300268,03/27/2001,22:53:13,BANNER PEAK
RoutePoint,D,R19P05, 37.7149599791,-119.2195899487,03/27/2001,22:53:13,DAVIS MT
RoutePoint,D,R19P06, 37.7250399590,-119.2574399710,03/27/2001,22:53:13,RODGERS PEAK
RoutePoint,D,R19P07, 37.7051600218,-119.2601000071,03/27/2001,22:53:13,ELECTRA PEAK
RoutePoint,D,R19P10, 37.6978600025,-119.2814600468,03/27/2001,22:53:13,ANSEL ADAMS MT
RoutePoint,D,R19P08, 37.6900000572,-119.2906999588,03/27/2001,22:53:13,FOERSTER PEAK
RoutePoint,D,LONGMT, 37.6672199965,-119.2949500084,08/13/2002,15:21:23,LONG MTN 11502
RoutePoint,D,ISPEAK, 37.6508500576,-119.3238600492,08/13/2002,15:20:47,ISBERG PEAK 10996

The 10-year history of Climb-O-Rama's:
1996 Great Western Divide first trip named 'Climborama', over Shepard Pass to Milestone Basin
1997 Climborama 97 a decentralized affair in the Evolution region
1998 Duke Newcomb and the 16 Peaks the most prolific Climb-O-Rama ever, in the Whitney area
1999 Mosquito March '99 subgroups forming and dissolving from Taboose Pass to Cartridge Pass
2000 Climborama V rain and hail ended this Kearsarge Pass and Center Basin trip early
2001 Climb-O-Rama 2001 Crowd-O-Rama had a very large group, from Bear Creek to Lake Italy
2002 Lawd Have Merced a one-way congenial trip from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows
2003 From Roaring to Lion (The Triple Trip) our exit was blocked by a forest fire on this Colby Pass area trip
2004 WESTERN Great Western Divide unrelenting bad weather on the seldom-visited side of the Milestone Basin
2005 Climb-O-Rama X (Black and White) horses made the approach to Blackcap Basin and White Divide easier

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