Shouldering my pack I said a brief goodbye to the three people who were sitting atop the pass with me, and began my downhill wandering, calling back up to them, "Downhill is so much easier!" as my pace picked up and I was cruising down towards the tarns on the northeast side of Red Peak Pass.
My legs felt great, my lungs felt great and after an hour or so of walking, (as the sun started to really heat up) I sat down behind a big boulder next to a tarn and filtered some water and had a snack. As I sat there relaxing, Krystle and Aaron cruised past me with a brief hello. I'd see the two of them over and over for the next few days.
After my brief water break, I tossed my pack back on and continued on downhill. It was a great day to walk, and I was cruising. As I wandered the switchbacks, getting lower and lower, the valley really opened up in front of me. I flew downhill, and was cruising. My lungs felt great and I found my groove, my perfect pace -- where I was going quick, but not exerting myself so much that I had to stop every 2 minutes to catch my breath.
It was absolutely gorgeous that day, but as it began to heat up a bit, I knew I had a (relatively) long dry stretch coming up, so I stopped for another snack and to refill my water by a gorgeous lake.
After lunch, I kept descending, and ended up fully back in the forest. Knowing my goal was to get up and over Isberg pass, I kept pushing on.
Suddenly, while wandering down a long straight stretch of trail, I saw a beautiful buck, about 200 yards away, running towards me. I stopped, fumbled to get my phone out and watched it in silence. It kept coming closer, and closer... finally when it was about 20 yards away, still charging full tilt towards me, I yelled out, "HEY DEER". It immediately froze and then wandered off into the woods.
As I continued down the path, I went to peek at the deer, and he turned back to look at me... I managed to snap a fairly awesome picture (if I do say so myself).
I kept plowing forward, and shortly after a break by the Triple Peak Fork of the Merced river, I started to climb the switchbacks towards Isberg Pass. My body still felt great as I wandered up, and I came to the tarns below the pass, there was still plenty of daylight and almost no clouds... and I briefly considered continuing with my plan of making it over the pass that evening.... but just looking around, I knew I'd found my campsite for the night.
As I was relaxing, before I'd picked set up to camp, I ran into a gentleman named Rocky. He came walking over as I was taking in the views, just relaxing for a few minutes and we chatted for about 45 minutes.
He was on his way on a 5 day trip, wandering all over Yosemite, and he'd swapped keys with his brother, halfway while they were walking to one another's cars.
He knew the mountains the same way I knew Milwaukee. The peaks, the passes, everything. I wish I knew an area of the outdoors as well as he knew that area of Yosemite.
I ended up not even setting up my tent. Simply tossed down my sleeping mat and slept under the stars (bundled in my sleeping bag with a hat on, as it got cold that night!).
That day of walking was probably the most beautiful I'd ever experienced, and as the sun began to set it only became more spectacular.
It's tough to describe the way the 360 degrees of mountains and the blazing sunset made me feel, but even after 3 days and 35 miles and about 9,000 feet of elevation gain, I felt solitude, I felt at peace, I felt amazing.
My only regret is that I didn't snap pictures when I woke up in the middle of the night, the stars were simply incredible.
Day 2 began bright and early, I awoke before the sun and from some very vivid dreams... which is apparently something that happens at altitude.
Packed everything up, ate my leftover couscous for breakfast and started walking. About a half mile into my day, I came across one of the wonderful woodland creatures on the other side of the river.
I stood and watched this wonderful black bear munching away for 5 minutes, enjoying the scene and how beautiful this area near the stream was.
I finally let him know of my presence, not wanting to scare him as I walked further up the trail (and closer to him), with a nice shout of "Go Packers." and he looked at me for a moment and then promptly scurried off into the woods.
I continued my walk that day, my goal being to get up and over Red Peak Pass and camp near one of the tarns on the far side of the pass.
The miles went by quickly, as I went downhill from I stopped for an early lunch near where the trail crossed Ottoway Creek, a couple miles from Lower Ottoway Lake. By that time the sun was all the way up and the day started to get really, really hot.
My body was feeling great and I was ready to keep on keeping on. The trail this day was very well graded, and I hardly gave up any altitude as I walked, my legs felt great and I got to Lower Ottoway Lake by about 2PM.
I also bumped into a twosome, Aaron and Krystle, for the first time, and unbeknownst to me, I'd be seeing them every day for the rest of the hike.
Even though my body felt great, I was tired. I tossed down my sleeping pad (the benefit of not using an inflatable!), ate a second lunch (PB + Nutella on a tortilla) and took an hour nap in the shade. When I woke up, I made the decision to postpone Red Peak Pass until the next day, the scene at the lake was too beautiful to not enjoy it.
I walked around to the east side of the lake, found a perfect spot to set up camp, and decided to relax for the rest of the day.... I even went for a little swim and was surprised at how warm the lake was - I guess when you have a stagnant lake and no snowmelt flowing into it, it warms up, even at 9700 feet.
It was a beautiful evening and I decided to have a big dinner (shelf stable bacon and mashed potatoes) and relaxed while I watched the sunset.
It was an odd experience, as the sun set on my campsite early, but the sky stayed bright for an hour afterwards. Not something you experience in Wisconsin.
I crashed before the stars even came out, the difficulty sleeping at altitude was really starting to get to me.
I snapped awake a few hours later, the moon was so bright it was almost like daylight. It was beautiful, too bad my camera wasn't working (and my phone is terrible at low-light pictures) so I couldn't snap anything that actually turned out.
I went back to bed, crashed hard, and woke up just before sunrise (still living on Central Time, I think).
Read On: http://www.mkehiker.com/blog/day-3-lower-ottoway-lake-to-below-isberg-pass-11-miles
I awoke at about 4:30 AM and started packing up. I'd packed most of my gear the night before, and had it sitting, ready in the bear box.
I tossed my sleeping bag into the bottom of my backpack, collapsed my tent as quietly as I could, and then stacked everything on top of my sleeping bag in my backpack.
My pad on the outside of my bag, I hoisted it onto my back, with my GoPro affixed to my shoulder strap, and started my 1.5 mile walk to the Happy Isles trailhead.
Once I got there, a short distance across the bridge, I snapped the required selfie in front of the trailhead sign, and began the push straight up towards Nevada Falls.
I struggled mightily finding my pace, as the trail climbed 2000 feet over 2.5 miles. It took me about an hour and a half of walking to manage those 2.5 miles, and I had to make a concerted effort to both not push myself too hard, and to pause to take pictures. The views were so beautiful, and it was so nice to be away from the chaos that was the valley floor the night before.
As I walked past Clark Point, the views became more spectacular as Liberty Cap began to loom closer and closer to me.
I took the JMT route up the hill, instead of the steeper Mist Trail (looking back, I should've taken the Mist Trail, the views were probably even more spectacular, including a better view of Nevada Falls).
As I rounded a bend, there was Liberty Cap, stretching up to the sky, with Nevada Falls trickling over the cliff's edge. I sat and ate breakfast at this spot, just enjoying the astonishing views.... and realizing I'd already climbed about 1500 feet, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
Shortly after breakfast, another mile into my walk, I got to the Nevada Falls/Panorama Trail junction. I walked the extra 1/2 mile round trip, to the Nevada Falls footbridge, and looked out over the landscape and the valley which I'd just hiked out of. The view was nothing short of incredible, although, the smoke looming over the valley was disconcerting.
Looking at my maps, I decided against topping off my water, seeing 4-5 streams coming in the next 4 miles, knowing that lunch would be calling my name about that time.
Continuing my climb up and out of the valley, for another mile and a half which contained another 1,000 feet of elevation gain and had me breathing heavily and questioning my own humanity as the heat of a 96 degree day beat down on me (yes, even at 7,000 feet, it was HOT). I veered off the Panorama Trail, and headed almost due south, through a burn area, which I believe was from the Hoover fire, in 2001. There was some regrowth, but nothing tall enough to give me any shade.
Over the next 2.5 miles, the heat really started getting to me. With no shade, and with every stream I crossed being dry, I ran out of my 2L of water, and kept trudging on.
About 7 miles into my day, I came across a tiny stream which was trickling into a couple of large pools, sat down in the shade of a burnt tree, and drank 2 liters of water, and put another 2 in my hydration bladder and soldiered on, making the mental note to not pass any water if I needed it for the rest of my trip.
As I got back into the cover of the forest, my legs still felt strong, and I kept admiring just how enormous the trees were, and how much they seemed to sway with the wind. It was almost hypnotic.
After crossing two more small creeks, I walked until I came upon Illilouette Creek for the first time, and found myself a decent spot to set up camp for the night, about 12 miles in.
After a delicious dinner (Couscous with some packaged Chicken -- which I finished off for breakfast the next day) I was sound asleep as soon as it was dark outside. The night sky would have to wait for another night.
Read On: http://www.mkehiker.com/blog/day-2-illilouette-creek-to-lower-ottoway-lake-10-miles
Kid A is an avid hiker, backpacker and outdoors enthusiast located in Milwaukee