OverviewLocated near the Southern border of Yosemite National Park, Merced peak is the highest point in the Clark Range. From the Ottoway lakes, the imposing North Face dominates the view. In mid summer the setting sun aligns perfectly with the Illiloutte Creek canyon to treat campers at Ottoway Lakes with superb alpenglow. At over sixteen miles from the nearest trailhead, a day hike of Merced peak provides plenty of challenge for those who love suffering. Most people, however, opt for a multi day backcountry trip.
While no one is likely to put Merced Peak on their “classic climbs” list, a scramble to the top is still very enjoyable. With a little route finding on the approach there is surprising little talus and no scree before reaching Snow Pass. The easiest route is class 2 along the Northeast Ridge from Snow Pass (first ascent by the California Geological Survey in the 1860’s). By keeping close to the Northeast Ridge, fun class 3 climbing with a bit of exposure can be found. In “The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Tails”, Secor also lists the class 3 West Arete and a grade III 5.7 route on the North Face.
Getting ThereThe shortest trip is from the Quartz Mountain Trailhead over Chiquito pass from the Sierra National Forest south of Yosemite. Another popular trip to Merced Peak is from along Glacier Point Road in Yosemite (either the Mono Meadows or Glacier Point trailheads). Although longer, the Mono Meadows route involves a bit less up and down and it avoids an hour of driving on dirt roads. Alternately, the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley provides access for winter ski tours and the Granite Creek trailhead provides access from the South through the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The one way distance, feet of climbing, and feet of descending for each trailhead is listed below. Thanks to Bob Burd for suggesting the Quartz Mountain (Chiquito Pass) route.
Quartz Mountain: 16.2 miles +6700 ft –3100 ft.
Mono Meadows: 18.5 miles +6800 ft. –2500 ft.
Glacier Point: 19.2 miles +7300 ft. –2900 ft.
Happy Isles: 20.5 miles +9900 ft. –2300 ft.
Granite Creek: 22.5 miles +8800 ft. –4700 ft.
See the Yosemite Logistical Center page for details on getting to Yosemite National Park. From Yosemite Valley, take highway 41 south towards Wawona approximately 10 miles to the Glacier Point Road. Turn left (east) and follow the Glacier Point Road 10.5 miles to the Mono Meadows trailhead or continue another 5.5 miles to the Glacier Point trailhead.
The Quartz Mountain Trailhead can be reached from highway 41 south of Yosemite. From the town of Oakhurst, proceed north on 41 about 4 miles to Gooseberry Flats Road (Road 632). In 3 or 4 miles the pavement ends and the road becomes Sky Ranch Road (road 6S10). Approximately 17 miles from highway 41, Sky Ranch Road passes a junction with road S607 and then the Fresno Dome campground. From here it is another 10 miles to the end of the road and the trailhead. There are many junctions, most of them unsigned logging roads. Try to follow the major road at the unsigned intersections.
The Isberg Peak page has a good description of how to reach the Granite Creek trailhead.
Red TapeThere is a $20 entrance fee (good for a week) for Yosemite National Park. Alternately, you can buy a 12 month Yosemite Pass for $40 or a 12 month National Park Pass for $50. Overnight trips into the Yosemite wilderness require a wilderness permit (free, or $5 for advance reservations). See the Yosemite NPS wilderness page for details. If you plan to camp in the backcountry above 9,600 feet, bear canisters are required. Note: Lower Ottoway Lake is at 9,700 feet. See this NPS page for details on food storage regulations.
For wilderness permits entering through the Sierra National Forest or the Ansel Adams Wilderness, contact the Sierra National Forest Ranger District in Oakhurst (for Quartz Mountain) or in North Fork (for Granite Creek). This link will take you to the Sierra National Forest website or use the following address:
Bass Lake Ranger District
57003 Road 225
North Fork, CA 93643
Yosemite/Sierra Visitor’s Bureau
41969 Hwy 41
Oakhurst, CA 93644
When To ClimbLate spring through autumn is the most popular time to hike Southern Yosemite. Glacier Point Road is closed in winter at Badger Pass adding about five miles to a ski tour from Mono Meadows or alternately, start your winter trip from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley.
CampingBackcountry camping is allowed anywhere beyond one mile from Glacier Point Road or four miles from Glacier Point. Lower Ottoway Lake makes a great base camp for exploring the southern Clark Range. There are excellent shaded camp sites, good fishing, and outstanding scenery. Campfires, however, are not allowed at Lower Ottoway (or anywhere in Yosemite above 9,600 feet). The Bridalveil Creek campground on Glacier Point Road is first come first served and is only a few miles from the Mono Meadows trailhead.
There are several Forest Service campgrounds along the roads leading to the Quartz Mountain and Granite Creek trailheads or you can camp anywhere off of the road in the Sierra National Forest.
Mountain ConditionsThe National Weather Service website has this forecast for Yosemite and the central Sierra. This Yosemite NPS page has trail conditions updated monthly.
Etymology“‘The river was named by the Spaniards, in honor of the Virgin, El Rio de Nuestra Señora de la Merced (the river of our Lady of Mercy). This name was given to the stream by an exploring party under Sergeant Gabriel Moraga in 1806, as an expression of their joy and gratitude at the sight of its sparkling waters, after an exhausting journey of forty miles through a waterless country.’ (Sanchez: Spanish and Indian Place Names of California, 1922, pp. 282-283.) Fremont called this river the Aux-um-ne'. (Fremont: Geographical Memoir upon Upper California, 1848, p. 17.—Fremont: Memoirs, 1887, p. 444.)
Merced Lake was called by John Muir ‘Shadow Lake.’ (Scribner’s Monthly, January 1879, p. 416.) ‘1 first discovered this charming lake in the autumn of 1872, while on my way to the glaciers at the head of the river.’ (Muir: The Mountains of California,; 1894, p. 115.)
Merced Peak is also called ‘Black Mountain’ in Whitney’s Yosemite Guide Book, 1870, p. 109. ‘The last name had, however, been previously given to the highest point of the mass of ridges and peaks at the southern extremity of the range, south of the divide between the San Joaquin and the Merced. All these points, except Gray Peak, have been climbed by the Geological Survey.’
‘The range to which it [Mount Clark] belongs is sometimes called the Obelisk Group; but, oftener, the Merced Group, because the branches of that river head around it.’ (Whitney: The Yosemite Book, 1868, p. 97.)
‘Merced Peak (culminating point of Merced Group).’ (Wheeler Survey: Geographical Report, 1889, p. 134.)
Merced Pass was found by Corporal Ottoway while scouting for Lieutenant Denson in 1895 and named by Benson. (H. C. Benson.)”
– Francis P. Farquhar, Place Names of the High Sierra (1926)