The Merced River flows from canyon to canyon from its headwaters in Yosemite National Park. The upper canyons are lonely places in April, with most people believing the area to be too snowed over for efficient travel. We woke up, though, on dry granite, to the sound of the Bunnell Cascades at the opening of Lost Valley.
We threw granola bars into our daypacks and left at a leisurely pace, our first obstacle of the day being the Bunnell Switchbacks. Normally, in the spring, this section of the trail is snowed over, steep, and exposed. We were able to walk up most of it barely touching any snow. Lots of water, however, flowed down the ephemeral streams that cross the trail here and there.
The previous day, the thought had crossed our minds to keep hiking and to make camp in Echo Valley. As we entered the area, though, we realized what sort of blunder that would have been. The trail through most of the valley was full of standing water, and the rest of the soil and dirt around the trail was swamp. The thickness of the forest would have blocked most of our views of the high country, too. We navigated through Echo Valley as quickly as possible, doing everything we could to keep our feet out of the muck.
At the higher end of Echo Valley is a light climb, then the river opens up to Merced Lake. Our objective for the day was to find some rocks at Merced Lake, eat some lunch, then spend a few hours lounging around and sunbathing. This lake, though, for all its people and popularity, was rather unspectacular. It had not the beaches and rocky shorelines of May Lake, another lake with a High Sierra Camp. We hiked past the lake, past the High Sierra Camp, to the river above the lake, and here, found beaches and rocks on which to lounge.
After eating lunch and relaxing, we packed our things and continued on into the next valley. The valley floor was forested, and so we had no views of the canyon walls. We found an unoccupied ranger station with a broken down corral. It seems they must have to rebuild this corral every year after the snow melts out. We hiked a ways up one of the trails in the area so that we could see the views above the trees. From there we could see the huge peaks that create this valley. This would be the highest point of our trip. From here, we made the hike back to our campsite, snapping more shots of the Merced River on the way.
We spent another night at our campsite. The moon was bright enough to read by, and we sat for a while in its light before turning in. We woke up the next morning, packed up our gear, and headed out the way we came. We found a small trickle of people at the Mist Trail near Nevada Falls. The further down we hiked, the more people we saw until we got out to the parking lot. It didn’t matter, though. We had found our place in the sun along the Merced River.