Move over McGurk Meadow and make room for two more hikes that offer an opulence of wildflower blooms. One is the 12.4 mile Ostrander Lake hike and the other is the 5.3 mile Norris Creek trailhead Jackass Lakes hike. Both are out and back hikes (you retrace your steps on the return trip).
Four of us began the Ostrander Lake hike, with two (Judi Hussain and Martha VanAman) intent on enjoying the wildflowers growing at every juncture of the path that crossed a creek and two of us (Betsy Blum and I) had a dual purpose in mind-enjoy the wildflowers but also make it to the lake with the opportunity for a swim or at least some wading.
The Ostrander Lake trailhead at 7,000’ is 1.3 miles east of the turnoff to the Bridalveil Creek campground. The trail winds through an area burned by the 1987 lodgepole pine forest fire and over little streams feeding the Bridalveil Creek drainage pattern.
Once the trail leaves the forest area, it climbs to Horizon Ridge at about 8,600’ giving a backside view of Half Dome (some on the trail did not recognize the park icon from this perspective) as well as views of the 10,856’ Mount Hoffmann, Mount Starr King and the Clark Range.
It took us four hours to reach Ostrander Lake (with wildflower photo stops) where there is a rustic stone ski hut built in 1941. In the winter, the historic building houses back country skiers and snowboarders who have made the 10-mile trek from the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard area.
The hut is the last building in Yosemite National Park to be constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Because of the popularity of the hut, reservations are granted by a random lottery system.
The Yosemite Conservancy employs a hut keeper for the ski season and those skiing in must provide their own sleeping bag and food but firewood and communal cooking items are available.
After lunch, having watched a man swim across the lake and back and our own wading, we hit the trail taking three hours to return to our car. It was on the return hike that I saw my first bear of the season, honey blonde in color and probably about a two-year-old.
A recent rain kept the trail relatively dust free and had left water droplets on flowers and leaves along the trail. The wildflower list for this hike included: fireweed, tiger lilies, lupine, paintbrush, larkspur, arrowleaf groundsel (fellow hiker Judi helped us with this one), rangers’ buttons, corn lilies in bloom, asters and monkeyflowers.
Jackass Lakes Hike
There seems to be a discrepancy about the distance of the week’s second hike, Jackass Lakes from the Norris Trailhead. The National Geographic map shows the in and out trail to be 5.8 miles to the middle lake (there are three lakes in the Jackass Lake group) and the Favorite Hikes of the Sierra Hiking Seniors shows it at 6.4 miles.
My trusty fitbit, said we hiked just over 10 miles with short excursions around two of the lakes.
The five of us on this hike (Cindy Hutchison, Chris Hartesveldt, Mark and Betsy Blum and I) had quite a discussion about this as we researched different sources.
To reach the trailhead, travel from Hwy 41 north, taking the Road 222 turnoff toward Bass Lake, then take Road 274 to a left turn onto Beasore Road for just under 40 miles. The road gets pretty bumpy with potholes and ruts as it turns from asphalt to dirt and gravel. Look for Road 5S86, a little spur road to the left and follow it to its end where there is ample parking.
Fellow hiker Mark described the highlight of this hike when he labeled the trail a “vertical garden” as we climbed along Norris Creek with our goal of Lower Jackass Lake at 8,600.’
Highlights of this trail in addition to the wildflowers along Norris Creek, are reflections in Norris Lake which this year was closer to a lake than the mosquito hatchery I have seen there in the past, the waterfall seen from the lower lake, a little field of shooting stars at the far end of the lower lake and views of Mt. Ritter from just below Norris Lake.
But for birders there was one more treat - a pair of black-backed woodpeckers seen rat-a-tatting on a fir.
According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this bird is uncommon and prefers burned over sites in coniferous forests, moving from place to place following outbreaks of wood-boring beetles. This species must be enjoying a smorgasbord with all of the beetle infested trees in our forests.
The trail along Norris Creek is well worn with little hops across tiny rivulet creeks. Just past Norris Lake, the trail meanders through the rocks until you climb a crest giving a view of the lower lake. The lower lake’s outlet provides a setting for lunch with far reaching views. The rocky trail up to the middle lake is at the far end of the lake and is often marked with ducks (little piles of rocks). The trail to the upper lake is even more obscure.
There are two trailheads for Jackass Lakes. The Norris Trailhead, which we chose, lets you drive some of the elevation but still provides a good climb from 7,500’ at the trailhead to the lower lake at 8,600’ and is just slightly shorter than the hike from the Jackass Lakes Trailhead.
Note: Both of these hikes were done the first week of August.