Long Meadow Our day started with a chorus of coyotes and another delicious round of oatmeal, fresh fruit and eggs. Only no French toast at Sunrise. But we aren’t complaining. Never have we returned from a mulit-day backpacking trip weighing more than when we left. The hike to Merced Lake was a long one, but not a hard one. Most of the day was downhill with an uphill finish. We got off to a slightly earlier start, 8:30am and our first mile took us through the meadow before a mild climb followed by a very steep descent. The trail took us down to Echo River where we crossed a couple of bridges separated by a couple of miles. Once we crossed the second bridge the trail was fairly open and the views across the valley and up towards Merced Lake were really pretty.
Merced River By noon we had passed the junction pointing us in the direction of Merced and we had been climbing steadily for a while. The sun was beating down on us and for the fourth day in a row we hadn’t seen a single cloud. We were baking! Then, around 12:30pm the trail intersected with the Merced River before taking a sharp left. At that point in the river the bed was wide – formed by a large flat, slick rock that was a 30-50 feet wide. The water trickled over some parts and pooled in others and was beautiful. Lee pulled out his camera and I stopped to get my headband wet to provide some relief from the heat. Before I knew it, my socks and shoes were off and I was in the water, swimming in the natural granite pools. It didn’t take long for Lee to join me. Nothing could have been more refreshing. We easily spent an hour there and were stunned that more hikers didn’t join us. Our hour there was the highlight of all of our hiking days.
Merced River From there we probably had an hour to camp and we were in awe of the huge granite slides and pools that formed the river bed we walked alongside. At each pool we wanted to discard everything again and jump in and lamented the fact that we hadn’t planned for a zero day at Merced.
We arrived at camp close to 2:30pm and found a pretty nice campsite with logs to sit on and enormous ones that offered privacy. Fortunately for us no one joined us there either! We then headed over to the “store” or the “camp” and they recommended going for a swim just up the river. The swimming hole was busy with our fellow hikers (and a water snake) but very relaxing. We rested on the rocks and cooled off in the idyllic setting that is Merced.
Merced River Swimming Hole Here we benefited again from running water and a clean shower before dinner. This time they called us with a ranch style dinner bell. The crew that works at Merced knows they have a good thing and they seemed more like us than any of the staff at the other camps. And they were by far the best cooks! Maybe it had something to do with Saturday being steak night, but they blew us out of the water! The homemade bread for the evening was chili cheese bread, followed by salad and cream of broccoli soup (best soup of the trip). Then we were served enormous steaks with chimichurri sauce, asparagus, mushrooms and horseradish mashed potatoes. Dessert was a lemon curd pie/tart. We had to be rolled out of there.
The idea of sunset/dusk at the lake was enticing until we got within 50 feet of it and were overtaken by mosquitoes. We immediately turned back for camp and turned in for the night. Pictures from Merced are here.