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Ostrander and Heart Lakes Hike

Glacier Point Road had just opened up for the season, 2 ½ weeks earlier than last year, and I needed to get into the higher country. We were shocked at the lack of snow. Lakes that had been frozen last year were completely thawed out on this trip but we still saw some beautiful country.

Where: Yosemite National Park
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 6,750′ – 8,916′
Date: March 31, 2015
Maps: El Capitan, Merced Peak Topographic Quad Maps

I am always so excited when Glacier and Tioga Roads open up for the season. I can’t wait to check out the lakes and peaks to see what they look like after their winter sleep. There is an excitement to getting to a high point where I can pick out familiar far away places and see how much snow coverage is on them. In a way, it lets me gauge how soon I will be able to visit those places. I bet some of you also get that same excited feeling when these roads open up.

We headed up Highway 41 through the South Entrance to Yosemite near Mariposa Grove, then up Glacier Point Rd.We continued about 9 miles to the wide parking area that is just off the road on the right hand side,just past where Glacier Point Rd. crosses Bridalveil Creek. Normally there is a sign that says”Ostrander Lake” on the road where you turn into this parking lot but the sign was missing on this visit.

We visited the bathroom at the parking lot before heading up the trail. I share this so you will know that there is a bathroom at the Trailhead, so you can plan properly. It was 28 degrees when we started out on the trail, which was dry except for a very few short icy spots that we could easily walk along the side of. We followed the trail signs to Ostrander Lake when we reached junctions.

Ost. and Heart 2

Ost. and Heart 3

Ost. and Heart 4

Ostrander Lake is the primary source of Bridalveil Creek, which feeds Bridalveil Falls. I have found 3 different stories about how Ostrander Lake got its name. Wikipedia says that the lake is named for a descendant of Alexander Ostrander (1783) of Smithfield NY and that this branch of Ostrander family settled in Colorado (Georgetown, Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs, Golden) prior to 1872, some moving from Colorado to California. Yosemite National Park’s website says that is named for a Sheepman.

One site even says that the lake is named after Alexander Ostrander who settled near the lake. Well, that last one is not true because this Alexander Ostrander never left New York.
As we continued up the trail, we walked along a small creek. Where the creek was wide and slow moving, we saw some very pretty reflections in the early morning light.

There were a few larger down trees across the trail that we had to climb over. Horses will not be able to travel on this trail until these trees are cleared but I bet it won’t take long to make the trail passable for the stock.

This warm weather had encouraged some of the buds to start to open up.

We always see something unexpected on our hikes and after we topped out on “Heart Attack Hill”, we heard a dog barking. Just before we dropped down to Ostrander Lake, we saw two people camping off of the trail and they had a German Shepherd that was running after a party of 3 hikers that had been ahead of me. The party ahead of us had gone down to advise this group that dogs were not allowed in this area of the park. This area is designated as a Wildnerness area and dogs are not allowed. I wasn’t party to the conversation that took place between the dog owners and the hiking party so don’t know if they were aware of the rules. Here is a link to those rules regarding dogs in Yosemite National Park to make it easy for you.

The campsite was no longer in use and there were no signs of the dog when we returned back this way in the afternoon. I don’t know if this party was down at Ostrander Lake, moved farther up the trail or left the park.

As soon as we could see Ostrander Lake, we headed down to it, walking along the right side. Glaciers formed Ostrander Lake long ago, leaving a beautiful lake in a cirque that is surrounded on one side by snow covered Horse Ridge. This created a gorgeous backdrop for this lake that usually has beautiful reflections of the ridge in the waters. The wind was blowing pretty steady so we didn’t have the amazing reflections in the lake that we usually have but on a couple of occasions the wind backed off a little bit, so we took advantage of this to take pictures. (Picture of Rick with his Red hat by Gail Gilbert)

We had an early lunch down by the lake then headed up to check out the Ostrander Ski Hut. The Ostrander Ski Hut is a two story stone building that was built in 1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps for cross-country skiers. It was originally intended to be part of a larger system of winter trails and huts along the Sierra Crest that never were developed. It is operated by the Yosemite Conservancy, a non-profit educational organization in Yosemite National Park and is staffed with a hutmaster during the winter months.

It sleeps 25 people and has bunks, mattresses, wood stove, a kitchen with a gas stove for cooking and assorted pots and pans available for the visitor’s use. Drinking and wash water is hauled from the lake in buckets and that water treatment is the individual visitor’s responsibility. Light is from solar powered lights.

National Park Service rangers staffed the cabin starting in the 1960s, but by 1974, demand for the hut grew too large, and Yosemite Conservancy, in conjunction with NPS, took over its stewardship and management.

All revenue from overnight fees is used to operate the ski hut. In 2013, work was funded to rehabilitate the hut by replacing water tanks to improve water quality, repairing a dilapidated wood shed that had become vulnerable to rodents, and restoring architectural features. The original countertops of solid planks of sugar pine were refinished, while the stone mortar and lodgepole pine beams that are essential to the historic character of the building also received much-needed repairs.

“This project will preserve the historic Ostrander Ski Hut experience that has been enjoyed by generations of visitors,” says Rod Kennec, exhibit specialist. “By repairing external structures and restoring original features, we have preserved the architectural character of the hut, while addressing the comfort and safety of visitors.”

The Conservancy has also established a reserve account to ensure essential maintenance is carried out. The Ostrander Ski Hut is just one of many projects that the Conservancy supports with money and personnel. You can access the link to Yosemite Conservancy at the end of this Blog to learn more and about how you can help.

Since we had time, we decided to head up to Heart Lake. Although this sign indicates a trail, it was not always easily seen on the ground. Ducks, or cairns were evident in some portions but we were navigating with our GPS and didn’t always follow the trail. We passed several very pretty tarns along the way. The frogs were really singing up a storm in the afternoon when we passed back by these.

We reached a high point where we could look up toward Half Dome, Tuolumne and Mount Conness. Love that country but wow, the lack of snow was so starteling.

We headed farther toward Heart Lake but we didn’t make it down to the lake. We had a little glimpse of Heart Lake from the top of a ridge and it looked beautiful. We had run out of time and needed to head back. Being on top of this ridge gave us the best view we had ever seen of the Merced Peak, Red Peak, Gray Peak and Triple Divide Peak. These are Peaks at the southern part of Yosemite. It was a great spot to take a panoramic shot.

We headed back down the trail to the car, making good time. What a great day! One of my hiking buddies, Rick, brought a extra large ice chest and it reminded me that I had never talked about snacks in this blog. After completing a good hike, we have created a bit of a tradition of snacking our way home in the car. We bring cool drinks to rehydrate us and salty snacks. We try to keep these snacks somewhat healthy though. The snacks change as yummy new products come out.

We went through a “Pirates Booty” phase, then a “Food Should Taste Good” phase and now we are in a “Half Pops” phase. Each of us has our favorite beverage of choice, some caffinated, others not. Rick had brought Cinnamon Buns from Starbucks this morning which were a real treat and I saved mine for the ride home. Mmmm.

Of course, we were very curious why Rick had brought this big ice chest. Surely he must have brought enough snacks and drinks for a small army. Well, this huge ice chest just had a big cooler block in it, along with his drink and snacks. It was a big mystery but turned out not to be very mysterious.
What are your favorite snacks after a hike??

Prior Blogs:

Schaffer, Jeffrey P. Yosemite National Park, A Complete Hiker’s Guide. Berkeley, CA: Wilderness Press, May 2008. Pages 323-325.

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