Burned and Blackened

November 7, 2018
Ostrander Lake
Total distance walked: 12.4 miles

As we head deeper into fall, I felt an urgency to be on a trail before the roads to the high country close and the trails become snow-covered.  Scrolling through Yosemite National Park’s website, I came upon Ostrander Lake located off of Glacier Point Road at an elevation of 8,500 feet.  I had forgotten that I wanted to hike out there last summer, but the roads and trails were closed due to the Ferguson Fire.

Fall foliage

Excited and a bit nervous about my first trek alone since the JMT, I stuffed my day pack with goodies and hung the camera around my neck then headed out.  It was a crispy autumn morning, just above freezing.  I had been to Ostrander Lake twice before on backpacking trips, but never as an out-and-back day hike.  I thought I knew what to expect.

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite
Trailhead to Ostrander Lake

Nearby Bridalveil Creek still held water and was topped with a thin layer of ice.  Ostrander Lake is the primary source for Bridaleveil Creek which feeds Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley.

Bridalveil Fall, photo taken March 2018

The dirt trail, dusty during summer, was frozen and crunched underfoot.  Earlier in the year, bright wildflowers would have blanketed the area, not so in autumn.  The major colors were brown and grey with smatterings of deep green from the pines…and lots of charcoal black.

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite
Fall colors.

I wasn’t prepared for the mass destruction I’d see.  The 2017 Empire Fire had burned and blackened much of the forest.


It was unnerving walking through the burned area.

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite
Burned down to the nub.

Like being on a scavenger hunt, I had to search to see the beauty.  It wasn’t obvious like the beauty of a wildflower or a grand vista.

A cross on a charred tree trunk.

Some of what I saw was just plain humorous, like this bird atop a tree.

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite

Or this sculpture of a woman riding a horse.

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite

From a distance, this smiling face looked creepy.



Half way in, the trail began a 1,600 foot climb along Horizon Ridge.  There, a view opened up to the back of Half Dome, Illillouette Valley and the Clark Range.

Half Dome, Ostrander Lake, Yosemite
The back of Half Dome.
Horizon Ridge, Ostrander Lake, Yosemite
View from Horizon Ridge

I heard a tch, tch, tch of someone chopping wood and wondered if there would be backpackers at the lake.  Later I realized the sound came from the dead trees knocking into each other when the wind blew.

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite
Approaching Ostrander Lake

As I approached Ostrander Lake, I recalled the last time Chris and I visited. A nude sunbather laid on a rock and man wearing his birthday suit jumped into the water with a howl.  Being that it was November, I hoped it was too cold for those kind of activities.

Perched beside the lake is Ostrander Ski Hut, where cross-country skiers can spend the night in wintertime. It’s a two-story stone structure that sleeps 25 people. Reservations are required.

Ostrander Ski Hut, built in 1941.

I was alone at the lake, in fact, I was alone all day.  I know there were lots of year-round residents nearby (animals), but the only visible signs of life were the birds that bathed at the lake’s shore and a bushy tailed squirrel.

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite
My view during lunch.

I bundled up when a breeze blew in from the lake.  Reclining on rock in the sun, I was mesmerized by the pristine water, gripped by the glacial cirque and soothed by the silence.  It was a perfect place for prayer.  After having a bite to eat, I packed up for the return hike through the charred woods, rejuvenated and thankful for the amazing day.

16 thoughts on “Burned and Blackened

  1. What great beauty you found among the charred remains. I know the fire damage will be overgrown eventually, but it is an eerie landscape. Thanks for taking me along on this long hike. The solitude must have been exquisite–as well as beautiful views.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reading your entries always brings to mind the wonder that God has created in that place. So many happy memories of hiking that trail with Senior Hikers. I do miss hiking, but I am happily learning new things and keeping busy. Thank you for sharing your hikes. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Rae

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my gosh, you see them too! I see faces and people and things in all sorts fo things, especially rock formations. I’ve shared some, especially from my visits to Joshua Tree National Park. I just assumed people thought I was crazy. 🙂 I agree it’s hard to be in a burnt forest and see the beauty. It hurts your heart to see the destruction and imagine how many forest dwellers have been displaced or died in the process. But it is Nature’s way and that destruction eventually gives way to what we consider traditional beauty. I think it’s good for us to see the cycle. For me at least, it gives me hope that all things burned to the ground will rise again. Beautiful photos and I applaud your courage for such a long solo hike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 I like that you “see things” too. I’ve never been to Joshua Tree…yet. I must admit, it was a little creepy being alone all day, not seeing anyone at all, which is unusual. I was shocked at how burned it was. It wasn’t like that the last time I was there.


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