Ascent of Mount Clark on 2019-09-01

Climber: Rafee Memon

Others in Party:Dan Cervelli
Tim Slatcher
Date:Sunday, September 1, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Clark
    Elevation:11522 ft / 3511 m

Ascent Trip Report

After an extended trip overseas, Dan was back in the country, and I knew that he would be anxious to get up into the mountains over the weekend. We agreed to a day hike of Mount Clark, a striking peak in central Yosemite that Dan had wanted for many years, and one that I had thus far avoided due to my aversion to roped climbing. We had last hiked together on Whorl Mountain a year before to the day. We also recruited Tim, who I had only hiked with a few times previously but was excited to have convinced to join us. He is usually not one to partake in our dayhike sufferfests, and as a cyclist, he mentioned that he wasn't sure he even likes hiking. We joked that the issue would certainly be settled either way after a long day climbing Clark.

We left from the Bay Area around 1:30pm on Saturday afternoon. We first stopped at Safeway to pick up breakfast, then drive to Oakhurst to have dinner at Plazuela. From there, we were torn on what to do. Our options were to sleep directly outside the south entrance to Yosemite and drive forty-five minutes to the trailhead early in the morning, or sleep directly at the trailhead and risk getting caught by park rangers. We eventually decided that the risk was worth it so that we could maximize our sleeping time. We drove into the park and parked at the Ostrander Lake Trailhead, which, unlike the Mono Meadow Trailhead, featured a bathroom. The parking lot was nearly full, but we found a spot at the back. We were settled in by 8:45pm with Dan in his car and Tim and I on the ground, and we closed our eyes hoping for a peaceful night of sleep. (Unfortunately it would be anything but peaceful, but that is a story for another time.)

We woke up to our alarms at 3:30am, had a quick breakfast, used the bathrooms, and drove the final two minutes to Mono Meadow, where we started down the trail by headlamp precisely at 4:00am. Almost immediately, we encountered an entirely swamped section of trail. We attempted to follow some logs, but we all ended up stepping in the water, so we resigned ourselves to a very soggy rest of the morning. This section of trail is particularly scarred from wildfires, and the surrounding burned trees stood eerily in the glow of the half moon. We reached Illouette Creek after a little over an hour, which was still deep enough to require fording after the big winter. Putting my shoes back on, the cover on one of my laces snapped, leaving only the core. I would need to take extra care putting my shoes back on the rest of the day, but luckily there were no further incidents.

Dawn came shortly before crossing the Clark Fork, allowing us to tackle the off-trail portion of the climb in the light. I was particularly glad for this, as the section through the burned forest was tedious on my climb of Gray Peak the previous year. We tackled this section without much of a word; I was keen to not complain and discourage the others, but they seemed to be having a fine time of things. The brush gradually thinned as we reached the base of the Clark Range. We found our ascent ridge, which we planned to follow to the southeast ridge near the summit, and we started ascending in earnest.

I was tasked with carrying the rope for the group, and despite having the heaviest pack, I kept a sizeable lead on the others. Our overall progress was slow, but we were moving fast enough that we were confident in being able to summit. We got occasional glimpses of the peaks of the Clark Range with Gray to the south and Clark to the north. Crossing over Gray Creek, we stopped to fill up water. Eventually, we reached a plateau just above the treeline, and Mount Clark's impressive southwest face loomed high above us, signaling that the exciting part of the climb would begin soon -- a welcome relief after the tedious and mostly boring approach. After taking some photos, we continued up a sand slope to the summit ridge, which was difficult as our energy waned and the sun beat down on us. I reached the ridge about ten minutes before the others, so I used the extra time to explore an area beneath we pinnacles to our left. I warmed up my climbing chops on some easy exposed scrambling to get a closeup view of the face of Clark. The others arrived, and we continued to a notch in a ridge where we planned to cross and climb the class 3-4 slabs the rest of the way to the summit.

We stopped for a snack break at the notch and explored our options. We were hesitant to lose elevation traversing to our planned ascent route, but eventually decided to climb down a bit to be confident that the traverse would go. With careful route finding, we were able to keep the initial climbing to class 3, including an interesting 20-foot snaking section through a crack in a granite slab that saved us from needing to traverse a hundred or so feet more. Eventually, I arrived at a section where I couldn't find a route that I was comfortable freeclimbing. As the others caught up, I picked what I thought was the easiest of five options for continuing. I showed it to Dan and Tim and we all agreed that we would need to rope up. As we got our harnesses on and set an anchor, I noticed a good crack that could be used as a handhold. I proposed that it could be safely freeclimbed after all, which was probably not the best idea especially considering the fact that we were carrying gear. Despite having precisely zero experience setting protection, Dan and Tim suggested that I use my newfound confidence to do the lead climb! They gave me a crash course on placing cams and building an anchor at the top. I climbed the crack slowly and deliberately, but without incident; the hardest move was an awkward giant step about halfway up the crack. From there, there was one more difficult move to climb up an exposed sloping slab. I topped out right in front of the exposed class 4 traverse -- the part we expected to be the crux of the climb. I set an anchor and threw the rope down, and Dan and Tim climbed up to me.

From the safety of our resting point, the crux move was in full view: a straightforward but exposed traverse, save for one giant awkward step with hundreds of feet of air down almost-vertical slabs below it. We decided that I should let it ride with my confidence and do the lead climb here as well. Dan built an anchor on a boulder, and I started traversing. The initial moves were exposed but easy, and I set a cam before the crux step. I easily stretched my foot to the other side of the giant step, but soon realized that the difficulty was in commiting and shifting all of my body weight at once. I had many false starts over a few minutes before being able to take the leap of faith. Once on the other side, I continued up some easy class 3 climbing and built an anchor. I had no recent experience belaying, so we decided that we would visit the summit one by one so that Dan and Tim could belay each other. I climbed one more minute the rest of the way to the summit and arrived at 1:20pm. I was greeted by impeccable views of Yosemite surrounding the peak and an old-style metal Sierra Club register. Not wanting to keep the others waiting, I hurriedly signed the register and took a few photos before heading back down. Stepping across the crux was easier on the way back, but I'm not sure if it was due to the move actually being easier in that direction or being able to commit to it more easily. I took photos of Dan and Tim as they made the awkward move. On the return, they found a way to climb onto another step and avoid the giant step entirely, but it was only possible descending. Tim took a photo of the summit register with all of our names. He also mentioned that another party had just summitedvia the northwest ridge, and I suspected they were friends of Yelly whom she mentioned would be climbing that day as well.

We debated where to build an anchor to repel, and we eventually settled on the boulder at the beginning of the exposed traverse; it took a little bit of finagling to get the sling the whole way around the rock, but it was solid. As we repelled to below the crack where we had roped up, the other climbers freeclimbed down near us, handling the difficult sections with ease. They were also able to rescue our caribiner from near the summit and our cam that was stuck in the crack. We chatted briefly before they continued down the ridge, and we met up with them again at the notch. We gave them route beta as a sort of thank you for the rescued gear. Dan and Tim were out of water (I still had well over a liter of my initial two liters; my habit of not drinking is not a good one) so we took a more direct route to Gray Creek. The mosquitos made their presence known, but luckily they were a nuisance only for a couple minutes.

Reaching the burned forest section, we attempted to avoid the worst of it by taking a more northerly route near the Clark Fork. This had good results for a bit, but we eventually reached thicker brush and decided to fight through it rather than cross the creek. We reached the trail at 7pm and cursed the six remaining miles, especially the swamp and the final few hundred feet of uphill just before the trailhead. We debated keeping our shoes on to cross Illouette Creek, but decided to ford again to stay dry; however, it was mostly negated by the soaking we received in the swamp. Confusingly, Tim managed to keep one foot dry. We reached the trailhead at 9:40pm and cracked open our drinks that we had stashed in the cooler.

Dan had talked of a vision he had of a restaurant being open late at one of the posh resorts just outside of the national park boundary. We pulled into the resort at 10:50pm, and I ran inside to see if they were still serving food. Sure enough, the kitchen was open until 11, and after the car was valeted we ordered as quickly as we could. I got a gigantic overpriced bowl of chicken penne pasta. I drove the next couple hours, barely able to make it to Los Banos, where Dan took over and I slept the rest of the way. Dan dropped me off at my apartment around 3:30am, and I showered and promptly crashed.
Summary Total Data
    Round-Trip Distance:25.4 mi / 40.9 km
    Grade/Class:Class 4
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Mud/Swamp, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Rope, Headlamp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Distance:12.9 mi / 20.8 km
    Route:Southeast arete
    Start Trailhead:Mono Meadows TH  
Descent Statistics
    Distance:12.5 mi / 20.1 km
    Route:Southeast arete
    End Trailhead:Mono Meadows TH  
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rafee Memon
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