Clark & Gray In Yosemite At High Tide

  • Updated: July 05, 2011
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

   Mount Clark (11,522')
   Gray Peak (11,573')
When: July 2nd to 5th, 2011
Where: Yosemite, CA
Who: Matthew Hengst, Jack Kieffer, Lisa Miyake, Ted Lenzie, Agustine Barajas

Pictures: Unsuccessful, Successful
GPS Track: Track

This was the second attempt at the Clark ridge for Jack and I after a previous attempt in late October of 2010 ran afoul of the first big winter storm of the season.

Back then Jack and I had made the ridge below the summit only to find the storm that had swept in that morning had done a rather thorough job of coating all the rocks in ice making things impassable well before the reputed brief yet gee-you-should-really-pay-attention 4th class bit.

We retreated to camp and after about an hour and a half of concerted effort managed to light a well earned campfire despite nonstop rain that lasted throughout the night and the entire 6+ hour hike out to Yosemite Valley the next morning. All and all a memorable trip.

Clark was now a grudge peak so Jack and I scheduled another attempt for 4th of July weekend.  4 days, 4 peaks (Clark, Grey, Red, and Merced) and (hopefully) no ice.

Instead this year was a very high snow year.  As a result there were extremely high runoff which meant every creek and river in the Sierra was running fast and high.  When I called for the permit the rangers used the word suicidal more than once in relation to crossing the Illilouette and two hikers were swept off a bridge and killed right around that time down in Hetch Hetchy.

We came prepared and on the morning of July 2nd five of us met at the Mono Meadows Trailhead along the Glacier Point Road in Yosemite.  It's a nice trailhead I've been out of several times as it gives easy access to Starr King among other things.  It's a quiet spot to camp (as opposed to the campgrounds down in the Valley) though you have to run up the road a bit to find a non-cathole toilet.

This trailhead has produced a bear sighting every trip and this was no exception.  Within a mile of the trailhead we came across a rather large black bear sitting in the brush munching away.  He hardly gave us a second glance as we went by.

As the rangers had warned the Illilouette Creek was our big obstacle.  Plan B was to hike 7 extra miles to the footbridge below the Glacier Point trailhead but I was reluctant to head that far out of our way.

It took us a few tries and a few dunks in the river for Jack and I but we eventually got a hand line set up.  While we were toiling away several other groups arrived at the bank, watched us struggling, and every single one decided to make other plans.

Using our hand line we carefully ferried across our packs, retrieved the rope, wrung out our socks, and continued on.

From here we had a few minor stream crossings but nothing compared to the Illilouette crossing.  After a mosquito infested yet still relatively pleasant couple of miles and we reached the Clark Fork and left the trail headed east.

This are seems to have been burned a few years back and the combination of downed trees and new vegetation made for slow going.

We had talked about camping at Grayling Lake but ended up stopping short at the camp Jack and I had used back in October since it was flat, we were tired, and it was far down enough we could have a campfire.  We could always relocate further along the following night.

We had a fire and enjoyed the evening only slightly off put by the mosquito hoards.

The next morning we got moving a bit after dawn and started up the gentle forested slopes between us and Clark.

We reached the ridge and had the clear view of the peak that we'd missed last time.  As it turned out we'd been further from the peak than I'd thought.

There wasn't much too the ridge though a few times we were forced on to steeper rock due to the amount of snow along the eastern side.

The guide warned about the 4th class move below the summit but we actually found the awkward and slightly exposed 3rd class bit right below that a bigger issue.  We roped up for both and moved on up to the summit.

Clark still has one of the old school cast summit boxes which are always neat to see.  It was a perfectly clear day and we had a spectacular view over towards Half Dome and the rest of the Yosemite high country.

We were only halfway done for the day so before long we retraced our steps back across the 4th and 3rd class bits.  Our plan was to follow the ridge over to Grey Peak before dropping back down to camp and maybe relocating over towards Ottoway Lakes.

The clearest route involved dropping off the ridge to the south and traversing a large bowl before climbing back up to the ridge right below Grey.  This went smoothly though we had a bit of bushwhacking climbing up to the ridge.

Once on the ridge we kickstepped up a snow bulge and on to the rather nondescript summit ridge.

We had to check a few bumps before we found the one with the summit register.  It was wasn't really higher than anything else up there.

We stopped only briefly since we had several thousand feet to descend back to camp and another big day ahead of us tomorrow.

Grey is listed as a 2nd class walk off and though we didn't really stray into anything I'd call 3rd class it was steep and slow going until we made it back down to the snow below.

We arrived back in camp 15 hours after we'd left tired but victorious.  Relocating camp that night was however out of the question.

After what seemed like a painfully inadequate amount of sleep we were moving again at first light.  After talking it over we decided to take the trail over to Ottoway Lakes instead of trying to shortcut cross country.  We decided this based on how difficult the slog to camp and the river crossing had been but as it turned out we made the wrong decision.

The trail was passable but flooded in multiple locations requiring us to pick our way around.   Once we actually left the Illilouette Creek and started up the Ottoway drainage we ended up rerouting repeatedly around streams too deep to easily cross.

We made it to Ottoway Lakes exhausted and in no shape for the ridge loop required to grab Red & Merced.  Looking at how many miles we'd come already we reluctantly decided it just wasn't feasible.

We discussed running up Red Pass to grab just the easier Red Peak but instead Jack and I promised to lead these two peaks from a different trailhead the following season and we headed back for camp.

We opted for the cross country route back which turned out to be much less circuitous and all around more pleasant than the trail had been.

We reached camp before dark and collapsed around the fire for a few hours before a well earned sleep.

We slept in the next morning and packed up slowly before retracing our steps.

We had an easier time setting up the hand line to cross the Illilouette Creek having had lots of practice on the way in.

And we even managed to see another bear while climbing the last hill before the trailhead.

We ended up going back in September of 2012 to grab Red and Ottoway.  We took a longer approach in from the south and had a good solid 3 day trip out of it.

The original plan of a 4 day Clark, Grey, Red, and Merced would absolutly have worked with a few changes.  First off obviously not having every creek overflowing would have cut out a lot of wasted time and energy.  Second we should have camped closed to our original plan of Grayling Lake which would have put us a little more central for the third day.  And of course we shouldn't have made the mistake of taking the longer trail around to Ottoway instead of what turned out to be very mild cross country.

The entire trip (well all three it ended up taking to clear out this ridge) was spectacular and I'd do them again in a heartbeat.

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  1. Hi! I know you posted this, um, 12 years ago, but I'm trying to learn more for an October trip. We're interested four peaks/four days as well, but my thought for a basecamp had been Lower Ottoway Lake, hiking in from the south. The Mono Meadows approach looked pretty tedious/bushwhacky from the description on Summitpost, while approaching from Chiquito Pass would be slightly longer but almost entirely on trail. Do you think it would be feasible to use Lower Ottoway Lake as a basecamp for all four peaks? Also, it sounds as though you used the SE Arete, but the "step-across" that I've read so much about passed without comment! Would you say the route rates as Class 4? We find Class 4...exciting, a bit scary at times...

    Thanks for any tips!

    1. Matt here, can’t seem to get it to let me comment as myself on my phone. I’ve done this Peak a few times over the years but only ever used Mono. It’s a convenient trailhead and I like to get away from the busier trails to camp. The step across is 4th class. It’s just a single move but awkward and it’s over a rather large drop. There’s also some 3rd class right before that to get up to the ridge that can take some extra care. Fun peak though