Kaweah Group Climbs Mount Clark In Yosemite WTC Experience Trip

  • Updated: September 26, 2016
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

September 24th to 26th, 2016
Mount Clark (11,522')

I climbed Clark before a few years back and it always stood out at one of the more spectacular climbs in the Yosemite high country.  Which is saying something considering it's Yosemite!

It's not an easy climb requiring a few exposed 3rd / 4th ish class moves near the summit and Sierra Club currently classifies it as an E rated trip.  However they're allowing it to be led by one E rated leader and one M with significant experience.

So after getting Laurent on board I pitched it as an end of season Kaweah reunion trip for those who did other trips with us during the summer and nearly everyone signed up.  Then some canceled and we took a few more.
If you're looking at doing this trip please be aware a normal group of 14 people doing this peak would be against the Yosemite permit rules which limit backcountry travel to groups of 8 or less.  We had two separate permits, for two separate trailheads, and the groups functioned independently except for a very dispersed camping area and the rock section immediately under the peak.

As usual we left after work and didn't pull into our bivy spot at the Mono Meadows trailhead until 2 am or so.  And after a few restless hours trying to sleep while having a rather large amount of coffee still in my system.

Saturday: Permits And The Hike In

Kristen and I were up pre dawn and drove down to the Valley to pick up our permits.  We'd invited Laurent and a few others but they seemed happy to sleep in.

Yosemite seems to purposefully make getting around via car in the valley difficult in an attempt to limit traffic and the situation has gotten much worse due to construction.  So it took even longer than expected to find a place to park so we could jump on a shuttle and ride over to the permit office.  (Someday I'll start getting these at Wawona or elsewhere)

We did manage to sneak in a breakfast stop while we waited for the office to open.

Note all the dead trees from the drought / bark beetle
We picked up our permits once the office opened and were pleasantly surprised to learn fires were currently allowed within the usual elevation bands.  I'd assumed due to the drought they'd be restricted but I was happy to be proven wrong.

We returned to Mono to find out combined group all present and looking annoying well rested compared to how we felt.  After a brief chat and signing of the usual Sierra Club paperwork our two groups waved goodbye.

I took the group out of Glacier Point with Matt Kraai while Laurent took the rest in via Mono Meadows with Kristen.  That meant Laurent and Kristen had a fair head start on us and had a few less miles.

And we had to deal with parking at Glacier Point.  I'd never seen it this bad but then again I'm usually only here early in the day while running off into the backcountry.  There was a solid line of cars going around the entire circle and cars parked back along the road at every turnout.  I lucked out and managed to snag a park while Matt Kraai behind me grabbed a spot in front of the bathroom after someone moved the cones.

There were hoards of people everywhere and we were delayed by the long lines at the bathrooms as we attempted to get everyone moving.

We finally got everyone sorted and I charged down the trail hoping to escape the crowds.

Half Dome on the left and Mount Clark on the right.  Massive hoards of tourists not pictured right behind me
At first there were still people every 5 steps including one gentleman hiking with his wife who was so amazed by our group sporting ropes and helmets that he took about 30 selfies of himself with us walking behind him.

Crossing the Illilouette was a breeze as it usually is late in the season.  (I've been through here on a high snow year where we had to use ropes.)

We continued on the trail on the far side and met the Mono group at our designated linkup point.  We said hello and they set off cross country while we took off in a different direction planning to meet at camp.

The cross country section was easier than I remembered from last time I was out this way.  I recalled running over endless logs and crawling through bushes but we seemed to mostly avoid that.

I'm not sure if things improved in the last few years or if I just properly lowered expectations warning everyone the last few miles would be hell.

We arrived at a place I'd stayed before and established our camp across a wide area.  There's no real reason to use that particular location but it's suitable isolated, there's water and plenty of camping space scattered about, and even more importantly there's a fire pit.

Sunday: Summit Day

Since we had a big day ahead of us we were up pre dawn and moving at first light.  Again the two groups moved along different routes staying in communication along the way.

Breakfast in camp

We filled up water fairly low since I didn't know when the creek would run out and then aimed for the base of a ridge that would take us up to the shoulder of Clark.

We could see it towering above us though the actual summit is difficult to pick out this close.

We saw the second group below us at this point which threw a slight wrench into my plan of setting the ropes before they arrived.

This is the view when you cross the ridge south of Clark.  Staying high makes things a bit more interesting then we wanted so there's some light 3rd class scrambling to get over to the route.

We set everyone up on a ledge below the 3rd -ish section leading back up to the ridge.

Laurent led the pitch and established a belay / rappel anchor here.  It was convenient because there's a location to the right of that rock where we could safely stack people up for the next section...

Which is the 4th class stepacross.  Which is a bit more than a stepacross now that I was seeing it again.

Fortunately there's this beautiful belay anchor position on the far side that's a breeze to set up.  Using one of my 30m ropes we were able to do a munter belay from the other anchor and still have enough at the end to retrieve the rope.

First we had to get over there and we used a small ledge to the right before the crux to set an anchor to belay across.

Not pictured to the left: A really big drop

There's only one real move (the step across) while the stuff on either side is a solid ish sidewalk with handholds that just happened to have a rather large drop off to the side.  The step across itself really isn't difficult either it's just awkward.  And a fall would probably send you a good ways down the western face of the peak.

As I belayed people across we had them go high and low and every variation in between to varying degrees of success.  A festive conversation debating the merits of each sprung up from the people already across.

All but two people made it across and from there it's a quick scramble to the summit.

Reversing the 4th class stepacross while on belay was a little easier and we had everyone rappel down the 3rd class section.

Laurent and I came down last and hustled to get everyone back to the notch while we still had daylight.

We hiked the last few miles in the dark navigating by GPS and everyone was quite happy when we reached camp sometime around 11.

A few people went to bed but the rest of us set up and cooked dinner before turning in for a well earned rest.

Monday: And Out

Kristen would like to state that the flask contains coffee.  Or so she claims...
We left camp by 7:30 am again splitting into separate groups and retracing the routes we'd taken in.

Both groups came out at Mono Meadows mostly because I was really hoping we'd see a bear.  This used to be one of those dependable places for me (like Panther Gap) where every trip out we'd see at least one but not this time.

Connie in front of Mount Starr King
One last view of Clark from near the trailhead

We retrieved the cars from Glacier Point while we waited for the other group to arrive and then drove to Oakhurst for traditional celebratory post trip mexican food at El Cid.

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