| Nothing Clever, Just Clark
July 30 & 31, 2011
Climbers: Carson Black & Darin Baker
Clark Peak A (13,580’)
Carson Black approaching the west ridge of Clark Peak
Trailhead: Capitol Creek (same TH/approach used for Capitol Peak)
Route: W ridge
Distance: ~12mi (RT for backpack); ~4mi (RT for summit climb—not counting first day attempt)
Elevation Gain: ~2400’ (for backpack); ~2300’ (for summit climb—not counting first day attempt)
Gear: pack w/Essentials, overnight gear, ice axe, helmet
Resources Used For Trip Planning: Mike Garratt & Bob Martins’ Colorado’s High Thirteeners guidebook, NOAA forecast (for which sometimes the forecast needs to be ignored), TOPO! mapping software
Clark Peak is located near the infamous 14er, Capitol Peak. The latter peak has the reputation for being one of the harder 14ers, and its often talked about ‘knife-edge’ grabs the attention of many. Capitol Peak grabs your attention for many other reasons as well, foremost in my mind is its striking beauty.
Capitol Peak in the distance on the approach to camp
It still amazes me that there are people out there that have skied down Capitol, and others that have traversed from Capitol to Snowmass. Impressive feats for sure, but alas, this report is not about Capitol. This report is about its less popular neighbor, Clark.
Clark Peak is ranked 198th (per Garratt & Martin's guidebook) and was one of four remaining peaks Carson had left in the Top 200, otherwise known as bicentennial peaks. In Garratt & Martins’ guidebook they write, “its remoteness and the rugged climb makes its ascent a jewel for experienced mountaineers.” By the end of our trip, Carson said he was happy and quite satisfied to have had this peak as one of his remaining bi-centennials, due to the fun scrambling that we found on the long west ridge. And yeah, the beauty of the area didn’t hurt either!
Carson and I met up at the TH on Friday night, where we van-camped (in his Westfalia, the
King of all car-camping vehicles) so we could still get a relatively early start on Saturday to pack into camp. That’s an alpine start of 7am, ish.
Reflections on the Capitol Creek ditch trail
The weather forecast for the weekend was anything but promising, with 60-70% chance of thunderstorms, mostly after noon, and some chance in the evenings too. Typical Colorado monsoon season forecast, right? And just in time for the weekend!
The long ridge climbs to get to the summit of Clark is not a place to be in bad weather. Lichen covers the boulders that are stacked and jumbled together on this route, and a storm with wet rock would likely be a scary experience.
But sit home because of a weather forecast? No. Alter plans? No, not this time.
Instead, we figured we could still go in and see what happens.
Well hello there Sunshine
Well, on the approach, we had a beautiful blue sky with very thin and sparse clouds, and no cumulous clouds could be seen at 10:30am or so. I suggested to Carson that we consider an attempt that day if the sky still looked good when we got to camp.
Into camp 5 by 11am, tent set up, additional water treated, and we were heading out for our (first) attempt at Clark Peak.
Hiking up the slopes above camp, en route to the saddle between Mount Daly and K2
At the saddle for Mount Daly & K2, we could see some clouds off to the E, some to the S (or at least as much as we could see), and not much to the W. It looked like a go!
View of Clark Peak from the saddle of Daly & K2
In the above photo, the ridge in the foreground is our first destination, aiming for the low point in the saddle. This ridge runs SW-erly and we would use that to gain Pt 13,200’, and then head SE to the saddle, and finally onto the W ridge of Clark.
From the saddle of Daly & K2, we used the same trail that is used to approach Capitol, which is a SE descending traverse. We came to a narrow gully filled with snow, but we missed an opportunity to drop down sooner. At this point, I put on my helmet before we went down class 3 rock to get into the gully. The snow was firm, but bootable. I was thankful for my ice axe in this section though. A slip here could end badly.
Back on rock, we continued our traverse, crossed a couple low-angle snowfields, and soon we were boulder hopping across the basin heading toward our access point in our first ridge.
Looking up at the first ridge we had to gain
A closer look at our intended access point, aiming for the low point and to the right of the pyramid-shaped rock block that is center of photo
Our entry point was accessed via rampy ledge system of class 3 terrain, with solid rock.
Carson coming through the ledges
A view of the approach to K2 & Capitol
We gained the ridge around 2pm, and took a short break before going up the ridge. The weather to our S wasn’t looking promising anymore, but we continued on while keeping an eye on the development of the clouds.
Clark Peak, with clouds building
Immediately this ridge was an interesting and fun scramble, on better rock than I expected too! However, with the impending weather becoming more of a threat than a concern, we turned around.
2:46pm, and we’re turning back
An hour later we were descending the Daly & K2 saddle, and the skies had yet to unleash. But we both knew we made the right decision. The question was, “will the weather forecast come true and rain through the night, making the rock wet for tomorrow’s attempt?”
Capitol Lake, with the reflection of Pt 12,751’
With the clouds overhead, it helped diffuse the sunlight, enabling me to get at least a couple of flower photos….
Some white flowery weed
And of course, a columbine
It did eventually rain, within 30 minutes of being in camp. Time for a nap….
The Climb—2nd Attempt
At 4am, Carson looked outside the tent, and could see clear skies and the Milky Way. It’s a go! Again.
We were on the trail by 5am-ish, and there was a little something to look forward to once at the top of the pass.
The Moods of a Sunrise
Watching the sun rise while above treeline is special!! That’s the way to start a day!
Alpen-glow on snow
Carson and I made our way along our familiar track from the day before, but this time we took snow as high as we could to gain our same access point along the ridge.
In the above photo, the access point is in the center of the picture, and to the right of the pyramid-shaped rock block tower (on looker’s left) as mentioned earlier in the report.
Back on the ridge once again, we put away axes and got out the shades, cuz’ we’re about to have a nice two hour scramble!
In places, this first ridge offers some exposed scrambling: edges for hands, smears for the feet—similar to that of the knife-edge on Capitol.
And there would be several more places like this on our route! Other places we had narrow exposed ledges to traverse on. And the huge blocks, that are mostly stable, varied in what kind of technique to use to get over or around them. Solid, flakey slabs were a common feature to find as well.
Edges & Smears
(Note: picture taken on descent)
En route to ~Pt 13,200’
Our destination to the SE, Clark Peak
On top of ~Pt 13,200’ at 7:30am-ish, with impressive views of the Capitol-to-Snowmass ridgeline
From that little blocky summit, we descended to the SE towards the saddle for the scramble up the W ridge of Clark.
Starting the W ridge of Clark
Starting off from the saddle, we went out on the N face a little, staying below the ridge proper. Both work though, because on our descent we stayed mostly on the ridge to the saddle.
Rocky, blocky terrain on the N side of the W ridge
Narrow ridge scrambling on the W ridge
Mount Daly (13,300’) and Moon Lake
Summit at 9am-ish, and the weather is fantastic!!
Aside from the bad stitch, I like this photo….
Friends in the Elk Range
This is Me(sorry!)
The summit of Clark probably sees few visitors, if the register is any indication. The traditional CMC register had been placed in 2003, and only the first page and a half were signed. However the register was soaked, and has been for at least a year, according to a new and different register that was placed by Jennifer & Gerry Roach. Their register noted the old soaked one, and their register only had two other names since they placed it on the summit in August of 2010.
Regardless, it was a fun scramble to get there! In fact, I haven’t been on a scramble like this in a while. This route, in my opinion, demands a lot of focus due to the exposure, and the variety of moves required to get around and over obstacles. The climbing itself is not particularly hard, even though I probably did some low 5th class moves (because it was there). West ridge of Clark = Fun!
On our descent, we retraced most of our steps, with the exception of contouring across the face of Pt 13,200’. This shortcut went well, but it is the one place that I did knock down a rock or two down the slabs that are in the center of this face.
Carson finds a nifty perch on our descent
The shortcut across the face of 13,200’
11:44am, and we’re back at the Daly & K2 saddle.
3 more peaks, my Friend.
Capitol Lake Blues
What’s a report of this area without this shot?
This is a bug’s view. Poor bug.
Thanks for reading,
Hindsight & Personal Notes
I’ll admit it; looking at the ridges leading to Clark was intimidating. But once we got on them and started moving through the terrain, it became easier than it looks, which is sometimes if not often the case. As I said, I think the route commands one’s care and focus. A fall on this ridge would likely be bad. If you don’t fall off the ridge all together (there’s big drops lurking), it could be easy to fall in a hole/gap between rocks and a rescue would be difficult. But let’s not talk about that.
I’ve been on several trips with Carson over the past few years as we ticked away at his dwindling list, and it’s been a fun & great experience! When I first started putting his short-list on my list, I wasn’t too interested in bi-centennials. But as I’ve climbed probably a dozen or so bicentennials with him, I realize how fun they can be! The bi-centennial list is now something that I have added to my own goals, albeit they’re a very long term goal.
To me, what’s more important is just getting out to the mountains!
And I hope to see you out there….
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):