Peak(s):  Clark Peak - 12951
Date Posted:  04/15/2014
Date Climbed:   04/11/2014
Author:  Dave B
Additional Members:   clemsonmtneer
 Kentucky Fried Ski Line   

Clark Peak - 12,951 ft

Roundtrip distance: 12.2 miles
Elevation gain: 3700 feet
Miles skinned: 10ish

Other than being the envy of your friends, getting the best tables at the best restaurants, box seats at your favorite sporting event and the swooning admiration of all members of the opposite sex; one of the greatest benefits of being a ski mountaineer is that, after summiting, you don't have to walk back to your car. Instead, you get to click-in and shoosh effortlessly back the way you came, arcing beautiful turns through silken snow with a smile on your face and not another care in the world.


Irony is hiking down a snow slope with skis on your back (Photo: Alan)

Alan and I had communicated all week, watching the weather and trying to decide on a ski objective. Initially CAIC reports and weather forecasts were hinting at the Front Range and Vail/Summit going green leading us to fantasize about which gnar lines we were going to go schralp the crap out of. However, as the week progressed, the persistent winds coupled with warm temps and a wide-spread dust layer created a situation that was a bit too complex for steep lines to fit into our range of acceptable risks. Thus, we began to consider what our plan B would be. We wanted a route that wasn't too long, nor too far from the Front Range. We'd both talked about Clark Peak previously - the high point of the Medicine Bow range - and after some google-sleuthing, map deciphering and CAIC interpreting we figured we could piece together a safe summit descent even if it would be an entirely contrived line. Further, we figured we could make a decent tour of it, heading in the Sawmill Creek drainage and then deproaching via the Blue Lakes Trail - which is so heavily used it'll be "super easy to find on the way down, brah," said I.

Alan met me at my house in Fort Collins at 4:30, just about the same time my suck-at-life next door neighbors wrapped up another of their drunken parties that so well showcase the love that young people have for loud crappy music, beer pong and yelling. We loaded up my taco and hit the road shortly thereafter, Cameron Pass bound.

The skin in was quite nice, the basin surrounding Clark Peak and Pt.'s 12390 and 12386 is beautiful. Endless expanses of open alpine terrain providing views that rival just about any 13er, 14er, centennial, hetero or bicentennial that I have seen. As we skinned we eye-balled numerous fun looking lines and began scheming for a return. The approach mostly follows a road that peters-out shortly after crossing Sawmill Creek. At this point we began a slightly ascending traverse towards a low point on the ridge that separate the two drainages, bushwhacking was minimal but always present to some degree. As we reached the snow slope where we planned to gain the ridge we discovered the snow was bullet proof(ish) - or at least the top three inches were. We didn't have ski crampons and after a few unsuccessful skin attempts resulting in hilarity, we decided to boot up the short slope. Never before has booting 200 vertical feet been so demoralizing and exhausting. But whatevs, we were one the ridge now.

Approaching the alpine basin, Clark Peak on the right (Photo: Dave)

Alan observing what has become a future objective (Dave)

Booting up a short icy/crusty snow slope (Alan)

From the ridge, we skinned a convoluted route up benches and shallow slopes, switch-backing here and there to avoid crossing, over/under/within the myriad wind-loaded slopes. Out route took us past a frozen lake and finally onto the southern side of Clark Bowl. As we neared the ridge the winds picked up and we began to see puffs of spin drift erupting from the ridgeline.

Once at the apex of Clark Bowl the route followed the ridgeline north, past a false summit to the top of Clark Peak. After a quick Butterfinger break we skinned up the ridgeline aiming for a bench below (what appeared to be) a continuous snow field off of the false summit. Upon reaching the bench, however we realized there was a substantial 200' section that was blown dry before a shorter section of 30+ degree snow up to the false summit. By this time we were beginning to feel the full brunt of the wind. Alan was pretty keen on skiing the snow slope from the summit. I was, as usual, feeling lazy and not a bit like carrying skis on my pack with a 40 mph side wind. At the same time I couldn't find anywhere to stash my skis where I wouldn't be worried about them blowing away, so screw it, we'll ski the slope. As we climbed we encountered horrible snow conditions, a mixture of crust and wind slab over 1-3' of the most faceted crap you'd ever seen. As we continued upwards so did we westward towards an exposed rock and ice rib that provided a bit more safety than the rotten snow pack with multiple rollovers.

Alan skins past a frozen lake (Dave)

More skinning (Alan)

Approaching the bench on the summit ridge (Alan)

Alan with the final ridgeline ahead (Dave)

Booting up the crappy snow field to the false summit (Dave)

Not too much later we stood on the summit, bracing against a steady 40 mph wind. The hood on my jacket flapped against my head with the tempo and volume of the rotor of a Huey. We lingered long enough to grab a picture of each other where we actually irked out a smile. We hiked down the ridge back to the top of the bench and clicked in for our ski.

Two thumbs up for reaching the summit - Rawah Peaks in the background (Alan)

Alan on the summit (Dave)

Nice view of the Never Summers from near the summit (Alan)

The top of the descent was pretty typical for April, satrusgi, breakable crust, yada-yada. The kind of stuff that makes hack skiers like me jump into the back seat and appear as if they just started skiing yesterday. There was, however, an exquisite stretch of corn snow from about 11,500 feet down to 11,400 feet that brought a temporary smile to the both of our faces. It wouldn't last very long though.

After clicking in a nice view into RMNP with Longs off in the distance (Alan)

Skiiiiing! (Alan)

Alan droping in while avoiding a few isolated loaded spots (Dave)

Alan powers through some marginal snow conditions (Dave)

Moar Skiiiiiiing! (Alan)

Getting into tater land! (Dave)

Once we got near treeline, conditions changed pretty quickly. From top to bottom the snow texture went from Tastey-Freeze to Ben and Jerry's and jumped past mashed potatoes straight to a nice chunky marinara consistency. It's spring, though, right? Soft snow isn't too huge of a deal. The big problem was that the drainage that houses the Blue Lake trail and Fall Creek holds a pretty reliable grade of, oh, 2-3 degrees. While this might be skiable when frozen, add bottomless isothermic crap to the list along with dense forest and consistent deadfall and you are in for a miserable slog. We had hoped to pick up the Blue Lakes trail - which I remembered being rather wide - and follow that back. That was not to be however as we contoured all over the hillside looking for a trail. I'd assumed it would be boot packed, but no such trail emerged. We did happen across a set of snow shoe tracks but the circuitous nature of the path chosen by said shoer had me convinced they were in the woods on a drug induced "vision quest" not a hike with any specific destination. Hard for me to judge though since our path wasn't exactly a direttissima.

We did eventually pick up another faint pair snow shoe tracks and decided we would follow these. However, I won't recount with too much detail that which occurred in the three hours that followed as it would include a lengthy string of expletives and a magnitude of complaining that might tarnish my otherwise fine reputation (some have even deemed it to be barely tolerable). Long story short, 3 hours of skinning downhill through Ragu with the final mile being a glorious kick-in-the-stomach 300 foot elevation gain.

I don't cry much (not because I'm tough, more because Lasik surgery has rendered my eye sockets as dry as a barren desert) but I think I actually shed a tear when I crested the final hill and saw my truck.

Original flavor, because flavoring Pringles is like putting mayonnaise on Filet Mignon...

In all seriousness, this was a fairly nice tour. The scenery leading up to Clark is phenomenal and is only surpassed in quality by the views on the final ridge looking into RMNP (including Longs and the Mummies), the Never Summers, the Park Range, the Flattops and even down to the Gores. Once my legs have recovered, I look forward to another trip up there.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the smarm and sarcasm in black font.

Comments or Questions

04/15/2014 20:38
That snow looks awful. Nice work on a great peak! Not sure about the pringles statement tho.


thank you
04/16/2014 01:45
for using black font, otherwise I would have been clueless. Some good photos of inspiration in there the Never Summer. I need to get there this year.


Dave, you could have borrowed my snowshoes!
04/16/2014 02:47
I enjoyed this and the view of the Never Summers and the plain Original Pringles! well done.


Great write-up Dave!
04/16/2014 04:03
Trying to forget the exit skin from hell, it was nice to finally get up to the Cameron Pass area, and the views we had inspire me to want to get back up there and explore... although preferably far, far away from Blue Lake drainage! From reading other recent TR's, crappy snow and long/miserable slogs apparently were the theme of this past week.

Seems like April often has that weird in-between mix of winter and spring snowpack that doesn't always work out that well for ski mountaineering. Hopefully in a few weeks we'll be in a more normal spring cycle, aside from that damn dust layer rearing its ugly head.


Switch to salt and vinegar...
04/17/2014 14:31
the mountain gods prefer salt and vinegar pringle eaters.

Dave B

Thanks for the comments
04/17/2014 16:45
Forty-twelvers-rule - sure is a great peak, Cameron Pass is overlooked, in the best kind of way.

d_baker - see above, don't overlook the NS, great views and solitude, not from smarm though - but I don't think you ever shy away from that

Dillon - gawd, snowshoes would have upped the suffering level a notch or two although maybe nice in the deadfall. Happy end of tax season!

Alan - don't ever forget! Lines that dump us back at the car will be the in the future as a result, I hope.

Mike - I can't switch, man, I'm addicted to the non-vinegarey salty potato flaky goodness. Although the addition of vinegar is far more acceptable than the chemistry lab that makes up the other flavors. Maybe I'll carry two cans from now on, god knows my backpack is big enough

George James

I've never skied Clark...
04/17/2014 21:49
...and now you know why.

I've been on that 'future objective' as well as other peaks in the area tho, so let me know if you need any beta. I'd be happy to long as you don't write any trip reports.

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