Mount Clark, Mount Starr King
By: David Underwood
I scheduled this with Randall Danta as a four day trip but did not get any signups. I do not know if it was the $40 insurance fee, the wrong week end or that several trips to Starr King had already been scheduled this year. Whatever the case, this turned out to be a solo of both peaks. Both peaks are fun climbs, but I found Mt. Clark to be the greater challenge, not for the technical difficulty but because of the approach and route finding.I left for Yosemite on Thursday morning in order to be able to pick up my permit a day early. I got the permit at Wawona about noon and then spent the rest of the day in the valley watching the climbers on the walls and having lunch at the village. Late in the afternoon I headed for Glacier point where I cooked a meal on the tailgate of my truck in the parking area, and looked at stars through the telescopes of some amateur astronomers. When it looked like the crowd had cleared out for the night I crawled into my camper shell and went to sleep for the night. I had the windows covered and no one bothered me. Camping is not allowed but I hoped that anyone seeing my truck would think that I was already on the trail.I started off down the Panorama Trail about 7:30 a.m; it is a mile longer than from Mono Meadow, but the view is great. You can see the waterfalls and the face of Half Dome as you descend to Illilouette creek. I took about two hours to the crossing on the big logs. From there I took the trail toward Clark Fork of Illilouette creek. As I walked below Starr King, I kept looking for an opening to get closer to the peak. About 400 yards past the junction of the trail going back toward the falls that is just south of the peak labeled 7669, I found a break in the trees and headed for the south east side of the peak. I found a granite slab that is free of the manzanita that is so prevalent and climbed that to the small creek that shows on the map as starting just behind the east dome. There I found a nice campsite with good water and a terrific view of the Clark Range. It only took an hour to get to the face of Starr King from here in the morning by continuing up the slope and walking over the south dome to the notch at the face of the peak. I was to meet another climber there, but when he did not show up by 9:00, I decided to solo the route. I had been studying the route for an hour and had a pretty good feeling as to how I would attack it.I had a 50 meter 9mm rope and several pieces of iron for pro. From the top of the big crack I headed directly up to the first crack where I placed a camelot. I roped in and by using a figure eight belay ring, I sell-belayed to the left to the prominent dihedral. There I placed a large hex and then swung back to retrieve my cam. Then I climbed to the top of the dihedral where I could place a sling around a large horn. That was the steepest part of the climb and probably could rate a 5.3. From this point the climbing is much easier as there are cups in the rock and it is almost a walk to the big ledge that is off to the right of the dihedral. From this ledge there is a small boulder move onto the upper face and a walkup from there. Getting down is quite easy. There is a large chock stone on the ledge and someone had left a big hex there. They also left a couple of rap rings so I used one of the rings and a piece of sling to get to the top of the dihedral where I used the other ring with the sling that I had placed there to get off the face.I went back to camp. picked up my gear, and headed back down to the trail. About a quarter mile up the trail, I spotted a group of large rocks that looked like a good place to hide my climbing gear. This relieved me of at least l5 pounds of gear as the rope is about seven pounds by itself. I kept a long sling for emergencies and continued to the crossing at Clark Fork of Illilouette Creek. I left the trail here and started through the trees keeping the creek on my·left.The forest here is primeval and presents some real challenges. The trees are thick and there are section where fallen trees block the way at every turn. I elected to try to pack as high as I could get in order to try to get the peak early the next morning. It was hard to judge distance, and I could not see any peaks for orientation. I had to rely on my altimeter to judge my location. About 6:00 p.m. I reached the marsh that show on the map at 8200 feet. It is larger than it looks on the map and swarms with mosquitoes. I crossed the creek here and finally found a campsite at 8400 feet with just enough room for one tent but good water and of course lots of mosquitoes.The next morning I looked around and decided that I might have a hard time finding this site again. I packed up and carried my pack following the ridge until the timber thinned out and I started to get glimpses of the Clark Range. I left the pack at about 9800 feet and continued up the ridge and made some prominent duck's along the way. This turned out to be a wise move as I would find out later. I finally reached the tree line where there is a large sandy plateau. The walk to the southeast ridge of Mt. Clark is straight forward but the route up the peak is not. The Guide books say that one of the approaches is from the south east ridge, but what they do not say is that you go through the notch that is closest to the gendarmes and traverse to the east side of the peak then climb almost directly to a ledge system on the peak. If you go right to the northwest side, you can squeeze through a small chimney. If you go left you get to do the famous open traverse. Just reach around and you will find a good hand hold. Swing across, and a short third class route takes you to the top. MT. Clark certainly has one of the best views in the Sierra from here. Also one of the more challenging but rewarding routes that I have done.
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