Mount Clark, Gray Peak, Red Peak, Merced Peak
By: Igor Mamedalin
The objective for this trip was to climb Mt. Clark (11,522'), Grey Peak (11,573'), Red Peak (11,699') and Merced Peak (11,726') in the Clark Range of Yosemite. To avoid paying the exorbitant Yosemite National Park entrance fee and listening to the mandatory lecture safe food handling procedures in a bear habitat, the leader chose to approach these peaks from the Quartz Mountain / Chiquito Pass trailhead in the Sierra National Forest at the southern boundary of Yosemite NP. Reserving the permit through the USFS was not a problem at a remote trailhead without a daily quota. Picking up the permit proved to be a different matter.
Arriving in Oakhurst Friday at 3 PM was a shock; traffic was already dense along the main drag lined with endless fast food joints, strip malls and motels. Oakhurst has become another example of an uncontrolled sprawling eye sore; it is not an idyllic alpine gateway to Yosemtie. After cruising up and down the main drag several times looking for that quaint dark brown wooden building with an American flag out front that had been the sacrosanct symbol of the official Forest Service ranger station, I surrendered and asked for direction. The permit dispensing station was housed in a nondescript strip mall across the Street from the Shilo Inn and shared quarters with a tourist office and real estate office. And, there was no flagpole in front with an American flag on it! What is this country coming to? Is this another example of privatization and outsourcing of essential government services? Where is the pride?
To reach the trailhead, head north from Oakhurst about 3.8 miles past Yosemite Forks to the junction with Forest Road 10 (a.k.a. Sky Ranch Road). The FR1O signage is missing but the sign for the Sky Ranch is prominent. Turn east and drive for about 27 miles past Kelty Meadows and Fresno Dome campgrounds to its end at the trailhead. The road is partially dirt but graded for passenger cars. Near Kelty Meadows bear left at a major fork while near Fresno Dome bear right avoiding numerous forks to the left. Signage is sparse and a Sierra National Forest Map is extremely useful. Several vehicles were found at this remote trailhead; most of them belonged to a CCC trail crew. Five trip participants arrived that night at the trailhead; the sixth participant arrived in the morning.
Saturday morning we waited until 8:30 AM for the 7th participant to show up; they turned out to be a dreaded no show (to be blacklisted in the SPS database). Striking out from the Quartz Mountain trailhead on a good well signed trail we reached the NP boundary at Chiquito Pass in less than .75 miles and entered Yosemite without paying a fee. From Chiquito Pass we head north on a trail toward the Chain Lakes creek drainage then on through Moraine Meadows and over Merced Pass. On the north side of Merced Pass we joined a trail leading northeast toward Lower Ottaway Lake. After 13 miles and about 2,500' elevation gain we reached our base camp before sundown. Lower Ottaway Lake proved to be about the most picturesque lake that I have ever had the privilege to camp at. No bears were spotted during our stay there.
Sunday morning we continued on the trail toward Red Peak Pass leaving the trail where it becomes level with Upper Ottaway Lake. Heading south around the outlet from Upper Ottaway Lake over some talus we gained the prominent saddle between Ottaway Peak and Merced Peak. From the saddle four of the participants headed up a low 3rd class ridge to gain the summit of Merced Peak while Terry Turner and Suzanne Mamedalin lingered in the fine sunshine soaking in the views. After Merced Peak the four peak baggers traversed northwest across open slabs toward Red Peak staying high above Upper Ottaway Lake. Crossing the trail just below Red Peak Pass we headed straight up Red Peak staying on talus and scree west of some prominent gendarmes. From the summit of Red Peak, to save distance, the leader persuaded the group to drop directly down toward our camp at Lower Ottaway Lake instead of retracing the route back to the trail. The direct route down proved to be quite unstable with numerous blocks of talus easily dislodged. Nonetheless, with some cursing and a couple of near misses everyone arrived in camp safely before sundown and in time for happy hour. Terry Turner, one of the peakiess participants, sprained her knee on the way back from Upper Ottaway Lake and was nursing it with ibuprofen and cold water (no ice in the vicinity).
After the two peak day everyone earnestly assessed their state of wellbeing and the topographic to arrive at the conclusion that the group was not in the mood to move the base camp to the vicinity of Mt. Clark. Mt. Clark was to be saved for another day. On Monday morning Bruce Turner decided to walk Terry Turner out to the trailhead early due to the swollen and painful knee. The leaders and Herb Beuhier decided to make a stab at Grey Peak from our base camp at Lower Ottaway Lake. Heading north to a prominent saddle between point 11093' and point 11304' we made good time and gained the saddle easily. However, from the saddle we observed a significant drop with crud filled chutes to the drainage between Grey and Red peaks. Again after diligently assessing our wellbeing and counting the numerous contour lines we concluded that obviously Grey Peak would go real well with Mt. Clark at a later date. From the saddle at 10,800' a drop to 9,600' was anticipate before a 2000' gain to the summit of Grey Peak. After climbing point 11093' for a view we descended back to camp for a leisurely afternoon.
Tuesday morning we broke camp and retraced our steps back to the trailhead. Along the way we encountered a large trail crew hewing stone in the hot sun to build a formidable trail to Lower Ottaway Lake opening it up in the future to equestrians and packers. Sad, another remote relatively pristine spot of a paradise to be overrun, overused and destroyed. During our whole time at Ottaway Lakes we encountered only a few members of the trail crew on their day off bagging Red and Merced Peak.
I appreciate the faith in my leadership exhibited by the participants and I thank David Underwood for the excellent assistance and superb comradery. I apologize for the unwarranted expectations vainly raised in the hope of claiming the other two elusive summits.
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