Crossing Creeks and Country for Clark and Gray

16-19 Jun 2005 - by Ron Hudson

Thursday morning we ten started on the Mono Meadows trail (Glacier Point road) in Yosemite. After 3 miles the dreaded Illilouette Creek crossing was boldly tested in a dunking by one of us, but the creek was flowing high, fast, and cold this high snowfall winter. So we proceeded another 3 miles through fire-scarred areas on the Buena Vista Creek trail to where the creek was nearby, and appeared relatively tame near a bend and flatter area. The crossing was about thigh-deep with moderate flow; and ski poles made the cold crossing fairly stable and safe. Separate shoes for the slippery rocks helped. We then continued x-c over and around two ridges to the Red Creek drainage, proceeded east up the drainage, along the top of a ridge, and ended up at our planned camp at Grayling Lake. There was hardly any snow until about 8500'. At the 8700' lake there were plenty of spots for our tents on dry ground.. A 9 hour day to get there. Meals and a fire were enjoyed until snowflakes began to fall with the low pressure system that had been stalking the Sierra. We heard the flurries on our tents through the night. By the next morning there was about 1/2 inch of snow that melted very quickly from the ground.

The new white stuff on the peaks above prompted us to wait and rest a while. I didn't want to do 2nd and 3rd class on slippery rocks in the wind. By the afternoon the snow had melted, but we just spent the time at camp around the lake, eating by the campfire, and telling mountain stories.

Thoroughly rested, on Saturday we went for Clark. More x-c through the forest and around ridges, with crossing streams on logs, we went to the peak's base via the Gray Creek drainage. Snow was deep above 10,000' but consolidated, except on steep rocky areas as the peaks and ridge tops, where it often was bare. Some class 2-3 got us to a notch, we then opted to belay along a ledge on the east side of the ridge before the summit; it had a 4th class move, and we did this to avoid steep hard snow. Next was 3rd class rock and some snow with ax and crampons. Then it was climbing mostly 3rd class about 120' belayed this took a while -- 10 people one at a time with two 4th class moves, ending just 20' below the summit. We reached the summit in 5 hours from camp Enjoyed the views, but clouds began rising to the summits so we got off the peak soon but downclimbing belayed one by one again. We managed to avoid the ledge belay by downclimbing and traversing the steep snow; which was softer and safer in the afternoon. The snow slope below us was spectacular, dropping down 1500' very steeply to the frozen lakes below.

Gray Peak loomed to the south, and enthusiasm was rampant, so we went for it even though the time was 3 PM. Two did opt to retreat back to camp without Gray. I had studied a route for Gray while on Clark through the talus, snowfields, scrub trees, steep snow slope, then final rocky ridge to the top. It took only 2 hours from Clark. At the summit the 8 of us could see Yosemite Falls in its full splendor at high snowmelt, and waves of peaks blanketed in snow all around. Then the 3 hours back down the high slopes via the Red Creek drainage, and amid clouds on loose talus, snow slopes, deadfall, avalanche debris, and myriad snowmelt creeks, put us back at camp at 8 pm.

With hot water and a warm fire waiting for us, it was well-earned relaxation after the 141/2 hour day. Then a well deserved sleep. Two left early to go for Red and Merced on their own, and us other 8 went back the way we came the next day, taking 7 hours for the return. The big creek crossing was still ice-cold, but went OK.

We had a strong and qualified group: 3 E and 3 M rated leaders, 4 climbers new to SPS, but skilled on snow 3 of them well on their way to their leader rating, having passed their snow checkouts already. We had a very congenial group, and it was nice to have both young and old hands on this exposed and challenging early season trip (Tioga Pass was still closed). It was also fun navigating cross country through the deep forest. Participants on this Angeles Chapter Sierra Club SPS trip were leader Ron Hudson, asst leader Patty Rambert, Randall and Darrick Danta, Barbee and Larry Tidball, John Cheslick, Jeff Dhungana, Alex Smirnoff, and Shane Smith.

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