Convoluted Bliss day 7: Red Peak Pass to Mt. Clark

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             day 6

August 9, 2017
It was a nice cool morning as we walked up the Red Peak Pass Trail which was surprisingly well engineered and maintained. About halfway up the final switchbacks, we veered left up some scree to meet up with Red Peak's class 1-2 southeast ridge.

looking up towards Red Peak (false summit)

A splendid view was to be found at Red Peak's summit. The only gloom could be seen towards the west, where a blanket of smoke was hanging over Yosemite Valley 7,500 ft below us. After a few hours, this smoke would rise with the day's updrafts, enveloping us in hazy gloom. For now, we enjoyed the clean crisp Sierra air.

Red Peak summit views

Descending Red Peak's north ridge involved some careful footing on steep talus. It went fairly quickly, and we were slogging up the summit plateau of Snowpatch Peak before we knew it.

looking south from Snowpatch Peak



Red Devil Spur was an interesting feature which spurred off the northeast side of Snowpatch Peak. It took a few minutes to walk down Snowpatch's northeast ridge before leaving our packs at the saddle before Red Devil Spur.

The first three quarters up Red Devil Spur's southwest ridge was straightforward talus hopping, with the last bit growing more interesting as a class 3 knife edge. This involved a loose and enjoyable scramble which spit us out right on the summit. Someone had placed a register in 2006 claiming first ascent, which I thought was BS.

Red Devil Spur summit views

Back at the saddle, we re-shouldered our heavy packs and slogged across Snowpatch Peak's north side to regain the main ridge. This terrain was mostly made up of crud and kitty litter which had several rocks come flying out from under our feet. It didn't take very long to slog up the next peak as well (Grayling) which was the highpoint of a broad ridge just south of Gray Peak.

The ridge between Graying and Gray contained a series of loose pinnacles which were not fun to climb. Most people in the past had just dropped all the way down to a multitude of lakes on the west side of the ridge before ascending Gray Peak separately. In the spirit of traversing, we stuck closer to this ridge. Seeing different routes of optimality through this section, Toshi and Sean remained west of the pinnacles on some slabs 300 ft below the ridge. I descended one of several loose chutes to the east until I was 200 ft below the ridge, then paralleled the ridge upwards through class 3 and soft snow until I reached a portion where the pinnacles vanished. We arrived at the eastern highpoint (the one officially labeled "Gray Peak" on the 7.5' topo) at similar times. A register could be found on the western highpoint which was a short scramble away.

east side of pinnacles

west summit seen from east summit

east summit seen from west summit

looking north

Sean and Toshi glissaded down the north side of Gray Peak as I walked down beside their track, still shaken by memories of a close call glissade accident earlier that summer. At the next saddle, we stopped for a while to melt snow and eat, making just enough water to hopefully reach Mt. Clark.

The next peak (Adair) was a quick rock hopping ascent up its south ridge. Its summit views were blah, mostly due to smoke.

summit of Adair Peak

The ridge between Adair and Blocky Ridge peak wasn't hard, but tedious as it involved weaving through a series of 10 ft pinnacles and brush. I mostly zoned out here, gazing down into hazy valleys while subconsciously orienting myself towards the next peak.

summit of Blocky Ridge Peak

Descending Blocky Ridge Peak's short northwest ridge turned out to be the technical crux of the traverse (class 4-5). From the summit, we descended boulders about 30 ft northwards until a large obvious downward sloping ramp branched out to the left (northwest). Toshi explored the end of this ramp, finding a cliff-out. About 20 ft before the cliff-out, I clambered 30 ft up some class 4-5 to the ridge crest, seeing something that might work down the west side. Upon seeing this, Toshi quickly climbed up and was over the ridge in a jiffy. Sean and I then followed him down a class 4-5 chimney system which was mostly solid, eventually zigzagging northwest out of the chimney as it suddenly dropped. This spit us out about 20 ft south below a notch at the end of Blocky Ridge Peak's northwest ridge.

Up and over we went, over a small blocky unnamed bump to the northwest, then north towards Northcliff Peak. This was a nondescript bump with some sand and bushwhacking. It looked very prominent and interesting when seen from a basin to the north, but from the south it was merely a slog.

Northcliff Peak summit views

With a little over an hour of daylight left, we decided to go for Mt. Clark, the last prominent Clark Range peak. Our route of choice was its class 4 southeast ridge. From Northcliff Peak, we slogged along the connecting ridge which was mostly sand and slabs, to a point where we could easily cross over onto the east side of the ridge without cliffing out. Here began the southeast ridge where we dropped our packs. A little class 4 smearing brought us up to the ridge crest which turned out to be a false summit (sometimes referred to as "first tower" in other trip reports). After that we simply made a direct beeline for the summit, staying somewhere between the east face and true southeast ridge itself on class 3 terrain. About 10 ft north of and 20 ft below the summit, we gained the summit ridge by climbing 10 ft up a large crack, then turning left and scrambling to the highpoint. It was only 10-15 minutes before sunset and all the surrounding peaks were already glowing orange. Even blurred out somewhat by smoke, it was still pretty.

start of southeast ridge

Toshi on first tower

last few feet below summit, looking down towards the northwest ridge which I would like to come back and climb someday

summit views at shiny time

cracks right below summit

We retrieved the packs and slogged across Clark's sandy east face to meet up with its northeast ridge. Here were several sandy flat areas with good snow patches which could be used for water. We settled down in one of these spots right at sunset, cooking and melting snow for 30 minutes before a chilly wind made us crawl into our tents to finish eating dinner.

go to day 8

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