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The Clark Range and Red Peak Pass
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mini location map2021-07-28
75 by photographer avatarJohn9L
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The Clark Range and Red Peak PassSierra Nevada, CA
Sierra Nevada, CA
Backpack avatar Jul 28 2021
Backpack59.00 Miles 9,000 AEG
Backpack59.00 Miles5 Days         
9,000 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
I first learned about the Clark Range Loop in the June 2011 issue of Backpacker Magazine. It looked like a great loop and it was always in the back of mind. The years ticked by & things finally came together & we decided to go for it. I applied for a “walk up” permit roughly two weeks before the trip and I was excited when it was issued. Yosemite changed their walk up permits process due to Covid. Chumley decided to join me & we left Phoenix on Tuesday, July 27th. We stayed in a ghetto motel near Coarsegold and then headed into the park. We got our permit in Wawona & then made a relatively short day hike to Sentinel Dome & Taft Point. After that we drove over to Mono Meadows & started our trek!

07-28-2021 – Mono Meadows to Clark Fork

We arrived at Mono Meadows & geared up & started hiking around 1:30pm. The lot was very busy as there is an active Search & Rescue for a missing hiker who disappeared coming down from Red Peaks Pass. This was our exact route and we would keep an eye out for the missing hiker. Sadly, we didn’t find him.

The trail drops about a thousand feet the first three miles & is mostly easy going. There are nice views of Half Dome, Mount Starr King & the Clark Range. We took a short break by Illilouette Creek. From there we continued as the trail headed up hill. We would set up camp near the Clark Fork. There was a light rain for about an hour but it blew over. We spent the rest of the evening enjoying a campfire & perfect temps.

07-29-2021 – Clark Fork to Upper Merced Pass Lake

We started day two with a morning campfire and then we geared up and started hiking around 9am. We were sure to completely drown our campfire before we departed. That was a recurring theme for all of our campfires. We had another relatively short day planned as we were going to camp at Upper Merced Pass Lake and then do a short day hike to the Buena Vista Crest. The going was relatively easy as the trail was in excellent condition. We headed up and detoured over to Lower Merced Pass Lake where the Search & Rescue Team had a base camp. We had a short conversation with them and then continued to the upper lake where we set up camp. We got everything set up right before the skies opened up and it started raining. We would spend a couple of hours in our tents while the storm blew through. During this time another backpacker showed up and to make a long story short, he ended up camping with us and hiked with us the next day.

After the storm passed, Chumley and I geared up for the Buena Vista Crest. It was already 4:30pm so we didn’t have as much time as we were hoping. We hiked to Merced Pass & then went off trail to the Crest. It was easy going and the views were amazing. Once up top we continued a short distance & then dropped off the Crest and started our return to camp. We passed Lower Merced Pass Lake and took pics as we looked down on the lake. We would return to camp and were able to start the campfire despite all the rain. The other hikers name was Kelly & he was good company as evening set it.

07-30-2021 - Upper Merced Pass Lake to Triple Peak Fork

Day three started with another campfire but we had a big day planned so we packed up and left camp a little after 8am. Our plan was to hike over Red Peaks Pass at 11,100ft and then drop down to the Merced River headwaters. We had a long way & a lot of climbing so we took our time as we headed for Lower Ottoway Lake where we took a short break and filtered water. From there it was a slow grind to the pass. We topped out above tree line & climbed to the pass. We noticed a large group above us. They turned out to be about a dozen boy scouts & their trip leaders. We topped out and took a variety of pics. You could see for miles & it was truly spectacular!

From the pass we dropped down the north side & it was like an alien planet. The rock had a red tint to it and we were above tree line. It was a beautiful sight. We continued down and rested as needed and filtered more water along the way. We kept at it as the clouds darkened and rain started to fall. At this point we put our rain gear on and continued down as the rain picked up. We planned on camping as soon as the trail leveled off at a junction but the rain was falling hard so we continued hoping the storm would blow over. We got a couple more miles & we were spent & the rain was still falling so we decided to make due & set up camp which was a challenge. I would guess it rained for about three hours & we were glad when it finally ended around 6pm. We had a couple of hours of daylight so we dried out our gear & then built a campfire despite all the wood being saturated. We spent the rest of evening enjoying dinner around the fire.

07-31-2021 – Triple Peak Fork to Little Yosemite Valley

Once again Day four started off with a morning campfire & we then loaded up and started hiking. We had a big day planned as we would descend along the Merced River. The going was mostly easy as we followed some impressive trail construction. This river valley was absolutely stunning as the Merced River carved a channel right through solid granite and was loaded with cascades & waterfalls. We wished we had more time to enjoy this but we had a lot of miles ahead of us so we continued. The best part was a large drop of about a thousand feet as three forks came together to form the Merced River. The forks were Triple Peak Fork, Merced Peak Fork & the Lyell Fork. This section was truly stunning and the pics don’t do it justice. We would descend and continued down.

We took a short break at Washburn Lake and continued down canyon as the miles ticked away. We arrived at the Merced Lake Ranger station to find it vacant. We took some pics and then passed the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp which was also vacant due to Covid. Next up was Merced Lake where we took another break. The next few miles were absolutely stunning as the trail continued dropping along a spectacular gorge. Somewhere along this stretch a light rain fell but wasn’t bad. Next up was Lost Valley where we originally planned on camping but the rangers told us this area burned badly. It was depressing to see as we cruised through this section. Next up was the start of Little Yosemite Valley which was also severely burned.

Earlier in the day Chumley and I decided to camp at the backpackers campground in Little Yosemite Valley. This is uncharacteristic for us as it’s very busy with John Muir Trail hikers & Half Dome hikers. We didn’t have much of a choice because this is a restricted zone and you have to camp here. We made the most of it and actually enjoyed camping here. It’s a nice campground with bear lockers & plenty of space. We enjoyed talking with other hikers & it was a good experience. We did not have a campfire this night as we turned in relatively early.

08-01-2021 – Little Yosemite Valley to Mono Meadows

Our last day started early as we packed up and started hiking around 7:30am. We had about nine miles back to the trailhead and then the long drive back to Phoenix. We headed down the trail and made the stop at the top of Nevada Falls which was truly spectacular. From there the trail climbed up and then headed for Mono Meadows. Along the way we encountered more Search & Rescue. They were still looking for the missing hiker but it sounded like they were winding down the search. The last few miles to the car were a grind but we kept at it and topped out some time after 11am. We would load up and then start the long drive home. I got home around 11pm and that ended another wonderful trip into my beloved Sierras! This was an absolutely spectacular hike & I’m glad we made it happen! Thanks Chumley for accompanying me along this death march!
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