Forum Index > Trip Reports > Mount Clark (Royal Basin, ONP) 9/27/20
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awilsondc
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PostThu Oct 01, 2020 7:52 pm 
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What an interesting and nuanced trip this was!  I had unique weather, challenging conditions that left me constantly questioning weather or not to continue, and a good sunrise along with some early fall scenery... lets start from the beginning.

It rained for several days before this trip.  In fact, freezing levels were low enough it wouldn't have surprised me if it had snowed a touch too.  I started out at the trailhead a couple minutes before 4am.  I was going to have to do everything but run to make it to the tarn in Upper Royal Basin for sunrise around 7am, 8 miles and 3200 ft of gain in.  Fortunately it's a great trial in and I set a strong pace.  I got off route once when a washout joined the trail for a short bit, but I backtracked and found the trail.  Another stop to filter water and soon I was at Royal Lake.  The night had been clear, but clouds were moving in which I was expecting.  I continued on admiring some alpenglow on Deception and Clark as I made my way to the upper basin.  My efforts to get to the tarn by sunrise paid off and I arrived at 6:47.  A few minutes later the first light appeared to the east.

Royal Lake at night
Royal Lake at night
Alpenglow on Clark
Alpenglow on Clark
Looking back at Lower Royal Basin
Looking back at Lower Royal Basin
Arriving at the tarn
Arriving at the tarn

It had been a horrible summer for sunrises and sunsets for me.  Sixteen opportunities and only two that I'd rate higher than a 3/10.  That was about to change.  The clouds to the east put on a show of yellow, orange, blue and purple.  The peaks lit up with the first light of the sun.  Like watching the dying embers of a fire, but in reverse the peaks gradually heated up until the rock looked like iron pulled from the forge.  It's striking the colors these peaks can get in the early morning sun.  I remember a similar experience at sunrise from Fricaba a few years ago.  I ran around the tarn in a fury taking pictures and soaking in the glorious morning light.  It was deeply satisfying.  As the sun drew near the cloud layer the light on the peaks became a pale yellow and soon the light faded all together.  Almost as soon as the light had faded, it began to rain.

First light
First light
Clark on fire
Clark on fire
Sunrise
Sunrise
Yep, that'll do
Yep, that'll do
Satisfying
Satisfying
Deception reflection
Deception reflection
The yellowing
The yellowing
Last light
Last light

The rain was light and only lasted 15 minutes or so.  This was when I began to become apprehensive about the rest of the trip.  What if the rocks were wet and slick on the class 3?  Could tell by looking up at Mount Deception there had been some snow recently.  What if there was snow on the scramble section?  I though about bailing, but I had come so far I figured I'd at least check out surprise basin and just go until it wasn't a good idea to go any further.  I was a bit slow getting going again, but soon found myself at Surprise Basin.

Rain begins
Rain begins
Fire and rain
Fire and rain
Rocks in a pond
Rocks in a pond
After the rain
After the rain
Milky
Milky
Trees
Trees

Surprise Basin is an interesting place!  I could tell temperatures had reached freezing at night since the pond was iced over.  It was starting to warm up though and chunks of choss began to release and tumble down the steep walls on either side, echoing as they fell.  Surprise!  Every few seconds there would be another one.  Surprise again!  It was very eerie.  I started to become significantly concerned about rock fall on the route.  I spent a lot of time observing and listening.  Almost all the rock fall sounded like small pieces and I figured I'd be safe in the valley away from the cliffs and steep slopes.  Most of the rock fall was on chossy slopes and the ledge route up Clark looked like more solid walls of rock and not as loose.  I proceeded with caution.  In the mountains we all listen to our intuition, our gut instincts... that little voice that says, no that snow finger doesn't look good or I think you should try the traverse instead of that sketchy section of rock or to turn around and bail if thing's aren't safe.  We all listen to that voice and it helps keep us safe.  That voice doesn't really have a name, but I've been calling mine Jake lately.  I'd listen to Jake a lot on this trip and he was telling me to keep going until I couldn't.

Surprise basin
Surprise basin
Frozen
Frozen
Surprise basin pond
Surprise basin pond
Interesting rock
Interesting rock
Snow leading to the saddle
Snow leading to the saddle
Clark
Clark
New snow meets old
New snow meets old
At the saddle
At the saddle

I cautiously made my way across Surprise Basin.  The snowfield was extremely icy and I tried to cross by walking on choss frozen in the ice, but eventually I put on microspikes.  Thank goodness I brought them, they saved the trip!  Footing was great with spikes on and I soon found myself at the saddle, the start of the ledge and the scramble route for Clark.  The ledge was chossy at first, but soon I ran into snow.  Uh oh.  It was about three inches and frozen stiff which was helpful as it provided traction.  No issue so far, but I was worried about the down climb at the end of the ledge.  As I rounded the corner I got the bad news.  Yep, snow on the entire scramble section.  I seriously considered bailing here and spent about 10 minutes weighing my options.  The first part of the down climb to this little tree didn't look too bad but I couldn't tell if I could make it safely beyond that.  Again, Jake was telling me to go until I couldn't so I put my microspikes back on and headed down to the tree.  I was very cautions to not do any moves I wouldn't be able to reverse and stuck to a strict three points of contact.
Once at the tree I had to search around a bit, but I was able to find a safe down climb to the ledge below.  Whew!  The second ledge traverse wasn't too bad even with the snow and soon I found myself at the summit scramble.  It looked steep and a bit gnarly, especially covered with snow!  I was extremely slow, cautions, and deliberate with every move and while it was challenging I made it to the summit without incident!  Yay!  But... I didn't want to stay long.  The frozen snow was great, but it was starting to soften up and I didn't want it to get too wet and slippery.  I took a few pictures and signed the register.  The last to sign in was a guy from Sequim in his mid 70's who soloed it about a month ago. eek.gif He wrote it was the hardest scramble he's ever done.  It's a legit scramble that's for sure, but the rock is solid!

Start of the ledge
Start of the ledge
Snow on the ledge, Deception and Mystery beyond
Snow on the ledge, Deception and Mystery beyond
Around the ledge
Around the ledge
Down climb this
Down climb this
Walkinshaw
Walkinshaw
Final scramble to the summit
Final scramble to the summit
Summit views
Summit views
Clark's register
Clark's register
Johnson
Johnson

Leaving the summit, I had to down climb a few parts facing in.  Usually I can down climb things facing out but not this scramble, not in these conditions.  When I got back to the traverse the snow was really softening up and was mushy and slick.  That frozen snow was so nice!  I was grateful I had started as early as I did.  After the short scramble back up to the first ledge I was relieved to find the snow on the other side of the mountain still frozen.  The descent back to the saddle was without incident.  I had originally planned on climbing Johnson too, but there was still a lot of rock fall coming down the route up Johnson and I had my fill of scrambling class 3 on snow so it will have to wait until another day.  On the way back, a stream of running water in the ice field caught my attention.  I followed it towards the pond and came across several moulins, some a good 30 feet deep!  Since I didn't eat on the summit, I had lunch on a boulder by the pond enjoying a few moments in this unique place.

Water carved ice
Water carved ice
Two streams meet
Two streams meet
Moulin
Moulin
Flow
Flow
Swirl
Swirl
Rocks in a pond, my friends... rocks in a pond
Rocks in a pond, my friends... rocks in a pond
Clark
Clark
Surprise basin pond
Surprise basin pond

On the way down to Royal Basin the sun was coming out.  Fall was just starting up in the Olympics and there were a few fall colors out on the way down to the lake and half way back to the car.  It was nice to be able to take in the sights on the way out.  It was a great trip!  I'm so glad I was able to catch a nice sunrise and bag a quality peak!

Turning into a nice day!
Turning into a nice day!
Last stop at the tarn
Last stop at the tarn
Descending to Lower Royal Basin
Descending to Lower Royal Basin
Last view of Clark
Last view of Clark
Fall colors on the trail
Fall colors on the trail
Shroom
Shroom
Stream
Stream
Reflection
Reflection
Copy cats
Copy cats
Easy trail
Easy trail
Stump
Stump
Dungeness River from above
Dungeness River from above
Moss and River
Moss and River
Dungeness River
Dungeness River

~19 miles 5500 ft gain 12 hours
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raising3hikers
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PostThu Oct 01, 2020 8:05 pm 
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Beautiful tarn pics! Wow.
I like that you've been thinking about Jake on your trip. Clark mtn is one of those memorable trips I had with him.

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neek
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PostThu Oct 01, 2020 9:00 pm 
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Man, you got some stellar shots.  I need to get out in questionable weather more.
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Bootpathguy
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PostThu Oct 01, 2020 9:13 pm 
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You have any wall space remaining for anymore of your fantastic images?

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Experience is what'cha get, when you get what'cha don't want
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Kenji
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PostThu Oct 01, 2020 10:33 pm 
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Great shots!!  up.gif
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostThu Oct 01, 2020 10:41 pm 
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Lots of great pics.  Maybe it was better in person, but that light layer of new snow on steep terrain near the summit looks super sketchy from here.  eek.gif
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awilsondc
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PostFri Oct 02, 2020 6:22 am 
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Thanks neek, Kenji!

r3h - Thanks man.  Your trip with Jake was definitely an inspiration to finally climb this one.  We probably had similar conditions too!  It really is a great route, without the snow of course.  haha

Bootpathguy - I bought a big expensive camera a couple years ago specifically so I could print huge pictures to hang on my wall.  However, I haven't printed anything for the house in over a year.  Too many to choose from now, I don't know what to print!   lol.gif

olderthanIusedtobe wrote:
Maybe it was better in person, but that light layer of new snow on steep terrain near the summit looks super sketchy from here.  eek.gif

You know... it WAS super sketchy!   biggrin.gif  Actually it was worse mentally than physically.  The snow was frozen and I did the whole route in microspikes and traction was good.  Hand holds were mostly available on rock and while obviously not ideal it was probably only half as bad as it looks like it would have been.  Still though, I'd rather not repeat such an experience.
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silence
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PostFri Oct 02, 2020 6:44 am 
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Wow .... great TR and stunning photos.  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif

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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostFri Oct 02, 2020 8:24 am 
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awilsondc wrote:
You know... it WAS super sketchy!  biggrin.gif  Actually it was worse mentally than physically.  The snow was frozen and I did the whole route in microspikes and traction was good.  Hand holds were mostly available on rock and while obviously not ideal it was probably only half as bad as it looks like it would have been.  Still though, I'd rather not repeat such an experience.

I'm glad all went well.  It sounds like the snow wasn't quite as stable on your way down.
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bobbi
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 2:44 pm 
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I love it all!  the upper royal basin is the best!

thanks for all your beautiful and stunning photos!

p.s. I'm sure you waved to my bobbi's big boulder on the moraine  biggrin.gif

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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 3:50 pm 
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bobbi wrote:
p.s. I'm sure you waved to my bobbi's big boulder on the moraine

You need to get a plaque put on that thing so we all know when we're passing by your boulder. biggrin.gif
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awilsondc
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 7:30 pm 
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bobbi wrote:
p.s. I'm sure you waved to my bobbi's big boulder on the moraine  biggrin.gif

Now I wanna know which boulder it was!  lol.gif  Was it this one on the left?

awilsondc wrote:
Clark on fire
Clark on fire

Or one up in surprise basin?  If you see it in one of my pictures, point it out!  I'm super curious now!  smile.gif
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 7:46 pm 
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awilsondc wrote:
Now I wanna know which boulder it was!

She can tell you for sure, but I'm pretty sure it's on a big moraine in the main basin, below Deception, maybe below Deception/Fricaba saddle.  I think it's one of those car or house sized boulders.
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JasonK806
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 9:33 pm 
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First snow in the Olympics!rocker.gif  rocker.gif  rocker.gif
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GaliWalker
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Have camera will use
PostThu Oct 08, 2020 8:30 am 
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Great shots!

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