Red Peak Pass Celebratory Circuit
I finally was able to do it. A Clark Range Loop that took me over Red Peak Pass. I have looked at these peaks from afar for two summers now and pointed each one of them out to clients sighing for when I might be able to venture closer to their jagged peaks. Finally I had 4.5 days off in between trips in September and although I would’ve liked to have gone sooner I took the chance and ran with it. I seized the opportunity to finally plan out a route that would take me to one of the most distinct ranges in Yosemite and also go over one of the highest passes in the park. Pumped.
I was able to leave work earlier than I thought on Saturday which I was stoked for because I had to still pick up a permit, find camping hopefully close by and then finally finish packing before starting out on Sunday. I drove to the High Sierra Station at Prather to find a note on the doors that said they were closed on the weekends sooner than they had thought and had a supplemental sheet to find other ranger stations. I checked it out and although I thought I looked online earlier and this station was the best option thought maybe Bass Lake could be closer and possibly open. I wasted no time and just started driving there thinking if they closed at 4:30 I could still make it. I arrived to another closed office. They weren’t even pretending to be open on the weekends anymore. Fart-knocker. I then had some sense knocked into me and decided to call an office that might be open before driving again and see if they could advise me where to go. Well…. the office I called I believe is the only high Sierra office issuing permits on the weekend for the National Forest on the whole of the western Sierra. They were about 2 hours away. Three from my trailhead the following morning. Hmmm. There were thoughts entertained about just picking a closer route to the office or poaching the route without a permit but I was determined and I wanted to do it right. My birthday is coming up and usually I do a route for my birthday but a lot of years I’m working (as I am this year) so I celebrate at another time. I figured this would be the time and I wanted to do this route. G-dangit.
Heading to the office took a good minute but was rather scenic. I was able to pick up last minute supplies by Shaver Lake so I could finish packing that night and be ready to roll. Once the road went past the lake and the main touristy area it became a very obvious one way whipping, winding road that had frequent side pullouts to help when you saw someone coming the other way, which always sent my blood elevated no matter what. It was like playing Nature Chicken and the consequences were rolling down a 1,000 foot cliff. I was able to camp at Bosillo Campsite right by the ranger station that had a picnic table, fire pit, and bathrooms, all for free. Although there were quite a few more options driving up the road to pull out and have a spectacular view for the night if you didn’t need the amenities. I arrived right at sunset and finished packing and made some dinner before retiring. I would have a long day ahead of me.
The next morning I finished getting ready, made some oatmeal and then headed to the office to get my permit. I got it no problem although I was tried to convince to do a trip there. Next time. I had actually heard great things about where they were telling me to go. Add it to the list. Back to my car for the slightly over 3 hour car ride to the trailhead. At least the majority of it is scenic. Drive on!
I finally arrived around 12 after filling up the gas and driving through more winding, scenic roads. A tad later start than I anticipated put me on the trail by 12:30 with a hope of doing 15 miles that day. Might have to rethink that one. It was good to finally be on the trail either way, away from it all and everybody. I had just finished a summer season of guiding inside Yosemite where I was around people 24/7. I was ready for some peace and internal mind focusing. Serenity now! Only one other car in the parking lot so I didn’t think I would encounter too many folks. All I could hear when I started out was the crunch of the twigs on the trail and the swishing noise that my backpack made. Perfect. I was ready to embark on an amazing solo adventure with just me and my thoughts. The first part of the adventure took me through the blanketed forest for miles without much view around except the flowers. Thank god I stinkin’ love flowers.
I did eventually run into the one guy that was in the parking lot heading out and then another 5 guys that parked at Quartz Mountain trailhead (note that this trailhead would’ve saved a few miles rt) that were also heading out. After chatting with them and thinking about the fact that there was a chance of rain on Monday, the day that I was setting myself up for doing Red Peak Pass, I thought maybe I’d just switch the lollipop portion of it and plan to do Red Peak Pass on Tuesday when the weather should be better and I should have less weight on my shoulders. Sounded like a no brainer. Switcheroooooo!!
Since I was altering my plans already I wasn’t certain where I was going to camp that night and just knew that I wanted to push to get somewhere out of the green forest and somewhere with a view. 12.5 miles later and past Fernandez Pass I got just that and decided to stop for the night at Rutherford Lake. Arrival just a pinch after 7, ready for setup of camp and sundown shortly after. I got everything set up and started on my first of a couple dehydrated meals I brought because I’m fancy af. Orange chicken baby. After dinner I laid in my tent and could barely keep my eyes open until 9. Guess the wine I packed would have to wait…
I did arise at about 3 am to crazy winds almost blowing down my tent. Oh great, not again(Mt. Whitney deja vu from last year)! I was able to hold down the fort but the winds would continue all through the next day and next night. Blast.
I arose by 7, peeping my eyes open just ever so slightly before then. It didn’t seem that cold, just windy so I buckled up and started breaking down camp and making breakfast (oatmeal again). Out of camp by 8:30 and was hoping to pop into the forest and escape some of the wind. It somewhat worked.
As I descended more from the pass I went up yesterday I was just taken aback by the scenery. I loved the fact that I was on the border of the park, hiking in and out of Ansel Adams Wilderness and Yosemite and I didn’t even recognize most of what I was looking at. That was pretty sweet. Same park. Whole new scenery.
The second day was another challenging one, going up and over Post Peak Pass at 10,800 feet elevation and just being whipped by the wind all day. But the views, oh the views…. I mean, can you see the Minarets in the distance?? What, what??!! We on the East Side now baby!
I gaped and guffawed at the views all day as I covered a little over 14 miles and 3,000+ feet elevation gain. Just as I was beginning to ponder where I was going to camp for the night I looked over at the mountains and they told me. I needed to find a spot immediately and see just how fast I could set up camp. There was some weather coming right at me. Oh F.
A little hail and a dusting of snow later I had made myself another delicious fancy dehydrated meal, a hot water bottle for my sleeping bag, and was ready to just chill and lay in my tent for the rest of the night and ponder whether I was going to get snowed in and if I was going to be able to go over the pass tomorrow. It was now only around 6:00.
The next morning was exactly as I’d hoped. The storm had blown over. The sky was a perfect shade of blue. The birds were out singing and chirping away like as if I was in a Disney movie, and I was ready to climb up and over Red Peak Pass at 11,100 feet elevation. I had slept at tree line at about 9,900 feet so I wasn’t too far away from the top but things always take a tad longer when you’re negotiating in higher altitude over rocky terrain. I didn’t mind and was reveling in every moment of it. I knew that I would be spending my last night in the woods that night already and that some of the best scenery would be seen today and I better soak it all in and savor it. Ahhhhhhh…..
It took me almost 18 miles to get to my final camping spot, but I arrived a good amount before sunset, was able to sit in front of Chiquito Lake while waiting for my pesto pasta to cook, listening to ducks honk at each other in the distance. Daily moment of zen. It’s hard to believe the ground I covered that day and the things I saw. And it’s even harder to believe that I was getting down on myself for not summitting Red Peak. I figured since I was going to be up so high and quite early that it would be just a short scramble to the top. I knew there was no approaching it from the side I went up that was for sure. By the time I was at the pass I looked up and considered things. I figured I better at least give it a shot so I scrambled around the corner and got a look at what was ahead. Hmm. Looked sketchy af and then I looked at my gps, that wasn’t even the summit. Uh-uh. Not doing it. No regrets. Except I did. I feel like I get FOMO a lot in life. Especially when it comes to adventure these days. I think that’s the curse and the blessing of working with amazing individuals that go out and seek adventure. I am constantly inspired to also go do grand things, but often enough I feel like they’re not grand enough. And I should. I just went out on my 4.5 days that I had off and went over 4 high mountain passes, including the highest in Yosemite at 11,100 feet, covered over 48 miles with over 9000 elevation gain, handled hail, wind, and snow, and saw some of the most spectacular scenery that Yosemite and the Ansel Adams Wilderness has to offer. Yeah, I’m still a badass.
I also did all of that with some hurtin’ feet!! Despite having the newest marshmallow kicks from Altra my feet were in pain before the end of every day. I finally was feeling what some of my clients felt like being challenged throughout the summer. I got blisters. I got battered. I got bruised. I challenged myself in many ways but at the end of the day I’m still blissful. Blissful that I got an opportunity to get out here and see this astounding scenery. Blissful that I can just get out and roam to the mountains in between jobs. Blissful that I’m physically able to do just that. Blissful that I finally found the outdoors and learned how to chase adventure. Blissful that I can sit in front of a lake while making my dinner before heading back to civilization and it’s a Tuesday.
I saw a total of 12 people in 4 days, which considering I was in and out of Yosemite is NOT a lot of folks. It was like “oh, holy crap, there are other humans out here with me” kind of moments when I saw them. Which was great. I had time to go through all the to-do lists in my head, for now and in the future and to really just be in the moment and enjoy the way the light hit the flowers in a special sort of way or shone through the tree branches just right. I always say that you should never go too fast as to not be able to enjoy the small things along the way, whether that be a waterfall spot for lunch or the last bloom of a spectacular flower in a high alpine meadow. I felt like I got to enjoy all of that and beyond. Red Peak Pass, until we meet again….