Four Ski Mountaineers, Marcia Male, Reiner Stenzel, Eric Klosterman, and Ken Deemer spent a delightful week last spring exploring the Clark Range of Yosemite National Park. We left LA Sunday at 5:00 am (yeach). Marcia, Eric and I met up with Reiner at the Badger Pass parking lot. We were loaded and on the trail by 1:30pm. There was plenty of snow on the road. After leaving the road at the Ostrander cutoff, we carried our skis and bushwhacked to Horizon Ridge. We slogged up the ridge in silence, by now each convinced that our packs were much too heavy! It was here that Eric began to experience problems with lose skins that were to plague him throughout the trip. With dark approaching, we camped on a saddle below the ridge (8 mi. 1000' for the day). After dinner, Reiner lit a fire to roast his socks. Though weather reports called for a storm on Monday and Tuesday, we slept under a clear, star filled sky.
Monday. We awoke to a symphony of birds. It was clear and sunny. We stopped for a brief rest at Ostrander (which had closed the week before), then headed across Hart Lake. Signs of life were everywhere. We passed a recently vacated bear den and saw numerous tracks -including a mountain lion. With beepers on, we ascended Horseshoe Ridge. Reiner immediately peeled his skins and enjoyed a silky run. The rest marveled at the views of Yosemite Valley -Starr King, Half Dome and our route into the Clarks, obscured by clouds. Unfortunately, the planned exit route was bone dry, leading us to consider alternatives such as a base camp then retracing our tracks. With Reiner in the lead, we contoured just to the west of Buena Vista Crest. The crest itself was sheer rock with major overhanging cornices. The other three caught up with Reiner as he was peeling his skins and preparing to cross just below a particularly nasty overhang and some rather recent looking slides. This route was shorter than ascending the ridge itself or dropping down into the trees and giving the area a wide berth. Marcia, Eric and I were very leery. The area was clearly avalanche prone with recent slides and drooping cornices. Reiner was not overly concerned since it was late in the day and the snow was firm. We deferred to his judgment and elected to continue, well spaced apart, near the run-out of the slides. Reiner crossed without incident, and Marcia followed. Midway into the traverse, the cornice snapped and came crashing towards her. As the rest looked on in horror, the slide came to a stop, obliterating Reiner's tracks, less than 50 yards in front of Marcia!
Marcia's only option was to return to where Eric and I waited. Reiner was cutoff. She retraced her tracks, visibly shaken. The three of us were experiencing a mix of adrenaline, relief and anger that we had failed to listen to our instincts. Now our only option was to regain the ridge, but we had lost valuable time and it was getting late. We had no way of communicating with Reiner and no rendezvous plan. At this point, Eric began to have serious problems with his skins. We tried duct tape to make them hold, but with little success. It was cold and the wind was coming up. We elected to make camp while there was still light. Fortunately, the three of us were traveling as a unit, sharing a tent and stove. Reiner was planning to leave a day early and was carrying his own gear. There were no flat spots for a camp. We dropped to the east of the ridge to find shelter from the wind and spent considerable time digging a platform for our tent. Before long, we heard a shout and looked up to see Reiner coming to join us. He had ascended the ridge and circled back to find our tracks. We spent the next hour trying to outdo one another in the construction of snow walls to protect against the wind. Day 2 was about 7-8 mi. and 1500' of gain.
Tuesday, we again awoke to sunshine and clear skies. Eric's skins were thoroughly dry and stuck well. We proceeded along the Buena Vista Crest, with intermittent walking and scrambling among the rocks. There were large fracture lines extending several feet from the edge. About mid day, we reached a large SE facing slope just west of Merced Pass. Conditions were just too good to ignore, so we ditched our packs and, grinning from ear to ear, enjoyed a delightful run well into the trees below. After a leisurely lunch, we continued across Merced Pass, along the crest toward the basin below Merced Peak. In mid afternoon, we descended a short but icy saddle to a small, unmarked lake to the west at about 9500'. This was judged an ideal spot to establish abase camp for a few days (we had come another 6 mi. and 1000' of gain). We were now clearly within the Clark Range and looked forward to a couple of days of exploring the peaks and bowls without heavy packs.
Wednesday morning, Reiner and Ken set out early to climb Merced Peak (11,726'). We left our skis just above a small col and had an easy 500-ft climb to the summit. Although there were tracks of a party preceding us, they evidently did not locate the summit register because we were the first entry since October '92. The views from the summit were amazing. We could see for at least 100 miles! The coast range was clearly visible, as were Tioga Pass and northward, Ritter, Banner, the Minarets, and the vast central Sierra. Both of us wished we had arranged a pickup in Mammoth so we could just keep on going.
Hidden from our camp, but now just across, loomed Triple Divide Peak (11,607'). The SE face was wide and looked eminently skiable. Without losing much elevation, we were able to ski traverse the large bowl below Merced Peak to Merced Pass. Here we were treated to vistas of the East side of the Clark Range and our originally planned route.
We carried our skis up the third class ridge to the west of Triple Divide and were able to ski the last few hundred yards to the summit. It was now just after noon, and the snow was perfect! Though it lasted but a few moments, we had a fine run down the SE face and left some enviable tracks behind. Not content to retrace our route, we instead continued slicing our way down a series of benches and lakes to about 9700'. Although it was a very long slog back to camp (9-10 mi. and 2500' round trip), we both agreed that it had been a most excellent day.
Meanwhile, Marcia, we discovered, had been systematically carving up a delicious slope near camp. An entire face was neatly carved into perfect S turns, as if a hundred synchronized pinheads had made one simultaneous run! Back at camp we had a well-earned dinner, shared some brandy and built a fire, which burned a three-foot pit in the ground. Reiner roasted his socks and prepared for an early morning departure (since he had a wedding to attend on Saturday).
Thursday the overdue storm finally arrived. Not screaming wind and cold, but dead calm with light, fluffy flakes.
There were occasional hints of blue, but we were basically socked in all day. A good time to catch up on sleep, reading, practicing Tai Chi and cleaning our fingernails. Not so for Reiner, who skied all the way to Badger Pass that day (20 mi., 14 hr.) He heard a number of cornice-triggered avalanches and stayed high on the ridges. Even there, navigation in a white out was tricky. Descending the corniced Buena Vista ridge was too risky, so he made a detour around Buena Vista Peak. Luckily, near Ostrander Hut, the sun broke through the clouds and route finding became easy again.
Friday Marcia, Eric and Ken were up and off; retracing our route and following Reiner's tracks from the previous day. Stronger and lighter, we reached Horseshoe Ridge by late afternoon. The descent to Hart Lake was such a delight, that we dropped our packs and climbed back to the ridge for another run. Our last night was spent at a beautiful site overlooking the lake. We had come 7-8 mi and had another 10 to Badger Pass.
Saturday was a bit of a slog. We spent an hour or so chasing good turns (and learning not to trust Marcia's sense of direction) before reaching Horizon Ridge. Then we discovered that there had been a great deal of melting during the week and we trudged through considerable muck before reaching the road. All agreed that the road was somehow much longer than on the way in and we were grateful to finally reach the parking lot by mid afternoon. Eric's wife, Erin, was waiting with refreshments. After cleaning up at Eric's cabin, we headed down into Yosemite Valley for alcohol and cholesterol. After living with nature's rhythm for the past week, it was a strange time warp back to the present. Wandering among the throngs on the valley floor, our eyes wandered to the snow filled chutes above and thoughts of trips to come.
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