LoJ: #200 (G & M: #198) / 13,580' Clark Peak

Range › Elks Range
Quadrangle › Capitol Peak
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 39°09' 07.83, W 107° 03' 41.46 (Not Field Checked)
Neighboring Peaks › Peak Icon "UN 13060 A"

Peak Summary

There is no "easy" way to climb Clark Peak. The following route description offers an alternative to the G&M route suggestion that involves negotiating the difficult west ridge of large, treacherous, lichen-covered boulders. Our route takes you up and then across Snowmass Creek, followed by a difficult bushwhack up Bear Creek into Pierre Lakes Basin where you then ascend the broader southeast ridge of the peak. A very difficult Class 2+ climb with perhaps a little Class 3 scrambling.

South-Southeast Ridge Route

Class 3
XX-Long (Epic) Day // Take a Headlamp!
RT From Snowmass Creek TH: 15 mi / 5,200'
  • Trailhead
    • Snowmass Creek TH

      From highway 82 between Basalt and Aspen, turn south at the lighted intersection at the town of "Snowmass" (about 4 miles south of Basalt) and drive about 2 miles to an intersection where you must turn either left or right. Take the left fork and drive east and south on N690. The road is paved another 4 - 5 miles, then becomes, good quality, graded dirt for another 4 miles to where it crosses Snowmass Creek. Beyond the creek crossing, the road climbs uphill to another intersection. Turn right and proceed south on a less maintained road to the trailhead just a few more hundred yards. As you drive that last segment, you will first pass a trailhead for East Snowmass Creek, then a short distance later, you come to the end of the road and the parking and trailhead for the Snowmass Creek trail.

      Over summer weekends, this TH may be filled to capacity with cars parked along the road in. The main parking area serves as the only designated parking for both Snowmass Creek and East Snowmass Creek. No designated camping here, so only vehicle camping, though when the parking is not so crowded, you may be able to pitch a tent nearby. No vault toilets, but at the register, ReStops are provided for use, free of charge. Further access on the road is blocked by a locked gate that marks the property boundary for Snowmass Falls Ranch. Cattle may be close by and the odor can sometimes be strong.

    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info South-Southeast Ridge

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 1993

    From the TH, the trail climbs east uphill, passes through a gate (please keep closed) and turns south and climbs steadily gaining about 200 feet before leveling out and contouring above the ranch property. This is trail #1975 on the White River Forest Service map. A little over a mile in, (perhaps 1.5) it intersects another trail which leads down to Snowmass Creek where one can wade across to access the West Snowmass Creek trail, fairly easy to spot heading off across an open field and into a stand of aspen.

    Continue along the main trail south from this intersection. From the TH, hike an overall distance of about 3 miles to where you may see a cairn or cairns and a possible crossing of Snowmass Creek. If you reach a place where the main trail begins to ascend steeply, you've gone too far. The crossing of Snowmass Creek is also about a half mile before where Copper Creek comes in. At the crossing point, the main trail comes very close to the creek.

    Note: Ryan Schilling notes on SummitPost in 2004 a "makeshift" log bridge with handrail across the creek in this area. In 1993 and again in 2013, we never saw this. It may be further upstream than the crossing we are suggesting here. Check out his description on SummitPost for yourself. Also, a report passed on to us by Amy Johnstone said that you'll only find this log crossing if you go "too far," then backtrack down the hill some in order to spy it. She describes it as "a distinctive camp along Snowmass Creek right before you start the little climb and not far at all from Copper Creek (about 500 yards downstream)."

    The climbing route begins with the crossing of Snowmass Creek, which may in itself be quite an adventure in the earlier season. There can be a powerful flow here when the runoff is still going. Later season will be easier crossing. Once across, search for a somewhat faint trail heading south. In about 15 minutes, you'll come to the crossing of Copper Creek. The trail can be very sketchy here in the tall vegetation & willows. Beyond Copper Creek, continue south for about 3/4 mile and then the trail will begin to turn more to the SW as it heads up the Bear Creek drainage. Soon, the waterfall section of Bear Creek will come into view. You'll have to cross a talus/boulder field where we found maybe two cairns in our 2013 trip through here. Stay at all times on the north side of the creek. After the talus/boulder field, the trail will avoid the falls by heading up through low aspen, willows, rocks and minor cliffbands taking you away from the creek as it ascends steeply. At 10,400, it will begin to level out some. If you've lost the trail coming up, you may find it again around here. At 10,600, there will be a good campsite, not far from the head of some falls.

    Above 10,600 ft., continue on the vague trail as it heads up through the forest and begins to climb steeply again just above 10,800 ft. Walk up through more open forest to the last trees where you'll finally have a view of Clark. Turn to a NW direction and aim for the broad SSE ridge coming off Clark. Our route took us between the two smaller lakes at the foot of that ridge.

    From the lakes, head up the broad SSE ridge on easier rock or gentle snowfields until you come to a cliffband at about 12,600 ft. We climbed a little to the left of the ridge on large rocks, ledges and tundra to get through the cliffs. Prior to the cliffs, you may encounter large, stacked & teetering boulders. It was 3rd class scrambling at points. Once beyond the cliff, we continued on the broad SSE facing ridge/slope with a more gentle gradient and some tundra, but mostly small scree and rocks which gave way to an increasing number of large, teetering boulders as we hiked higher. The last 300 feet to the summit consisted mostly of these teetering boulders that required considerable rock-hopping, clambering up, down and over and great care taken to not step on one of the teetering blocks and have it roll onto your leg. One fellow-peakbagger reported to us in 2015 that if you bear left as far as you can while approaching the summit, you can avoid some of the teetering rocks by walking on more stable talus.

    Once on the summit, breathe a sigh of relief if you've made it without injury and then remind yourself that you still have to cover all that terrain again and the bushwhack to get back down by the same return route. Maybe you'll have more luck following the trail back down. If there are snowfields along the ridge going back down, bring an ice axe and enjoy a glissade for several hundred feet. The Snowmass Creek trail will seem like a welcome, interstate highway when you finally get back to it.
    Count on a 12 hour day to do this one. This is a real foot-burner.

    Extra Credit: If you're even thinking about climbing all the 13ers, the ESE ridge of Clark leads over a low 13er: UN 13,060. We call it, UN13SOB. It would be a good idea for all the effort you've invested, to bag this one too, but the traverse over will be difficult and at least 4th class. East of the UN 13,060 summit, there is a saddle that has two large couloirs descending either north or south. 1,800 feet of endless rubble and boulder hopping down the south one will bring you back to the so-called Pierre Lakes trail for your exit. If you don't want to do this one with Clark, see our route description for UN13,060 alone.

    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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