RT Length: 25.36 Miles
Elevation Gain: 6619’
This was my second attempt of Clark Peak. On the first attempt I’d been unaware there was a creek crossing, and the creek looked too high for me to safely cross in the dark. A storm was coming in later in the day, so waiting for daylight hadn’t been an option. I’d turned around and done another peak instead. This time I was prepared (or so I thought) for the creek crossing. Also, please don’t make the same mistake I did crossing the creek…
I drove to the trailhead the night before and got a few hours sleep before staring on the trail at 5:45am. The trailhead has space for about 20 vehicles, and good signage
I started off following the Maroon Snowmass Trail south, and then southwest. I went through two unlocked gates
And shortly after the second gate there’s an unmarked side trail that leads down to cross Snowmass Creek. However, after my last failed attempt I’d done more research, and was told I’d gone too far last time and to look for an easier crossing earlier. So I did. I ended up crossing the creek and then running into Beaver Ponds about 20 yards long. I was able to gingerly cross them, stepping through a thin layer of ice while doing so. I picked up a faint trail on the other side, which brought me to the actual trail, where I noticed last time I’d indeed been in the correct area. Hmph. So I’d done all that wading in cold water for nothing. Here is where you should cross:
Doing so will bring you to the West Snowmass Creek Trail. A well-defined, class 1 trail.
The trees were absolutely beautiful! It was still early morning, so these pictures aren’t the greatest, but the trees had me daydreaming.
This is where I made my second mistake of the morning: I missed the cutoff. The cutoff comes after hiking for just over 4.5 miles. It’s an obvious junction you can see if you’re not looking up at the trees. And cows (there were cows in the meadow). I ended up hiking quite a ways past this junction, just following the trail. It wasn’t until I realized I was switchbacking and I wasn’t supposed to be that I noticed my mistake. This mistake cost me well over a mile and added about 1000’ of elevation to the hike. Here’s where you turn left
After hiking a few dozen yards south the trail abruptly ends. When it ends, turn right and head west towards the hillside. A trail will pick on the hillside.
Here’s where I made my third (and final) mistake of the morning: When you see the path split in two, take the higher one (the lower one is a cow trail that leads you through gooey mud then ends).
From this point on the trail becomes faint. At times I questioned whether I was on an actual trail at all. It will parallel West Snowmass Creek, and stay high. Here are some photos:
I came to a clearing and headed southeast, crossed West Snowmass Creek, and once again picked up a trail.
I took this trail to treeline, where it ended. I put pink surveyor’s tape on a tree so I’d know where the trail picked up on my way back.
From here the rest of the hike was full of rocks and boulders. I headed southwest
I lost a little bit of elevation before gaining it again
Rock-hopped up this drainage
Followed the creek for a bit until it ended
Ascended another drainage and at the top turned left to skirt Moon Lake
This basin never seems to end! I just kept heading southwest
At the end of the basin it was time to gain the ridge. I stayed right of the drainage.
This was mostly class 2, but towards the end became class 3 to avoid the snow
Once I gained the ridge I turned left and followed it to the summit.
Ha! That’s an oversimplification. I did indeed follow the ridge. The ridge proper goes all the way to the summit. However, it’s a fun scramble to get there, with a lot of exposure, and more than one knife edge. If you did Capitol Peak and it left you wanting more, this is the peak for you! Here are some highlights:
I summited Clark Peak at 2:25pm
There were some great views of Snowmass and Capitol Peak, and check out the ridge looking back!
Here’s looking back on the way in through the basin and around Moon Lake
Here are some pictures of the ridge on the way back. I had fun with the exposure here
At the saddle I turned right and headed back through the basin
Skirting Moon Lake to the east and back to the trees
Next profile pic?
Once at treeline I picked up the trail again. After crossing West Snowmass Creek I headed for the trees. The trail picks up again in-between these two trees
Here are some pictures of the trail back down. As I was hiking, I heard a faint bugle. It didn’t sound like a normal elk call: it sounded close but faint. Usually when I hear an elk bugling it resonates, it’s crisp, and I can hear it from far away. This didn’t seem loud enough for being so close. As I reached the meadow I noticed a hunter sitting beneath a tree. I raised my hand to silently say hi, he did the same, and I continued back to the trail.
I kept picking up my pace. Due to this morning’s route finding errors this hike was taking me much longer than I’d anticipated. It was quickly getting dark, and I wanted to get back to cell service so I could call my daughter and tell her I was ok, just running late. I ended up using a flashlight for the last two miles of the hike. Here are some pictures from the rest of the way back to the creek.
I crossed the creek and took Maroon Snowmass Trail back to the trailhead
I made it back to my truck at 8pm, making this a 25.26 mile hike with 6619’ of elevation gain in just over 14 hours.