Frosted Flakes, An Impromptu trip to Clark Mountain

14 04 2009

I like planning and back when I wrote my Goals I had a good idea of how I wanted 2009 to go. After a bit of bouldering I wanted to get my crack technique honed in Indian Creek and then one following weekends I would go to Zion and climb Moonlight Buttress.  Little did I know that within a week of writing those goals I would tear a pulley in my pinky and then three weeks later injure two of my other fingers on my left hand.  My fitness lagged during the first few months of 2009 and I was finally starting to feel better by the time we left for Indian Creek in March. My pinky still hurt but my other fingers were pain free while jamming. Five days of crack climbing gave me confidence and I though my fitness was decent enough to attempt Moonlight. I proposed the idea to Stein and two weeks ago we started making plans and getting beta to climb in Zion.


On the “Approach” to Clark Mountain

We had everything worked out and were planning on an early Friday morning departure for the 7+ hour drive to Zion. We would climb the first easy pitches to get familiar with the area that day and then rap off and come back the next day to fire the whole route. I had all the gear sorted and we picked out our pitches, excited get on such a beautiful climb.  Thursday night came and I was all ready to go home from work  when I decided to check the weather. Oh no! 40% chance of rain for Friday and 30% chance of snow for Saturday…. I called Stein and we chatted as I drove home. After a bit of discussion we decided it was best not to climb on soft sandstone of Zion in the rain especially since attempting a multipitch climb at our limit in the snow would not be a good time.


Stein doing a bit of road restoration.

The weather would be an issue but climbing was still on the plate so we packed a few more guidebooks and threw in some quick draws. There is plenty of Limestone  to climb around Las Vegas, which dries quickly, and we could always go to Red Rocks if the rain stayed away. Our first choice was to go to Clark Mountain. Stein had been to before but never in his own car due to the long off road approach. We added a few shovels to Stein’s two wheel drive 4Runner and drove north. If we could not make the 9 mile approach we could always turn around and keep driving to the Virgin River Gorge or Saint George.


The multiple tiers of Clark Mountain

The drive out to the California/Nevada border was uneventful and it was nice to finally turn off to drive towards Clark after passing the exit so many times en route to Las Vegas. We made quick progress and made the correct turns using the mileage estimates from the  Islands in the Sky guidebook . The road was fairly good for the first 5 miles with driving on gravel and river rocks  in a wash with the occasional helpful cairn. At some point it became beneficial to have higher clearance, which our 4runner had, but nothing serious in the way of difficult driving. There were some tricky sections where the road had been washed out but at around 8 miles the road seemed to mellow out and we thought the last mile would be cake. We were wrong and were rewarded with  most technical maneuvering thus far. Despite a narrowing trail, obstacles and steep side angles our two wheel drive 4Runner made it all the way to the parking lot!


Hiking up with light packs on the second day.



Looking up to the 2nd and 3rd Tiers

Despite our exuberance we were greeted by a dark cloud that was stuck on the top of the mountain and small snowflakes fell from the sky. The weather seemed decently warm but we were now at elevation and it was clearly quite cold way up in the clouds. After repacking for a day of sport climbing we headed up to the first tier excited to get on the highly featured limestone. Stein knew his way around and we reached the shady wall in no time.  My fingers froze on the first lead despite two long sleeved shirts and pants and in retrospect the shade was a poor choice for a 40 degree day.   During Stein’s lead of the next route the sky opened up and little piles of snow started accumulating at the base. He fought the cold and nabbed the onsight and I layered up even more for my flash. With an additional soft shell my core was overheating but I could still only barely feel my hands by the end of the climb.


Stein on the steep approach.

We hiked up to the second tier for a bit of sun and a lunch break now that the dark cloud had moved on. The second tier was quite beautiful with multiple ledge systems and climbs a plenty. We lounged in the sun happy to relax and feel our fingers again. Stein took a brief nap as I pondered the scenery and thought possible sequences on the 11d  we had both just fallen off before lunch.  The much needed rest was not quite enough and after another set of attempts we decided to leave our draws on this route for the next day. We stashed our gear in a small cave and headed back to camp exhausted by the cold, the elevation and the driving.


Luke is happy to have stashed his crag pack the day before.

It was still quite early so we built a roaring fire to stay warm.  After dinner the temperature started dropping as the sun fell from the sky. Stein retired to the tent to stay warm and I followed shortly after and was asleep by 8pm.  We had a morning fire with our oatmeal and decided our day would be best spent in the sun on the second tier since Stein had barely slept due to the cold night.   The first part of the approach was faster without packs and we had the whole of Clark Mountain to ourselves on Saturday. We warmed up in the sun excited to be wearing T-Shirts and climbed an approach pitch to gain the ledge above the Toy Wall. Next we both lead one of my favorite climbs of the trip, an amazing 10c with wild moves and great exposure. I had brought a down jacket to the belay ledge which we alternated wearing now that it had gotten a bit colder. As the shade crept across the wall we climbed a fun 11c called Miss Karin, after Randy Levitt’s Wife, which I narrowly miss onsighting. I couldn’t find the last hold and pumped out before discover the huge jug that  allowed passage to the anchor. With my beta Stein easily flashed this climb and I was able to do it on my next try.


A steep cave full of projects at the 2nd tier.

After a lunch break we moved to the right side of the crag to stay in the sun. Stein focused his attention on an exciting 12a that had technical movment on a vertical face followed by a distinct crux through a roof. I TRed the line and was able to do all the moves after a few falls but did not want to re-injure my finger with a lead attempt. Stein tried a second time and fell as his foot slipped at the roof.  I wanted to try a Jorge Visser 11b to the right and got ready to be a bit excited with only 8 bolts in 100 feet.  The first 40 feet were a bit chossy and most likely the main reason for only having 2 bolts. The climbing was quite easy to the first ledge and I looked up and saw a closely bolted face which would be the crux.  The moves were quite core intensive as I climbed up smooth slopers facing the wrong directions.  All of a sudden when I was in the meat of the onsight, confused by where to go,  I started to pump out. I found a jug and shook vigorously not wanting to give up. I took it one move at a time and slowly worked through the crux and made it to another jug.  I was past the hardest section of the route and after a bit more recovery made the final moves to the anchor! I was very happy, not only for the onsight, but because I had figured out a workable sequence and had not given up despite getting fairly pumped.


A happy but chilly Stein at camp.

Stein made one more attempt on his 12a but was too tired to redpoint it. I wanted one more attempt at the 11d from the day before and we packed up and moved down to the colder first tier. With the draws already hanging I was all set to send.  At the crux throw I missed the hold but was able to catch an intermediate and bumped into the crimp with my right hand. The hold  felt all wrong so I came back to a jug and threw again and latched the hold. My cold fingers still didn’t feel quite right and I too easily gave up.  After warming my hands I figure out the correct way to hold the right crimp, as more of a gaston, and climbed to the top.  Stein and I were both spent and returned to the car ready to go back to San Diego. We would be arriving home late but that was better than another cold and sleepless night for Stein. I was content with my weekend and excited to suprise Lizzy with a visit on Sunday.

I look forward to getting back to Clark during the warmer months with a bit more finger strength. The setting is absolutley amazing and it was killer to have all of the beautiful limestone to ourselves!





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