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Clark Range Circuit is a 43.9 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Oakhurst, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until October.

Distance: 43.9 miles Elevation Gain: 8,546 feet Route Type: Loop

backpacking

camping

hiking

nature trips

bird watching

forest

lake

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

no dogs

Yosemite National Park is open to those with reservations begining on Thursday, June 11. See the park website for more info: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/covid19.htm A multi-day loop in Yosemite's High Country without the crowds. Spend several days circling Yosemite's Clark Range, and the source of the Merced River, enjoying big mountains, open spaces, and cold blue lakes without the crowds normally associated with the words "Yosemite." Expect to spend approximately 5 days on this hike. This trail begins at the Quartz Mountain trailhead, which has the shortest approach hike. There are many other trailheads that can be used as a starting point, however, such as Chiquito Pass (the drive to which is all paved), the Fernandez Trailhead, or even Yosemite Valley itself (although that involves a 16-mile 5000' approach to the loop). Entering Yosemite from the south, at Chiquito Pass, the trail meanders through the forest before reaching a junction to the Chain Lakes - an excellent place to stop for a mellow first day's hike. From the Chain Lakes junction, the primary trail heads west and then north to Moraine Meadows and the South Fork Merced River, where the moraines are barely in evidence and the meadows not much more. From here, take the long climb to forested Merced Pass; Upper Merced Pass Lake is a lovely place to stay and the first reliable water since the South Fork Merced River. After Merced Pass, you continue winding upwards and soon break out of the trees, getting great views of Red Peak, Ottoway Peak, and Merced Peak. Lower Ottoway Lake is heavily used, but for a reason: it is a stunning campsite, with a beautiful subalpine lake surrounded by peaks 2,000 feet taller. Upper Ottoway Lake, "only" 800 feet higher, is stunning too but for its austerity, with only tiny plants surviving amidst the talus. The camping here is limited and windy. From Upper Ottoway Lake it is another 800 vertical feet to Red Peak Pass, where a panorama across much of Yosemite unfolds. The descent from Red Peak Pass and across the high open country of the north side of the Clark Range is gorgeous, and should be prolonged as long as possible, with wide-open country and expansive views. Camping and water are readily available through this entire area until the descent to the Triple Peak Fork of the Merced River. At the Triple Peak Fork you could head north to Washburn Lake and the High Sierra camp there, but this route climbs back up towards Post Peak Pass. You'll reach a big open bowl at 10,000' which is -- once again -- stunning. Once you finally decide to leave this basin, there is an 800-foot climb to the crest of the Clark Range and a traverse to Post Peak Pass, then a leg-jarring descent to geologically-intriguing Porphyry Lake. At this point you've left Yosemite for the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the trail gets noticeably harder to follow. After Porphyry Lake, the route descends once again into the forest and while water is available the camping isn't great until you climb back up to the Rutherford Lake area. From Rutherford Lake, the route climbs up to Fernandez Pass and then plunges back into Yosemite towards Breeze Lake and its downstream siblings. Camping is good at the siblings. From here, descend back to Moraine Meadows, to the Chain Lakes Junction, and out across Chiquito Pass and to the trailhead.

Mon Feb 25 2019

NOTE: the distance and route has been updated for this trail with my recording. Distance is much more accurate but note that the trail now skips Chain Lakes as I did not visit that section! There’s still a yellow waypoint and it’s easy to walk along the trail and get there.

hiking
Sat Oct 27 2018

This route is closer to 71km (44.12mi) than the reported 63.9km (39.70mi) (and I didn't visit Chain Lakes!). Thank you to the originator of the track - the detailed waypoint labels were a huge boon on the walk. After completing Rae Lakes a couple of months ago, I wanted another challenge and felt this would be roughly equivalent in difficulty. Based on previous pace I'd hoped to complete the loop in 15-16hrs and given available daylight wanted to do the lollipop stick in the dark (about 4h). I set off Saturday 06:05 and the light was hitting towards the first stream crossing. The loop becomes interesting around Merced Pass where we snatch glimpses towards the Valley. Seeing Half Dome from around here was a pretty cool moment for me and seeing it in the distance but still relatively close (just 21.9mi according to an upcoming sign) made Yosemite feel small in my mind. The approach to Red Peak Pass is very good - extremely well maintained trails with no routefinding issues whatsoever. Presumably this is because the section is shared with the more popular "Clark Range Loop" which starts and ends at the more accessible Happy Isles. The lakes on the way up offer great views and seeing Merced Peak up close is also extremely impressive. Topping out at Red Peak Pass was absolutely *the* highlight of the loop. The visa here is huge - all of the main peaks such as Dana and Conness are laid out in front of us. I'm not great at names but an app like PeakFinder AR is a great option here. Better still is that as you descend just a few switchbacks you get your first glimpse of the Minarets over to your right. The descent of Red Peak (and Post Peak and even moreso Fernandez) Pass is quite hard going with scree (talus) under foot. I'd hoped to run down some sections of the descents but didn't want to risk it so far out in the wilderness. In late October there was icy snow on the north side of Red Peak Pass but this was only present for a handful of switchbacks. Descending through the meadows towards Post Peak Pass was absolutely gorgeous and the only real time on the loop I wanted to stop and spend some time. In particular one "unnamed" lake that was accompanied by a waymarker would be an ideal stop for me. For now I can only imagine how gorgeous this would be in summer with more greenery. Post Peak Pass was a great ascent - crossing over an alpine meadow (again, summer would be a great time to be there) and then slowly ascending and looking back at the meadow as well as the Clark Range. As crazy as it sounds this is where things start to feel really remote. Obviously people ascend this pass but throughout the hike there were signs listing the distance to Fernandez Pass but very few to Post Peak Pass. Amazing views walking along the ridge into Ansel Adams Wilderness. This is where I drew in my last views of the Minarets before starting the descent to the next ascent of Fernandez Pass. At this time things went downhill for me. I'd already noticed that my pace was slow (I hoped for 14:00/km but instead finished with 15:14/km) but was now beginning to notice just how much of a sandbag the trail was. Due to the low resolution of the track a lot of distance in switchbacks, etc. were cut and as a result my walk was extended by around 7km or close to two hours. I had anticipated on being close to the top of the lollipop stick around the time it got dark and then finish with a two hour descent to the trailhead. In the end I reached Fernandez Creek Trail Junction after dark and walked the next four hours by headtorch. I have no idea what the views from Fernandez Pass are like or any other section on. I expect they were great and regret not having had a chance to see them myself. Perhaps in future I will walk up to Fernandez Pass out and back from the trailhead with an easier approach. My gripes/thoughts: The lollipop stick 10km walk is really not fun. Nor is the narrow windy singletrack down from Fernandez Pass. This route can never be 5/5 with those two sections. To add insult to injury you do the 10km lollipop stick twice - that's four hours of pretty grim walking and a significant chunk of this walk. I debated with giving this a 3 but I think rushing to do it in a short space of time, not seeing Fernandez Pass, etc. I erred on the side of caution. Finally - this trail is HARD. I thought it would compare favourably to Rae Lakes but that's a doddle by comparison. Your feet, legs, back, everything will take a beating. Three passes (even if neither is as high as Glen Pass) is brutal and mentally challenging. I enjoyed almost every minute of Rae Lakes but would not personally recommend this be done as a day loop - in summer with more daylight it will be too hot and in winter you miss too much.

Mon May 22 2017

Do people really go back there or is it just you and Tom Harrison? I plan to hike from Mammoth Lakes to either the valley or Wawona via Fernandez Pass

backpacking
Tue Aug 09 2016

It took us 6 days to do the 40 miles with 4 passes. The trail was in excellent condition, thanks to NPS and NFS trail crews. We especially enjoyed trail from Merced Pass to Fernandez Pass. Nice views of Banner, Ritter and Minarets from Post Peak Pass. NFS in Oakhurst has wilderness permits and rents bear canisters, call them for availability, and they have maps to Quartz Mountain trailhead (almost 2 hrs of driving on dirt roads)