Red Peak is one of several significant peaks in the Clark Range, and located in the remote southeast part of Yosemite. An enthusiastic climber describes it as a big red pile of rocks. Who wouldn't want to go there?! There are several ways to conquer the peak. I chose an approach from northwest, via the lake marked "10425" on non-metric USGS maps (3178 m). The lake is one of sources of Red Creek. Distance between the Mono Meadow trailhead and Lake 10425 is about nine miles "as the crow flies", but the ground distance is more like 12 miles (19 km), almost half of that cross-country. Add another mile to the summit, and you end up with the total distance which is just a bit too far for a comfortable day hike.
This report has two parts. The first part is about climbing from Lake 10425 to the peak. The second part describes how to get from the trailhead to the base of the mountain. I didn't have a camera with me, but Reiner Stenzel and Bob Burd kindly allowed me to (ab)use pictures from their trips in the region (Reiner's trip report is from September 1998, and Bob's from August 2005).
Lake 10425 is situated in a cirque formed by Red Peak and Gray Peak. This lake, in fact, could be a starting point for both Red and Gray peaks. If you select Red Peak, you have two obvious choices. There are two prominent saddles above the lake, one on Red Peak's north ridge (the ridge that directly connects Red and Gray peaks), another on the northwest ridge of Red Peak (see pictures and maps below). Both saddles are at about 11000 ft.
From the lake, the north ridge looked quite serrated, and I couldn't tell how good the rock was, so I opted for the northwest ridge, which appeared to be less risky. My first impression was that by following the upper edge of the snow field seen on the photo below, I could easily reach the saddle. I did have crampons, and could have also taken the snow path, but I was too lazy to put the crampons on.
As I was climbing, I became more ambitious, and decided to reach the northwest ridge half a way up, not at the saddle. So, instead of following the snow field, I turned straight up (see the left picture below). That almost worked, until—within the last fifty feet of this "direct" ascent—I hit an area of steep, slippery and unstable rock. I carefully traced my steps back to a more stable terrain, then humbly followed the original plan (see the right picture below). Well, it was worth trying.
There were no further obstacles on my way to the saddle, and once on the ridge, I followed its firm rock all the way to the top of the mountain.
In the last few steps of the climb, it is convenient to drop several feet to the right (south) from the ridge, to avoid some exposed rocks on the shoulder of the summit. If you do that, your ascent would stay at a simple class-2 rating all the way to the top.
The view from Red Peak's summit is fabulous. You get an almost full circle of uninterrupted Sierra peaks, from northern and eastern Yosemite, to the Ritter Range, and further south. Since the weather was fair, I stayed at the summit for almost an hour and enjoyed. A party of two must have left the top just a few minutes before my arrival, and I saw them on the steep southwest chute (right arrow on the map below), heading probably towards the lakes south of the peak. If you are planning a trip to Red Peak from the southwest, consider following a small creek to the saddle on the northwest ridge (left arrow below), rather than using the direct chute (right arrow). This alternative path is a tiny bit longer, but so much more enjoyable, because the rock on the southern approach to the saddle, and on the ridge itself is excellent, while the "direct chute" looks like a real slog.
According to the peak register, about 25 parties paid the visit to Red Peak in the year 2008, starting in June, with the last ascent on October 27, 2008. This year (2009), the first ascent was made just seven days before my trip (on July 8, by Eric Kohl from San Francisco). The second party this year were the two people that I saw earlier in the day going down the southwest chute (they were Mike Poisson and Eva Martin, from Yosemite Valley). I was only the third party climbing the peak in 2009. Not too much traffic, probably because Red Peak is so remote.
On my way back, I used crampons on the snow field, and quickly and safely reached the lake (blue path on the picture below).
To get to the area, you can start from the Mono Meadow trailhead, off the Glacier Point road. There is a daily quota for this trailhead, and advanced reservation is possible (and recommendable for weekends), but it is less likely that you would need a reservation for a midweek trip. I started from Palo Alto at 4 am, and picked up my walk in permit at the Big Oak Flat entrance. (The permit office was not open until 8 am, and I had to wait for almost an hour). The Mono Meadow trailhead is at 7275 ft. There are no restrooms or water, but you can find several bear-proof boxes near the parking lot for your extra food. The trail descends to Illilouette Creek, 6380 ft, then splits into several branches, one of which continues uphill to Clark Fork, and crosses it at 7100 ft. This first-down-then-up feature of the trail is not ideal, but there isn't much of a choice. The only alternative would be to take a trail coming from the Valley floor.
I left the trailhead at 11 am. In July 2009, the Mono Meadows segment of the trail was quite muddy. Further down hill, where the trail meets Illilouette Creek, I took my boots off and courageously crossed to the other bank. There is no bridge at that place, and I didn't see any suitable log over the creek. However, the water was low (ankle high) and not very cold. Just be careful, because the rocks under the water could be slippery. (Check Bob Burd's photo of the crossing). It took an hour and a quarter to get to the creek from the trailhead. (On my way back, uphill, it took me an hour and three quarters on the same segment).
To continue to Clark Fork from the Illilouette crossing, follow signs that point to Merced or Fernandez passes, or to Ottoway Lakes. You can reach Clark Fork in about an hour and a half. At this crossing, there are several sets of logs over the creek. There is a good camping spot near the trail on the other (south) bank. Less than a quarter of mile farther, the trail crosses Red Creek, but I didn't have to go that far. Instead, I left the trail just before it began curving towards southeast, then continued cross country east and uphill, on a narrow strip of land between Clark Fork and Red Creek (and later, Gray Creek and Red Creek).
The first section of the off trail route was terrible. A forest fire had left dead and fallen trees everywhere. In addition, if you get too close to either Red or Clark creeks, you get into marshy, bushy, swampy, unpleasant areas. Farther uphill the situation is a bit more tolerable. A good recommendation is to stay in the middle between the two creeks as long as you can, but I didn't follow that advice. The problem with the central region is that there are no good landmarks to tell where you are and how far had you traveled. You are surrounded by tall trees on a mildly inclined slope, and have no view of mountain tops ahead. Instead, I decided to keep Red Creek always within eyesight to my right, so that I could compare bends on the creek with those on a topo map, and better judge my true position. One of penalties for this decision was a very slow progress.
My original plan was to follow the creek, find Grayling Lake (8692 ft), and establish a base camp there. On maps of the area, Grayling looked like a good starting point for the next day's ascent to Lake 10425 and Red Peak. After several hours of wandering up the creek, I could tell I was close to Grayling, and I was searching for the place where the outlet from the lake merges with Red Creek, but I couldn't find it. Immediate vicinity of Red Creek near this place was like a jungle: overgrown bushes, standing and fallen trees, swamps on both sides of the stream. So I gave up the idea of camping at the lake, and remained on the north side of Red Creek. I soon found a small flat and open area from which I could finally see the west ridge of Gray Peak, and convinced myself that I was on the right track in spite of the failure to locate Grayling Lake. It was getting close to 7 pm, and I set up camp on the flat with the view, and retired for the day.
The trip from my base camp to Lake 10425 on the next morning was in such a contrast to the dreadful experience of Day 1: I stayed north of Red Creek, and enjoyed scrambling up terraces and plateaus, or walking over alpine meadows, with ever expanding views of ridges and peaks in the Gray Peak—Red Peak cirque. I started at 8 am, and was at the east tip of Lake 10425 by 10:30. Although the summit is now within your sight, it can take another hour or two to actually reach it if this is your first trip up this route. I left the summit at about 2 pm, and was back in camp, at a bend on Red Creek, at 5:15 pm.
The sun was still high, and there was enough time to make another attempt to locate Grayling Lake. I crossed over the creek, made a wide circle around a marshy area, and finally reached a low shelf that was hiding a small lake. Reeds, hydrophytes and pondweed were abundant in the shallow east part of the lake, while its deeper west side was a bit more attractive. There were several good camping spots near the lake, but no view of either Clark Range (east) or of the Illilouette Creek basin (west). Nevertheless, the lake has its fans. Somebody even left a notebook on a rock near the lake, allowing visitors to describe their admiration with the scenery. My somewhat dissenting voice was expressed by the following note:
On Day 3, my trip back to "civilization" was more pleasant than my Day 1 on the same cross country section. This time I really stayed in the central area between Red and Gray creeks, and in about two hours found my way back to the trail near the Clark Fork crossing. At 1:30 pm, I reached Illilouette Creek. It was a warm and sunny day, and I took a long bath in the creek before continuing uphill and back to the parking lot. Before midnight, I was back in Palo Alto.
Check the Red Peak weather forecast before your trip.