Mount Deception by Mount Clark via Royal Basin + Royal Lake / 詭計山

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Mount Deception rises atop Royal Basin in the Olympic National Park. It comes after Mount Olympus, before Mount Constance, as the #2 tallest peak in the range. Meanwhile, Mount Clark joins Gray Wolf Ridge through Mount Walkinshaw.

One step closer to Mount Deception
One step closer to Mount Deception

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Mount Deception and Mount Clark at a Glance

Access: Upper Dungeness Trailhead
Round Trip: 21.6 miles
Elevation Range: 3520′-7788
Essential Gear: helmet
Route Info: Ignas Cerniauskas (Deception), Aaron Wilson (Clark)
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no pets

The Preface on Mount Deception

Mount Deception was my only goal in the Olympic Mountains this season. I wanted to come earlier, but there weren’t enough weekends to spare. Though, the late-season trip offered the perks of solitude and fall colors.

Because of the shorter daylight and the long approach, I began walking in the dark in mid-September. I prefer to start early when it’s light out. But it helps to front-load most miles at night under time constraints.

Before sunrise from Upper Dungeness Trail
Before sunrise from Upper Dungeness Trail

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Upper Dungeness Trail

I parked by half a dozen cars before the bridge and left past 4 AM. After going a mile alongside the Dungeness River, I reached the bridge with tents on the other side. Then I went on the Royal Basin Trail into the national park shortly.

The sun rose as I walked through lower Royal Meadow with some ridge view. Then it was only half a mile and 400′ gain to the serene Royal Lake. The path later dipped a bit at the southwest shore with a few tents nearby.

Lower Royal Meadow
Lower Royal Meadow

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Royal Basin

I followed the “ranger station” sign by the fork out into the open but didn’t find a building. Then the trail went up 200′ into the lush middle basin, showing the top of Mount Deception. Here I chatted with a camper returning to Royal Lake from a walk.

The trail crossed a stream and picked up the incline toward the upper basin. As the angle lessened, I soon found more rocks beyond the grass field. Then I rested a bit by the unnamed pond before plunging into the moraine.

Royal Lake south panorama
Royal Lake south panorama

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Mount Deception Northeast Ridge

At first, this part of the national park felt remote as I’d only researched Mount Deception. But I looked at the map closely and saw the trails winding through virtually all the valleys. It’s more developed than I’d imagined.

With Mount Clark as my other goal, I could use all the daylight in the world. So I decided to go with Ignas‘ track as it would take me straight up the northeast ridge. I just needed to be mindful of the rotten rocks en route.

Stay still, everyone
Stay still, everyone

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Final Stretch Above Royal Basin

Terrain dipped a bit and went by the moraine pools not visible from the trail. Then it was all scree for the next 1400′ to 7200′, where I attained the minor ridge. It was more manageable without the constant sliding on small rocks.

I saw one cairn en route as I crossed the rib into the northeast gully. Then it was going through steeper terrain with the occasional class 4 moves. Soon, I reached the north ridge above 7600′ and walked the rest on a faint trail.

West route below Gilhooley Tower
West route below Gilhooley Tower

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Mount Deception Summit Views

Earlier on the ridge, I saw the standard route below Gilhooley Tower. But I was glad to have avoided the north basin and didn’t need to use crampons. I settled in quickly, fascinated by the basalt rocks strewing the top.

Without snow, the area looked barren. I was only familiar with Gray Wolf Ridge, plus the distant Mount Olympus of the entire lineup. Among “The Needles” to the north was my next goal: Mount Clark, which I couldn’t pinpoint.

North panorama from Mount Deception
North panorama from Mount Deception

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Next Stop, Mount Clark

Soon, I went back on the ridge and plunge-stepped through loose rocks to 6400′. Before leaving the top, I noted Mount Mystery and the cool-looking Wellesley Ridge. Both looked impressive to visit on a future trip.

I kept the same altitude while traversing north through more scree into Surprise Basin. In hindsight, it may have saved some time by dropping to 5800′. But by then, I was lazy and didn’t feel like losing another 600′.

Looking back at Mount Deception
Looking back at Mount Deception

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Surprise Basin

I went into the bowl and aimed for the 6900′ notch between Mount Johnson and Mount Clark. During this, I crossed a small ice field with running water lower down and a snowfield below the pass. But it was weaving through the giant boulders that took the longest.

I got a peek into the west over the expansive landscape from the gap. I stashed the snow gear and scoped out the route below the headwall. Then I went southeast through scree and found a ramp hugging the cliffs.

The real Mount Clark, please stand up
The real Mount Clark, please stand up

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Corkscrew Route on Mount Clark

The rocky ramp soon turned into a defined trail up toward the ridge. Like many places I’ve visited, cairns seemed to show up where the route was most apparent. I tried continuing on the crest from the south notch at 7350′ but couldn’t.

So I poked my head out the east and saw what I thought was the correct way. So I double-checked Aaron‘s track and realized I needed to go down. Most reports had conveniently omitted the “dropping onto the east face” part.

Dropping onto the east
Dropping onto the east

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Final Stretch on Mount Clark

I saw two ways to downclimb and used the crack to reach the ledge at 7250′. The route wrapped around the east below the summit tower through grass slopes. Then it went into the north gully that reminded me of a dike.

It was hard to tell which pinnacle was the real deal, so I aimed at the one next to it. But higher up, I realized it was the slab with a wide crack in the middle. So I stepped into the gap and used solid holds to finish the last bit.

Below Mount Clark's east face
Below Mount Clark’s east face

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Mount Clark Summit Views

I had looked forward to seeing Mount Deception from this angle. But despite the mountain being taller, I only saw parts of it because Martin Peak sat right in front. Grr, I must’ve missed the memo somewhere.

The sun was behind Mount Johnson, so the peak was now a big blob. But the lighting was great in the other directions, especially on Gray Wolf Ridge and Petunia Peak. I even got Mount Constance and The Brothers in the backdrop of my selfie.

South panorama from Mount Clark
South panorama from Mount Clark

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Royal Basin Back to Upper Dungeness Trailhead

I carefully returned to the south notch, then the west, for the long way out. As usual, now I knew the route, the cairns I’d missed before started to pop up one by one. But going back through Surprise Basin was just as slow as coming in.

I made a beeline for the unnamed pond at 5720′ from the basin opening. While changing shoes by the shore, I chatted with two campers who had just arrived. Then I made the 8.5-mile, unexciting walk back to the trailhead.

Finding my way home
Finding my way home

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