I initially wanted to do this as a day hike and after talking with the rangers and reading the other trip reports, I decided that it would have been a very long day had I done this. Now that I've done this climb, I’m thinking that it really would not have been a big deal. If I did it over again, I would do it as a day hike.
TH to basecamp (8500')= 2 hours with full pack
Basecamp to summit = 5 hours
Summit to basecamp = 2.5 hours
Basecamp back to TH = 1.5 hours
Total hiking/climbing time: 11 hours
Taking elevation into account and the lack of acclimatizing at 8500' feet, I may have been able to do this in less than 12 hrs. Still a long day but it would have been a fun challenge.
The time it takes to do this route will vary considerably depending on the group such as group size, strength, weather conditions, terrain, etc. The times shown above is best case scenario. While I did the roundtrip in 7.5 hours, I saw some climbers take up to 12 hours roundtrip and come down completely exhausted. Plan for worst case scenario so that you take everything into account. And leave early in the morning to avoid the hot sun.
Clear Creek Trailhead & Base camp
The Clear Creek trailhead is located about 13.5 miles total distance from the turnoff off of hwy 89, just outside of McCloud, CA. There is a network of dirt roads throughout this area and I printed a map so that I didn't get lost. The first ~5 miles of Pilgrim Creek Road is paved until you make the turnoff to the left onto Widow Springs Dr. After that, it's all dirt. I have a VW Jetta and I was wondering how much abuse my car would take to get to the TH. Surprisingly, the dirt road is in very good condition and my car did just fine without any issues. The road is well marked to get you to the trailhead. Be sure to follow the directions here: http://www.summitpost.org/clear-creek-route/157378.
I made camp at Clear Creek springs at 8500'. It's a 2+ hour hike from the parking lot. The trail conditions of sandy loose soil mixed with ash is a small introduction of what you will experience on the mountain. At 8500' when I arrived at the narrow, cold, flowing creek, I passed over the creek and walked about another 100 yds and made camp in the trees. There are lots of spots around so you shouldn't have an issue finding a campsite. When I arrived that day, climbers were just coming off of the mountain and they were packing up and leaving. I had the place to myself that night. Most of the new climbers that I saw that day continued up the mountain for higher ground at 10,000' and above. I couldn't see the logic to camp higher except to get an elevation advantage. I chose to camp lower in the trees so that I wasn't so exposed to the elements and to conserve energy and rest. The guys up above didn't have a water source like I did at Clear Creek. Bring a water filter.
It was a cloudless weekend with pleasant temperatures at basecamp. On climbing day, I awoke at 3 am and the temp was hovering around 50F inside my tent. I left my snow pants at camp and starting climbing at 3:30 am. I was wearing my leather mountaineering boots and low-cut gaitors, my hiking zip-offs pants, long sleeve shirt, a down vest, and a beanie. I had my gore-tex shell, light gloves, and hat in my backpack. Soon after I started, I ditched my vest and was comfortable in my long sleeve shirt for most of the way up. As I progressed up the mountain at about 12,500', the wind was getting stronger and stronger and the gloves relieved my hands from getting numb. Once on top, I broke down and put my jacket on. I'm glad I left my snow pants and balaclava at camp because they would have been extra weight.
I read before the trip how much trekking poles helped you to get up the mountain in the loose, sandy gravel/ash path. I don't own trekking poles and have never felt like I needed them and I was determined to do this climb without them. However, once I was at basecamp and became familiar with the terrain, I could see that trekking poles would likely help. So I made a strong walking stick that was designed to enable me to place both hands near the top and shift, sometimes half of my body weight, on to it to help me gain traction up the mountain. This worked well and I was glad that I had it.
I typically drink roughly 2 liters every 4 hours in moderate temperatures. On this trip, I planned to take 5 liters...2 in my Camelback and 3 in a waterbag. I ended up only drinking 3 liters total. I was glad to have the extra water though and I think I would have drank more had I started later in the day when the sun was up and the temperatures were warm
I called the Ranger's office and they said that a helmet, crampons, and ice axe weren't necessary to do this climb because there wasn't snow/ice to contend with at this time. They are typically on the far side of caution so I wasn't about to bring my gear and carry the extra weight if I didn't need to. The only snow/ice you will encounter is a small snowfield on the very top, in a level area, just below the summit. I crossed it fine in my leather boots.