Dragon Peak - Elevation 12,995 ft
Mount Gould - Elevation 13,005 ft
Round Trip Mileage: 9.8 miles
Round Trip Gross Elevation Gain: 4700 ft
7.5 Minute Quadrant Maps of Area:
MOUNT CLARENCE KING
GPS Track in .gpx format:
Google Earth KMZ file:
Download KMZ file with images (need Google Earth Installed)
Saturday, June 16th at 7:00 AM I start out solo for Dragon Peak from Onion Valley Trailhead. My plans are not set in stone. I may hike only Dragon Peak, or possibly Dragon and Kearsarge Peak. This is my first solo hike of mountain via a route classified harder than class 1 and I am not even sure that I will make it to the top of Dragon Peak, especially if I run into snow. I start off on the main trail leading to Kearsarge pass from Onion Valley. After a short distance, I take the marked trail to the north heading towards Golden Trout Lake. One of the beautiful waterfalls in the area comes into view and soon I am hiking up a very steep, sandy trail along its north side. The top of the waterfall consists of a large boulder field and I absentmindedly loose the trail. I figure I will hook up with it by angling to the west and am not concerned. After a while I still have not found the trail so I consult my map and determine that the trail actually crossed the creek at the top of the waterfall and now I am on the wrong side. The hiking is easy without the trail so I continue along my cross country route rather than trying to find a way to cross the creek and find the trail. Now I find myself having to climb a talus slope and gaining elevation above the creek. I am stubborn, and am not willing to give up any of my elevation gain so I continue on my cross country route. I end up having to loose some elevation and rejoin the trail as it climbs next to the second waterfall. I figure my cross country route added some elevation but cut some mileage. Once on the trail I make a mental note that when hiking alone I should stay on the trail. The talus slopes were not difficult, but shifting rocks could trap my leg and break a bone and no one would know where to find me (I told my campmates simply that I was hiking Dragon and probably Gould).
Ascending to Ridge
On top of the second waterfall is a pristine meadow with some of the clearest water meandering through it. The high alpine meadows really appeal to me and my mood starts to elevate. I am getting into the groove of the hike and nature is flowing through me. Clearing out all the crap and replacing it with simple, natural beauty. I go around the first no name lake on the south side and the second on the north. As I start climbing the scree/talus slope towards Dragon Peak I realize that the route to the north of the peak that I assumed was the way to get to the summit is definitely not the right one. There is a large vertical face of rock between the ridge and the summit. This makes me realize that I did not do enough research, but it is now clear that the only possible route is from the south gully. I have to loose some elevation again to get on the correct route, which is in a southwest direction from the lake. The slog up the slope is tough, mainly scree and talus and I had to detour in order to avoid some snow patches. I start to feel the elevation’s effect on me just over 12,000 ft and slow a little. As I get closer to the crux of the route near the summit, I find an easier looking narrow chute heading north west towards the summit. After one short section that I figure might be class 4 I am up on the ridge and have an amazing view over to the west of Rae lakes still covered with ice.
Ridge Traverse to Dragon Peak
Now starts my ridge traverse and the testing of my resolve. The ridge is intimidating. There is significant exposure and many obstacles that I must traverse around as I make my way to what I figure is the summit. I look at my map and read the note that I wrote stating that the east peak is a false peak (beta from Becht). Well, I cross many false peaks and see what I figure must be the summit proper. After some tricky ridge work I am on top of this peak only to realize that the one to the west is taller – duh, this is the one Becht warned me about. Now my courage is tested to its limit. The route to the true summit looks very intimidating. Extreme exposure and some subpeaks that look very difficult to traverse around. For a moment I thought I could consider this false summit the actual summit and say I summited. But there is no way I could not at least try the true summit, I didn’t come all this way to give up right at the end. So I carefully make my way over to the summit. I make my way along the knife edge ridge and get to a position right near the summit and a very narrow ridge. Becht also told me about this ridge, stating that it is typically the most memorable part of the climb. The ridge is angled at near 70 degrees and drops off the edge far below. One slip and that would be the end. There are basically no hand holds and you have to rely on foot placement only on a ridge about 1” wide. I make it across without problems and am soon on the top. I sign the register and head back. On my way back across the ridge I film a little video.
Traverse to Mount Gould
I have not decided if I am going to go back the way I came or traverse the ridge south to Mount Gould. I make my way back to the point I joined the ridge to weigh my options. The route down what I ascended does not look fun, I remember some more beta from Becht that the slope down from Mount Gould is easy scree, so I decide to go on to Mount Gould. The traverse to Mount Gould is fairly straightforward. I was able to keep most of the way at class 2 by carefully choosing my route while trying to avoid extra elevation gain. In a short distance (aprox. 1 mile) I am on Mount Gould. This time I summit the correct peak and find the register. Someone else had been on the summit earlier that morning. They wrote a note saying, “Jen, I wish you were here”. I had been thinking a lot about my wife (Jenn) and daughter throughout this trip and also entered “Jenn, I wish you were here” in the logbook. I always miss my family most while in the mountains alone, and I decide at this point that I am going to try to cut my hike tomorrow short to get home in time for Father’s Day dinner.
Descent to Onion Valley
The descent from Mount Gould is easy, and running down the scree slope to the Kearsarge Pass trail just above Big Pothole lake is fun. I make quick work on the descent and am soon on the Kearsarge pass trail towards Onion Valley. The descent to Onion Valley is very beautiful. The lakes along the way are among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Most have waterfalls draining either into them or out of them, grassy shores, clear, aquamarine water and wildflowers everywhere. I hiked up to Flower Lake 2 years ago with my family but could not make it any further due to snow. It is quite different this year with very little snow at all. I forgot how beautiful this trail was. The ancient looking foxtail pine forests and the huge waterfalls from multiple directions (at one point I could see 5 distinct waterfalls). After 6 hours and 40 minutes, 9.8 miles and 4700 gross elevation gain I am back at my campsite at Onion Valley. I feel very content sitting in a camp chair in the shade after a great hike. I have stored enough positive energy to help ward off all the negative energy in LA for a while. I also end up hiking University Peak Sunday(Google Earth KMZ Track of University Peak). Overall a superb weekend. Life is good, especially when in the Sierras.