The SPS trip I was scheduled to go on had been canceled. Since I had already planned to take a day off from work, I had a choice to make: stay home (and work on the house), or plan another trip. After agonizing over the decision for several seconds, I decided on a solo attempt of Mt. Goddard from the west side.
The good news about a west side entry is that permits are not a problem (at least in this area). The Woodchuck trailhead (where I left from) has no quota, and getting a permit requires nothing more than calling the ranger station and then picking up your permit in the night drop box. The bad news is that accessing the trailhead requires hours of driving (o.k,… only an hour and a half) on winding mountain roads - a lot different than 75-80 MPH on highway 395.
I left the nearly deserted trailhead (one other truck) at 6:30 Thursday morning on a route that would take me above Wishon reservoir, up the woodchuck creek drainage, through crown pass, around scenic Halfmoon lake, and eventually down to the north fork of the kings river where I made camp at 3:30 near some slabs along the river at ~9,500 ft. While the hike in was long (18+ miles), the trails were in good shape, the weather was perfect, and the elevation gain was administered gradually. My goal was to pick a campsite that would get me close enough to Mt. Goddard so that I could climb it in one long day - but not too close, otherwise I'd be hauling my backpack in (and out) farther than I needed to. In retrospect, I came close to that goal - faster hikers may be able to get away with staying a little farther away.
I was off the next morning at 6:30 again. From camp I angled northeast up into blackcap basin and through Lightning Corral Meadow using the high point on the ridge northwest of Ambition Lake to help guide me. After locating Ambition Lake, I went around it's south side and up a nice ramp northeast of the lake to Valor lake. You can get around Valor Lake on either side - the east side is shorter, but requires passing through a boulder field - the west side (which I took on the way back) is a little longer but is over easier terrain. Once around the lake, any one of several ramps will get you up to Valor Pass. Descending from Valor Pass was a little tricky as I was trying to minimize the elevation loss while traversing over to the large gap above and east of Martha Lake. The most direct route was interrupted by several 30-40 ft cliffs which forced me to take more of a circuitous route than I'd hoped (some class 3 climbing required). Also, as I neared the point where the route turns east (north of peak 12,432), I ran into several other cliffs which slowed me down. Others may find it easier to simply descend to about 11,000 ft, follow the easier terrain on the east side of the lake, and then ascend to the gap.
As I approached the small lake at ~12,000 ft, the climbing became much more loose and crummy. I found the going a little easier (although not much) by staying north of the lake and on top of the various piles of rubble. At this point, I found some very interesting rock that had fractured off from a band up on the south side of Mt. Goddard. It was a "pinkish purple" color and very heavy. I continued heading northeast until I could see the large lake at 12,240 ft. at this point I could also see the chute that would get me up to the south ridge - it didn't look like much fun (loose) so I continued traversing the east slope hoping to find a more enjoyable route. On the way, I found what appeared to be a small piece (3'x4') of fuselage from a private airplane - no other wreckage was visible. After passing several other chutes, I found one that looked o.k. and started up it. It soon became disappointingly loose so I exited onto the left rib of the gully (south side) and followed it (class 3) up to the south ridge. From here, it was class 1 with a couple of easy class 3 moves to the summit, which I plopped onto at 12:30. After some lunch and soaking in the panoramic view, I headed back down. The return to camp was uneventful and I chugged back into camp at 5:00 ready for a soft rock and some hot tea.
Since I wanted to get home for dinner, I left the next morning at 4:30 and was treated to a beautiful sunrise as I hiked out of the canyon. As I approached the spur trail to Chimney Lake, I ran into the first humans on the trip (I'd had plenty of visits from deer, squirrels and sage grouse in my camp) - 2 guys who were heading in for a week long trip. These were the only other people I saw the on the whole trip - a refreshing change from some of the more crowded trailheads. I eventually reached my truck at 1:30, and was back home in time for dinner.
This is an awesome, long distance route....with few people (at least in late summer). I took the same route about 2 summers ago. I instead camped at Halfmoon Lake, which is quite beautiful (a large granite face above it). The next day, I followed the same route, but camped at a random lake through a narrow gully below the west side of Goddard and above Martha Lake. Goddard was climbed the next morning easily, then I preceeded through the Ionian Basin (a very unique area, just bare black, sharp rocks and unnamed lakes). Over Solomon Col and to Muir Pass to a camp site at Lake Helen of Troy. Then I followed the Muir trail into Leconte Canyon and down the Middle Fork of the Kings to Simpson Meadow. From there we headed to Tehipite Valley and back to Wishon Reservoir...total of 85-90 miles.