OverviewUniversity Peak is a wonderful dayhike and climb and is easily accessed from Onion Valley, a popular eastside Sierra trailhead. It is set in a very beautiful part of the Sierra Wilderness. University Peak straddles the border between Kings Canyon National Park and the John Muir Wilderness in Inyo National Forest. It is big—at 13,632 feet, the biggest peak and a prominent feature near Kearsarge Pass, and beautiful—with many graceful and interesting features. University also has great views in many directions. Climbers reaching the summit will see the Great Western Divide, Center Basin, Kearsarge Pinnacles, and Mts. Clarence King, Split, and Williamson.
The first known ascent of University Peak was in 1896 by the early Sierra explorers Joseph LeConte, Helen Gompertz, Estelle Miller, and Belle Miller. University Peak has many different routes with varying difficulties and many different approaches that can be reached in a few hours or as part of a multi-day hike. These routes include:
* A class 1 route originating from Center Basin;
* 2 class 2 routes, including the Southeast Ridge Route and a route originating from Kearsarge Lakes;
* 2 class 3 routes, including the North Face Route and a route originating from the basin north of University Pass;
* A class 4 route originating from Robinson Lake;
* A III, 5.7 route originating from above Slim Lake; and
* A III, 5.8 route originating from above Lake 3460m.
See R.J. Secor, The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails, or Steve Roper, The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra (out of print), for additional information on routes.
EtymologyGordonye notes that University Peak was named for the University of California, Berkeley. Stanford University and Caltech also have their own mountains in the nearby King-Kern Divide. Bob Burd, excerpting Peter Browning’s "Place Names of the Sierra Nevada," adds that University Peak was "Named by J. N. LeConte and party on July 12, 1896, when they made the first ascent. The name, in honor of the University of California, had been given to a different peak by LeConte in 1890. At this same time he renamed that summit ‘Mt. Gould' (SCB 2, no. 2, May 1897: 84.)" Joseph LeConte (1823-1901) was a professor of geology and natural history at the University of California, 1869-1901.
Getting ThereThe easiest approach to University Peak is from the Onion Valley Trailhead, which can be reached by driving 13 miles west on the Onion Valley Road from Independence until the road ends. From there, hike up the trail towards Kearsarge Pass for 2 miles to Gilbert Lake, then continue south on a side trail, eventually passing Matlock Lake. This trail will become a good use trail that follows the west shore of Matlock Lake. Leave the trail at the western shore of the lake and hike the slopes to the southwest, skirting the southeast edge of Bench Lake. Continue up more slabs, chutes and ledges, aiming towards University Peak and reaching the eastern edge of Lake 11,400 directly under the peak.
Red TapeFor dayhikes, no permit or fee is required. A wilderness permit is required for overnight stays in the John Muir Wilderness in Inyo National Forest or Kings Canyon National Park. You only need to obtain a wilderness permit for your entry point. For example, if you enter in Inyo National forest, you do not need to obtain an additional permit for Kings Canyon National Park. Thus, only one permit is needed per trip.
Most people reach the University Peak area through Inyo National Forests. For entry through Inyo National Forest, wilderness permits may be obtained at the Mt. Whitney Ranger Station, located in Lone Pine, California. Permits can also be reserved in advance, which is recommended since many trailheads, including the Onion Valley Trailhead, are subject to use quotas and are filled many months in advance. Permits may be reserved for a fee of $5/person. Information on Inyo National Forest permit reservations is available online or call (760) 876-6200.
A less popular and longer option is to enter from the Westside of the Sierra at Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness Permits may be reserved in advance for a fee of $15/party. Information on permit reservations is available online or call (559) 565-3341.
Bear canisters are required in this area of Kings Canyon National Park and Inyo National Forest and can be rented at the ranger station. They can also be purchased for a reasonable price at the Whitney Portal Store in Lone Pine and at the Whitney Portal. This part of the Sierra is known for its active black bear population.
When To ClimbSummer climbing is best from July-October, depending on current weather conditions and snowfall amounts from the previous winter.
CampingThere is a campground at the trailhead in Onion Valley for car camping. Kearsarge Lakes to the west of Kearsarge Pass and Matlock Lake to the east are great backcountry camping areas. Inyo National Forest provides information on campgrounds.
Mountain ConditionsKings Canyon National Park: (559) 565-3341
Inyo National Forest visitor information: (760) 876-6200
Updated weather information is also available.