Like a good physical fitness regimen, this weekend in the Sierra Nevada would involve one easy day alternating with a hard day. The plan was to climb Independence Peak (11,744 ft. elev.) on Saturday and University Peak (13,632 ft.) on Sunday.
Independence Peak: No Pizzaz
Our group of 7 left the Onion Valley Trailhead on the trail that goes directly south to Robinson Lake. This is an easy backpack because the route is only about 2 miles with no more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We set up camp and were on our way to climb Independence Peak before 10 a.m. The peak is located northwest of the lake and we chose a route up its west face. I’d like to tell you that the climbing was exhilarating. I’D LIKE TO TELL YOU THAT, BUT I CAN’T. In fact, the route up our chosen gully was a big ugly scree fest. As you climb, you have a wonderful view of Robinson Lake, but you’re also able to see the trailhead parking lot a couple of miles away. Somehow, that detracts from the feeling of being in the rugged wilderness far from civilization. Ah well, a peak climbed and a modest workout. The next day’s climb would make up for what today’s climb lacked in pizzaz.
University Peak: Climbing Among the Polemonium
Sunday morning, we left camp at 6:30 a.m. needing first to get over University Pass. We had to don crampons on this mid-July morning to get up the pass. And make no mistake; this is a challenging pass to ascend. At the top of the pass we were chagrined to encounter some high altitude mosquitos. But the compensation was the jaw-dropping view of Center Basin including Golden Bear Lake and Center Peak. We made a right turn at the top of the pass to take the Class 2 Southeast Ridge Route to the summit.
It was on this route that we encountered the beautiful purple Polemonium eximium erupting in flower all over the mountain. This flower’s common name is the Sky Pilot, apparently because it typically only grows at altitudes above 12,000 feet on rocky ridges and slopes. Polemonium Peak in the Palisades region is named after this flower. The beautiful raiment provided the mountain by the Polemoniun really enhanced the enjoyment of the climb. Near the top of the ridge, you turn right to get to the true summit. The last few hundred yards provided some nice Class 3 scrambling.
University Peak has one of the best 360 degree panoramas in the Sierra range. I especially enjoyed the view to the northwest of snow covered peaks spread out as far as the eye could see. The panorama included views of the Great Western Divide, Center Basin, the Kearsarge Pinnacles and Mt. Williamson. These are views that will make you feel a little spiritual. Unfortunately, none of the views were captured on film to share in this report because my trusty camera malfunctioned.
Our return was a predictable tiring descent. The descent of the top third portion of the 40 degree University Pass was a quad buster. Further down the slope, things eased up a little. We got back to camp 12 hours after we had left. It would have been great to be able to fire up the stove for dinner and then crawl into our tents for a good night’s sleep. But no dice. We had to break camp, hoof it back to the trailhead, and then take that long ride back to L.A. or neighboring counties. On the drive back, I took a half hour snooze break at the rest stop south of Olancha. I awoke refreshed. The memories of scree slogging receded in my brain overtaken by images of climbing among the Polemonium.