Dragon Peak beckons to the climber as the distinctive pyramid seen from the Golden Trout Lakes drainage, accompanied just to the north by the dramatic "Dragons Tooth". Dragon Peaks' somewhat challenging third class summit blocks and wonderful vistas have garnered it a spot on the Sierra Club SPS list. On first sight from the lower lakes it begs you to come on up - it's why we climb!
The first recorded ascent was via the South Ridge Route in 1920 by Fred Parker and J.E. Rother (Secor, 2nd Ed.) There appears to be some discrepancy in the altitude of the peak; R.J. Secor calls it 12955; Steve Ropers older guide lists it as 12995. USGS reportedly agrees with the latter, higher number. A recent poll shows that most climbers agree that it feels more like 12995 than 12955 so that should settle the matter for now.
The peak can be reached from a few different directions, the southeast ridge route from Onion Valley apparently being the most traveled (coincidentally this is the easiest and most direct approach.) It can also be reached via a third class traverse from Mt Gould which lies approximately 1 mile to the south along the Sierra Crest and at least one 5th class route has been documented. Undoubtedly many other approaches exist. Be aware that there is much loose rock on this route.
From the US Forest Service Website:
"The John Muir Wilderness encompasses a 100-mile stretch of typical Sierra Nevada peaks and valleys, including the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, Mount Whitney (14,496 feet). It is one of the most heavily visited wildernesses in the nation. The John Muir was also established with the Wilderness Act of 1964 and enlarged by the California Wilderness Act of 1984, now totaling 581,143 acres." (See USFS page USFS Website - Inyo National Forest
From Highway 395 and the town of Independence, head up the Onion Valley Road. As you leave the town this will take you past the Eastern Sierra Museum. If you haven't been here, take the time to check it out. There you can see Norman Clydes' snowshoes, skis, a revolver given to him by Jules Eichorn and the trademark hat, as well as a few other personal items. Definitely worthwhile.
Eastern California Museum
Continue up the Onion Valley Road into steepening hills as you pass many old mining areas and abandoned equipment. The road switchbacks thru beautiful alpine scenery and after about 15 miles leads to the Onion Valley Trailhead and Campground. Independence Peak is the large peak just to the south of the switchbacks.
When To Climb
Depending on your preferences (snow vs talus) you should find this area climbable year-round.
The southeast ridge route can easily be done as a dayhike in the summer (this is how we did it) when the snows have receded and the use-trail is easily discernable but you'll be traveling over some moderate talus at the base of the peak.
If you're looking for a good peak to take a "somewhat experienced" girlfriend/significant other/etc along on, this would be a good summertime introduction to moderate Sierra third class with some pretty airy exposure along a fun, solid climbing route. See "Gear" and "Routes" sections for more details on this aspect.
Having hiked to Golden Trout Lakes in the late winter I can say that this area is easily approachable (at least as far as the lower lake.) I hope to return to the area next winter to investigate climbing in the white season.
Red Tape, Permits, Etc
Again, (courtesy of the USFS website)
The best source of information for camping, permits and quotas can be found at:
How to get a Wilderness Permit for the Inyo Wilderness Areas"
2004 USFS Trailhead Quotas
As mentioned above, for the routes from Golden Trout Lakes and Mt Gould there are some third class sections. You may want to bring a rope along if you or your partner are not completely comfortable on small exposed ledges (albeit with very good hands and feet; and yes that's in hiking boots.)
Slings and a couple of SLCD's in the 1" to 3" range should more than suffice. No raps are necessary for either of these two fun easy routes. I have not done any of the fifth class routes and will not attempt to list gear requirements for these chossy looking routes. If you have beta on this, please feel free to comment