Up the Meysan Trail
A high school buddy and I set out one early August morning to summit Lone Pine Peak, having heard that it offers some of the most striking views of the Sierra. It was a warm, sunny day, though a bit hazy. We began from Whitney Portal campground, following the Meysan Lake trail that starts from the lower, southeast area of the campground near site #9 (which, by happy coincidence, happened to be ours). The trail climbs from the campground and hits a spur road providing access to some cabins above the campground. After going left on the road a short distance, we found the trail starting again, climbing to the right from the road (toward the southeast). The sandy, well-used trail quickly swung around the ridge that divides the Lone Pine Creek and Meysan Creek basins, switch-backing generally toward the southwest and climbing up the Meysan Creek basin. The north ridge of Lone Pine Peak rose to our east, on the other side of the Meysan Creek, though we had to hike a considerable distance up the trail before sighting the summit itself.
After about four miles of switchbacks and almost 3000 feet elevation gain, the trail divided, with the right fork proceeding up to Meysan Lake and the left fork leading to Grass Lake. The northwest slope and chute leading to Lone Pine’s summit plateau were clearly visible from the trail fork (thanks to a helpful posting by Ramblindave, we began looking for the slope at Grass Lake, rather than heading further up the trail to Meysan, which only would have needlessly lengthened the hike).
There was no obvious trail to the slope – at least we could find none – so we made an easy cross-country trek, skirting the lower edges of Grass Lake and a second smaller lake beyond it. We then crossed a rock pile to get to the bottom of the slope.
The Fun Part
Now the fun began. The slope – which climbs at an angle of about 35 degrees – is a mix of sand, scree and rock, all of which seem determined to turn every step up into a slide back down. Some rocks offered decent handholds for stability while others simply slid down with the surrounding scree. Deciding which was which only made the climb more entertaining. After getting part-way up the slope, Brian decided to call it a day and turned back – he had already climbed 2000 feet higher than he had before.
After gaining about 500 feet elevation, I reached the top of the slope and turned left up the very obvious chute. Although the chute at first appeared to offer more solid rock, in reality it turned out to be the same mixture of sand, scree and rock as below. Where’s a switchback when you need one? Another 500 feet of miserable upward slogging finally yielded the summit plateau.
On to the Summit
At this point, the worst was over. The guidebook had cautioned against ascending the ridge on the summit plateau, as there are several false summits before the true peak. So I headed across the plateau, neither gaining nor losing elevation, to a point that appeared to be below the summit, and turned up.
That slope also presented a mix of sand, scree and rock, but not nearly as steep and much less slippery than the slope and chute. A few minutes of hiking up got to the summit.
Lone Pine Peak indeed delivered stunning views: at least six of California’s 14ers – Langley, Muir, Whitney, Russell, Williamson, and White Mountain Peak – and possibly a seventh (Split?) were visible, as well as a good part of Owens Valley.
After snapping a slew of pictures, a cell phone call home and a vain effort to find a summit register, I headed back down
The Hike Back
Needless to say, going back down was a lot easier than the slog up. Hiking poles provided some stability when down-climbing the chute and slope, especially during short ski runs down the cascading scree. A few words of advice: don’t put anything valuable in your back pockets (I ended up on my tail more times than I care to admit). Gaiters would be very useful to keep rocks out of the boots. Also, some light gloves might be useful for the climb up – some rocks have sharp edges. Anyway, once at the bottom of the chute and slope, it was an easy trek back to the Meysan trail and down to the Whitney Portal campground.
A fun hike, except for the scree, with the views more than justifying it all. That said, if you are comfortable on crampons, traveling this route earlier in the season when there is still snow could make for a far more pleasant climb.
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