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TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

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TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby orbitor » Sun May 11, 2014 4:25 pm

Report for our climb of Mt. Gould yesterday, with conditions update for the trail to Kearsarge Pass.

Had a team from across the state for this one - LA, San Diego, Fresno and SF Bay areas. We gathered at Onion Valley on Friday night for a bit of acclimatization. The guys slept in their cars while I set up my tent. Didn't get too much rest, but then again I never do on the first night in the Sierras. The full moon and the pervasive wind didn't help.

Aware of the forecast of strong winds the next day, we were getting ready to start when Snow Nymph rolled in. I went over and introduced myself - it's a pleasure to meet HST members in person. While talking I learned she was heading to University Peak; we wished her and her team good luck and took off first on the trail.

Even though myself and one other person had loaded our packs for weight training, we made excellent time to Kearsarge Pass. Elevations below 9000 ft are certainly dry, but above that there is quite some snow left. The trail was mostly clear to Gilbert Lake, only occasional patches in shadier spots that already had boot marks across them. We were carrying snowshoes, in the end we didn't end up using them. From above Gilbert Lake to the pass the snow patches got longer, deeper and covering larger areas, though they are still passable without any special equipment. I should mention that we had mountaineering boots on, which give better traction. From the ridge above Heart Lake the snow coverage was more or less continuous, so we made a beeline for the pass and skipped some of the switchbacks. The lakes were still frozen over, except for Lower Pothole and about one-third of Gilbert.

We were buffeted by increasingly stronger gusts of wind the higher we ascended. When we got to Kearsarge and went over to its western side, it felt like a train was hitting. While quite pleasant in the sun, the temperature was fully affected by the windchill. Couldn't spend too much time at the pass, so we turned our attention to the south ridge of Gould, which looked clear. I got my ice axe out but left the crampons in the pack and opted for microspikes instead. We stashed the snowshoes and headed up, but were immediately forced by roaring gales to angle east and stay below the crest. In the lead, I began connecting the snowfields, occasionally reaching the crest of the ridge where I would be promptly slammed by the river of air and driven east. I found it quite frightful to see that my heavy pack made absolutely no difference, it was impossible to walk in a straight line when faced with an irresistible force of nature.

My kicking steps while self-belaying allowed the guys to follow at a good pace, and soon we had reached summit ridge. Views to the north opened up, where we could see Dragon Peak and the rest of Sierra crest. Oddly enough, the strength of the wind decreased somewhat at this point, allowing us to traverse the ridge on the south to the summit block. Here we examined the NW side first and ruled it too dangerous to ascend given the wind. The crack on the south side looked more promising. The best rock climber in the group scrambled up to where the register box was, and ruled standing on the actual summit impossible due to the winds. An attempt to build an anchor and fix a rope failed. Not willing to tempt fate, we brought the box a little further down, signed the register, put it back, took our group shot and cleared out.

On the way down we retraced our steps by staying as far away as possible from the top of the ridge. When the path inevitably veered there, every gust of wind felt like a punch. I was getting tossed around like a toy, causing me to expend large amounts of energy to prevent getting blown off completely. Matter-of-factly I noticed my fingers beginning to turn blue (I prefer fingerless gloves for better grip). After the hard work of breaking trail to the top, I arrived back at the pass utterly spent from fighting the wind.

We retrieved our snowshoes, ate and drank, then started down. Ten minutes after we had left the pass clouds started streaming over the crest, eventually shrouding University Peak and covering the afternoon sun. Even though we were descending, the temps dropped further under the unrelenting barrage from the wind. The rest of the way was uneventful. I had warned the others that the trail would seem interminable once the road comes into view for the first time, and so it happened. We arrived in Onion Valley on the heels of Snow Nymph's group, who informed us they had abandoned their attempt on University and tried to go for Gould instead, but called it a day at Kearsarge when faced with the freight train of air.

The sky had cleared again. No such hope for the winds, so heading out was an idea wholeheartedly embraced by all. Snow Nymph joined us for dinner in Lone Pine before each went their separate ways. It was a great climb despite the conditions, and the views were clear as crystal with the atmosphere scoured clean. As I mentioned, much snow remains in the high country, with lakes above 10,000 ft just beginning to thaw out. Streams should be running strong for a while.

Photos:

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Gilbert Lake

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Approaching Kearsarge Pass

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View west from Kearsarge Pass

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Up the south ridge of Gould

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Climber with Kearsarge Pinnacles in the background

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Rixford from Gould

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Brewer and the Great Western Divide from Gould

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University from Gould

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Group shot, somehow the camera didn't fly away

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View northeast

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Zoom in on the Palisades

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Heading down

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Back at Kearsarge Pass

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University in the clouds

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Gilbert Lake
Last edited by orbitor on Mon May 12, 2014 12:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby Snow Nymph » Sun May 11, 2014 8:50 pm

Congratulations on making the summit. We got hit hard by the wind above Bench Lake. It kept getting worse, and we knew the couloir would be a nightmare so we turned back and headed for Kearsarge Pass. We were so far behind your group, but wanted to get high. We got up to 11,900' before the wind blew us off the mountain again. I got some pix of your group coming down. It was nice meeting another Topix member! Thanks for the dinner invite. Had a great time! :D
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby Shawn » Sun May 11, 2014 10:27 pm

Nice TR and photos, thanks for posting. Seems it's been windy all over the past few days. Over here on the Central Coast (Paso Robles) we've had gusts in the high thirties.
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby overheadx2 » Sun May 11, 2014 11:19 pm

Thanks for the TR. Headed to grays meadow next Friday. Probably take the wife and dog up as far as we can get without spikes. Looks like I will be fishing big pine creek or independence creek.
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby BrianF » Mon May 12, 2014 1:43 pm

Mt Gould approaching summit.jpg
Here is a pic from May 5, 2013. There was less snow then! Looks like the same view as your 8th pic.
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby maverick » Mon May 12, 2014 2:05 pm

Thanks for the TR and the pictures Orbitor. Thanks for the comparison photo
Brian, it puts thing into perspective.
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby orbitor » Mon May 12, 2014 2:11 pm

BrianF,
Thanks for the comparison photo. There's definitely more snow at the higher elevations this year than last.

Snow Nymph,
Well done to you and your group as well. Was a tough day on the mountain with those winds. Keep in touch about joint future endeavors.

ovearheadx2,
The Kearsarge trail will melt out some more this week, especially if temps go up, but some snow banks are still feet deep. As for fishing, I suggest staying under 10,500 ft if interested in lakes.

Shawn, Mav,
Thanks for reading and commenting.
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby BrianF » Mon May 12, 2014 4:21 pm

here is another from May 4 or 5 2013 to compare last year. I think the difference is mainly later snowstorms this year
download/file.php?id=5301&mode=view
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby DAVELA » Mon May 12, 2014 11:45 pm

thanks,orbitor.Looks like more snow than june 10,2011 when i was last at kp.Pleasant surprise!
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby SSSdave » Wed May 14, 2014 8:35 am

Thanks for the report and pics orbitor. Reminds me of unpleasantly bright contrasty conditions when spring skiing on blustery days. Rather brutal to one's skin. Report useful to this person as a week trip over Kearsarge mid July is my leading plan at the moment. With a couple months of increasing sun above it should melt off nicely then green up to about the level expected.

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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby bravefanla » Wed May 14, 2014 3:51 pm

Hi Orbiter,
Thank you so much for the TR because I'll be heading over Kearsarge Pass on my way to Vidette Meadow and ultimately Lake Reflection in late May. Looks like some good snow coverage but with these temps it looks like it may be gone soon.
That said Howard Scheckter, who puts up reports for Mammoth Mountain, is holding out hope that the Sierras may get one more dump in late May or early/mid June. Here's hoping :)
As for the winds, I to have had them hit me when going over KP and they can be hellacious. Looks like you had a great trip nevertheless. Again, thanks for the post.
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Re: TR: Mount Gould & Kearsarge Pass, 10 May 2014

Postby orbitor » Wed May 14, 2014 4:19 pm

Bravefanla, SSSDave and anyone else aiming for Kearsarge this summer:
The trail to the pass should be completely clear in another month or so. We're talking a few weeks if the temps are anything like what we're seeing this week. Kearsarge Basin might take a little longer to melt out. In any case, the water situation looks pretty good at the higher elevations, at least for the first part of summer.
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