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TR: Gould Pass - Kearsarge Pass Loop- GT, Dragon, Rae Lakes

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TR: Gould Pass - Kearsarge Pass Loop- GT, Dragon, Rae Lakes

Postby seanr » Wed Apr 01, 2015 10:06 am

I completed the loop July 22, 2014. I'll do a prologue as Part 1 and describe the rest of the loop in Part 2.

PART 1

I had never hiked anywhere in the Eastern Sierra south of Bishop Pass area besides Langley from Horeshoe Meadows.  I had nearly a week to work with and thunderstorms were forecast as more likely to be severe the farther north one went.  We made it to Tioga Pass late Monday night.  After sleeping in, we managed to walk the dogs and start adjusting to altitude by doing a family hike from Saddlebag Lake to Greenstone Lake.  

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As we drove from Saddlebag Lake to Lee Vining, the downpours began, so we drove south through thunderstorms with an eye on forecasts.  It looked like using Horseshoe Meadows-Langley as an additional warm up hike and adventure for the dogs was a safe bet and then staying south of Big Pine would likely give us the best weather the following days.  

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The obvious choice to be able to stay in a different high altitude campground and away from the Whitney zoo was Onion Valley;  I finally would have an opportunity to check it out.  The campground was pleasant and the host, James, was the best we've experienced.

My feet were a bit sore from the dayhikes of the previous two days, but my six year old daughter wanted to go on a hike, so we started up the Kearsarge Pass trail. We soon came upon the sign for Golden Trout Lakes and my daughter was adamant that she wanted to go up that trail. We both ended up pleased with the opportunity for adventure.  

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We noticed a lone hiker scrambling WSW up from the south side of the lake toward Mt. Gould.

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We followed, eventually catching him when he started to wonder exactly where he was and if continuing upward was possible to do safely.  

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Alex was out taking full advantage of relocating to Independence for his job at Manzanar.  I checked my map while he checked a fancy app he had downloaded.  I can relate to the challenge of correctly identifying peaks that stand among crowded terrain, so the recently purchased peak-finding app sounded great to me. However, I was more confident about my old fashioned assessment of where we were in relation to Gould's summit than what Alex indicated. The rough cross country terrain we were climbing isn't the kind of slope most folks intentionally seek out.  Alex claimed it was a once in a lifetime experience for him. I now wonder if it grew on him afterward (or not). I assured him we would quickly reach the ridge overlooking the east side of Kearsarge Pass, with the possibility of dislodging loose rocks onto each other as the only real danger. We took care not to do that, negotiated a slightly less than class 3 move, and were relaxing atop the ridge in a few minutes.

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I couldn't talk either companion into heading for Gould, but did get some father-daughter pics and a side trip to Kearsarge Pass as consolation. Despite her refusal to catch the full peakbagging bug, I had trouble keeping up with my daughter as she bounded down to the trailhead.

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The next day, I waited out some thunderstorms before hiking University Pass, University Peak, Center Basin, Bubbs Creek, Vidette Meadow, and Kearsarge Pass.
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To be continued...
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Last edited by seanr on Fri Apr 03, 2015 5:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: TR: Gould Pass - Kearsarge Pass Loop- GT, Dragon, Rae La

Postby seanr » Wed Apr 01, 2015 5:06 pm

PART 2
After a rest day, I awoke before dawn to take full advantage of the last day of our trip.  I headed up to Golden Trout Lale and again I started up my version of the Gould Pass Route on the south/left side of the lake. As shown in Part 1, the slope I chose heads WSW from GTL, up to the first false summit area of the normal Kearsarge Pass route to the summit of Mt. Gould. Part way up this slope, one could traverse right (NNW) to Gould Pass without summitting Mt. Gould. Most directly, one could instead skirt around to the northwest side of the lake and then scramble up the NW facing slope, but I didn't try it. I couldn't stand the thought of skipping Gould's summit again, so I tagged it and then traversed the ridge toward Dragon. Class 2 was possible the whole way along the ridge, with very easy 3 being the most difficult I decided to scramble. 

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Upon reaching a broad, flattish stretch of ridgetop, I spied a radio transmitter with a grand view of the area. I was getting really hungry and thirsty after the long climb up from Onion Valley and Golden Trout Lake. This seemed like a prime spot for an early lunch, but upon opening my pack to retrieve and finish off my water, I discovered I had forgotten my food!  I literally had none, period.  This had never happened before as I tend to have a big appetite and normally overpack. I figured I'd have to cut my day short by heading back the shortest way possible to Golden Trout Lake. At least I'd be able to rehydrate there and be within an hour of food.

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What was more bizarre was that I found the radio transmitter building's door to be half broken off with an MRE and bottled water waiting for me!  My loop hike could continue!

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Gould Pass lay just down ridge from the transmitter with Dragon Peak looming beyond.  

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Completing the Gould-Dragon ridge traverse climb to Dragon Peak was beyond my interests and confidence, so I headed down to the alpine lakes above Dragon Lake.

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Finding abundant talus at the upper lakeshores, I walked and scrambled downslope to the gentler shores of Dragon where I took a long water break, watched some trout, and soaked in the views. 

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Next was a downhill use trail to the JMT at Rae Lakes. 

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I saw my first people of the day on the JMT, then dozens more people as I flew over Glen Pass.  Images from the wilderness freeway aren't hard to come by, so I'll keep mine to myself.

Taking the high and dry route, I finally bonked slightly due to lack of calories, nutrition, and hydration while part way up Kearsarge Pass.  I sped up again on the way down to Onion Valley where I arrived at camp late in the afternoon, but early enough to enjoy dinner and a shower prior to the long drive home.  I reported the transmitter door issue to NPS (SEKI) the next morning. Thanks for reading and let me know if there is something I left out you'd like me to show.
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Re: TR: Gould Pass - Kearsarge Pass Loop- GT, Dragon, Rae La

Postby Bluewater » Fri Apr 03, 2015 8:38 pm

This is great! Thanks for posting. I really appreciate the details about your route and the photos. You were charging up those talus fields for the loop the last day! That must have made for a very long day hike. And your daughter way up there. Cool[emoji106]

While reading I was reliving a similar loop trip in 2012. I followed the talus on the north shore of GTL then climbed the snow filled chute up to the plateau below Gould. From there I went up the north ridge and then over a Pass to the north of Gould Pass, just to the south of Dragon Peak. I camped below Glen and hiked out the next day. I remember the pristine lakes that eventually lead to that steep chute down to Dragon Lake. Beautiful!


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Re: TR: Gould Pass - Kearsarge Pass Loop- GT, Dragon, Rae La

Postby seanr » Tue Apr 07, 2015 9:19 am

Bluewater, thanks for the comments! I found that different vantage points and lighting made some route possiblities look arduous only to not look as bad later. One area I recall being unsure about was the chute up through the snow just above the NW side of GTL.

I read your report; it sounds like a memorable adventure. Yes, that area above Dragon Lake is scenic!
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