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TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

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TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby Bluewater » Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:41 pm

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea".

That's what I was thinking at the end of the first day of this loop hike out of Onion Valley last weekend. Although there were some challenging moments it was a fun trip. Thanks to Maverick for the route suggestion, I would not have been aware of this alternate route into Rae Lakes without his recommendation.

I started out leaving home at 3:30 am on Friday after working till midnight. This seems to be my routine when trying to leave town for a long weekend, but I was feeling good and the excitement of a new adventure in the High Sierra kept me going. The ranger sent me on the way at 8:30 am and with a walk-in permit in hand I headed up to the Onion Valley TH.

The route plan was to hike from Onion Valley TH to Golden Trout Lakes and then cross country over Gould Pass to Rae Lakes. Time allowing I would take Basin Notch cross country into the north end of 60 Lakes Basin and hike to Rae Col at the south end of the basin. The last day I would take Rae Col to the north side of Glen Pass then over Kearsarge Pass back to the car.

I was unsure of how far I could make it the first day, but the plan was to go as far as possible and camp whenever I finally got tired or ran out of daylight. I calibrated my altimeter to 9,200 feet at the TH. The hike up to Golden Trout Lake was uneventful, except that I lost my chapstick somewhere along the way. It felt good to back on the trail.

By noon I was taking a break at Golden Trout Lake (11,300 ft), washing up and getting a feel for a possible route up the boulder field on the opposite side. I had read some conflicting reports regarding the exact location of Gould Pass. Secor's comments seemed to indicate that Dragon Pass was actually what I was aiming for while others appeared to call it Gould Pass. I remembered his comments, "Gould Pass, Dragon Pass and North Dragon Pass are difficult cross-country routes and should be undertaken by experienced hikers only". Was I experienced enough? I filled up two liters of water and figured that I would find out.

1+.JPG
Golden Trout Lake


I followed the boulders on the right side of the lake and climbed the notch with the small snow field. It was a basic scramble but the climbing along the left side of the snowfield was precarious.

Once at the top it leveled out at about 11,900 feet and there was a large cirque with Mt. Gould on the left and the ridge which leads to Gould Pass on the right. I knew that I should aim for the level spot along the ridge, then cross over to the north side and follow it to the low point just south of Dragon Peak. I couldn't tell where the level spot was along the ridge, so I aimed for the middle level-ish looking area. Unfortunately once I got climbing it was difficult to tell where I was due to the steep slope, loose boulders and talus.

Eventually I reached the top of the ridge and the views were amazing. I was feeling great! On top of the world! I took photos and semi-congratulated myself for making it to what was clearly a large level spot without a scratch.

10+.JPG
Mt. Gould and the ridge.


Then I looked over the north side of the ridge toward Gould Pass.

Unfortunately I was way too far east and had overshot the level spot by what seemed to be a long distance. I could see the actual pass in the distance just to the south of Dragon Peak, and there even looked like a use trail leading to what must be the ‘level spot’ farther to the west on the ridge. I searched for a way to meet the use trail on the north side, but I was separated by almost vertical chutes with no apparent way to cross.

I started to traverse the ridge on the south side. I would down-climb to where I could safely make it to the next notch in the ridge, then climb over to look on the north side. After doing this three times I reached another impassable vertical chute on the north side, but this one had a familiar large vertical strip of white rock leading half way down. I recognized this from a photo and new that I was still far away from the pass.

I kept up the traverse, each time thinking I had found the notch that would lead to the pass. I would climb over a mix of loose talus, boulders and almost vertical rock walls to another level-ish looking spot only to be met by an impassable cliff face. I didn’t see a sign of other hikers. Not a single sign of someone climbing up to the right spot on the ridge.

It was getting late but by 5:00 pm the summer sun was still hot. I had already finished one liter of water and was well into the second. This is when I noticed two hikers toward the bottom of the ridge. I could barely make them out 900 feet below, but I was almost sure they had just climbed over from the north side. It looked like they had followed one of the next chutes so I climbed up only to find another cliff. I followed what looked like their pathway down for 100 feet, but decided to climb up just one more time to a promising ledge system.

Finally I saw a cairn that pointed toward a small outcrop that was just big enough to lay down. My altimeter indicated 12,560 feet and I didn’t have the energy to climb all the way back down, especially when I felt like the pass must be right around the next ledge. I told myself to remember that small outcrop just in case.

It wasn’t long till the hectic work day on Thursday, the limited sleep and hours traversing the ridge caught up to me. I climbed back to the little outcrop and decided to stay the night on the ridge. I had about ½ liter of water left. There wasn’t enough to re-hydrate any of my freeze dried meals, so I had some peanut butter with a tortilla, a few sips of water and called it a night.

14+.JPG
Ledge Camp.


One side of the outcrop was a vertical rock face and the other had some small boulders. It was enough to sleep safely. I setup my pad and quilt and passed out for two hours only to be awakened by a racing heartbeat, a typical symptom for me the first few nights at high altitude.

I spent eleven days solo on the JMT last summer and never felt alone. That night I watched the lights from the trucks on the 395 in the Owens Valley below and felt a million miles from home.

I woke up in the morning to an amazing sunrise on the Sierra Crest. University Peak, Mt. Gould, Junction Peak and even Forester Pass were glowing in the morning light.

13+.JPG
Sunrise


I gathered my gear, had a quick dry breakfast and surveyed my water situation. I was down to under a ½ liter. Saving some pee seemed like a good idea. I had decided to head down the ridge and backtrack to Golden Trout Lake, the closest water source I could see.

On the way I couldn’t help but try one last attempt at crossing the ridge. I climbed to what looked like a level spot at the top of a section of lighter colored rocks. Once I got over the ledge I discovered a large level cove area, and I finally saw the first signs of another hiker. A single footprint gave me some indication that this might be the way. I followed the tracks over the crest of the ridge and finally saw the pass.

16+.JPG
Gould Pass?


The pass was in the middle of this granite wall. I climbed along the top and found the way down the west side.

18+.JPG
Granite wall


The view to the west.

20+.JPG
View


The fun part was climbing down the west side. It's steep for the first 100 feet, but then transitions to a long boulder field. Water was in sight!!

After climbing down the west side of the pass I immediately drank a liter of fresh Sierra water from this lake. I soaked my feet, made some coffee, had some eggs and bacon and a swim. Life was good!

26+.JPG
Coffee break


The route down to Dragon Lake passed more beautiful alpine lakes. And after passing some grassy benches the final boulder chute leads to Dragon Lake.

I followed the north shore of Dragon Lake and went cross country down to Rae Lakes. I've read there is an old use trail down to Rae Lakes, but I never found one. It was easier to just follow the creek and navigate with map & compass.

Soon I was overlooking Rae Lakes and I could see the familiar JMT meandering through the trees.

32+.JPG
Rae Lakes


I cowboy camped again, but this time on a large flat area just below Glen Pass. . . and nearby there was a huge lake with all the water I could drink. Nice.

The next morning I climbed Glen Pass and hung out with a group of four guys from Texas doing Rae Lakes Loop and two brothers thru-hiking the JMT. One guy offered to take my picture and when he noticed that I couldn't open my mouth to smile he offered me some chapstick. Everyone I've met on the trail is cool like that.

42+.JPG
Kearsarge Pinnacles


I was back in the car and heading down the mountain by 5:00 pm. Looking back it was the most challenging moments that made this trip an adventure. I can't wait to go back next weekend.

Thank you for reading this somewhat lengthy tr. If you're interested in more details of this route (including some very detailed pictures that may help with route finding) I did a trip report on my blog: http://seatosummitultralight.blogspot.c ... lakes.html



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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby cgundersen » Tue Jul 31, 2012 5:00 pm

Bluewater,
Dang, you're a lot more persistent at route finding than I'd have been. Dragon/Gould has always looked challenging to me and it clearly lived up to its reputation. Well, if I ever get the urge, I'll bring copies of your photos.
Thanks,
cg
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 31, 2012 5:05 pm

Hi Bluewater,

Good hear your back! :thumbsup: Great TR and pictures!
Sounds like you had a great time even with your tight schedule. Glad you found the
chute down, but don't get tied into specific routes they are there for guidance, but
many times you can find easier ways up or down than the one recommended by
the guide books. When you gain experience in crosscountry travel it will flow more
easily and the correct route for you will come naturally instead of trying to force
or stick to the "the" prescribed route.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby Bluewater » Tue Jul 31, 2012 5:29 pm

Thanks CG and Maverick! I am starting to feel more
comfortable with creative route finding. Thanx for your encouragement to avoid the focus on guidebooks, I'm realizing that's the point with x/c travel. This way seems to make it more of a real backcountry experience as opposed to following trails. I'm hooked, heading over Alpine and Lamarck this weekend.
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby windknot » Tue Jul 31, 2012 10:35 pm

Great (and entertaining) report, thanks so much for sharing! Love the sunrise shot from the top of the ridge; that's a photograph that's probably not often taken from that position at that time.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby quentinc » Wed Aug 01, 2012 11:05 pm

Thanks for a gripping tale of the struggle to find a way out, or over. I can certainly relate!

After all that, do you have any tips on what would be a good route from Golden Trout? The Kearsarge Pass trail has become rather tedious after all these years, so I'd be interested in exploring the alternative.
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby richlong8 » Thu Aug 02, 2012 10:33 am

I have been thinking about a route in this area for many years. I love Dragon Lake. Many years ago, I climbed Mt. Gould, then made my way down from the summit along the west side of the summit ridge to a pass. I am fairly sure this was Gould Pass. The only "tough" part of this route was the summit rocks of Gould.
For me, I thought this might be an easier route with a backpack, even though it seems longer: take the easy trail to Kearsage Pass, then traverse/climb the ridge towards the Gould summit, then down to Gould pass. Then down to the Dragon Lake watershed. I haven't done this route yet all the way to Dragon Lake, but I think it would be hard to miss Gould pass this way, and it seemed fairly easy going- if you stayed on the ridge/west side of the ridge.... of course, this was 20 years ago.
I think it still is a tough hike into Dragon in one day for the average backpacker, no matter what route. Crossing Kearsage and Glen Passes in one day, descending to Rae Lakes, then going up the steep slope to Dragon is no walk in the park either, if you try it in one day! I can personally attest to that.....
Congrats on your persistence and route finding!
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby Bluewater » Thu Aug 02, 2012 3:32 pm

Thanks for the feedback Windknot, Q and Rich.

To give some perspective I'm in early season/average condition. With that in mind a more reasonable approach would have been to hike to Golden Trout Lake on day one and stay the night. With better familiarity with the route it would have been easier to start from GTL the second day and make it to Rae Lakes for dinner. Lots of bouldering but do-able in a day, especially if traveling light. With 2 liters of water I probably started up the snowfield with about 16 lbs.

Here's a photo taken from the pass looking back at the north side of the ridge. The arrow on the far left is where I first looked over the ridge (too far east).

The arrow in the middle is probably the easiest place to cross the ridge if coming from the west. It's hard to see but there was definitely a previously hiked pathway from the pass to the middle arrow. This way would avoid all the ascent then descent if using the route on the far right.

The arrow on the far right is where I crossed over. You can see it's almost at the far west side, just to the east of the large white pointed outcrop. For me this would be the easiest route to find if coming from GTL because the lighter colored rock is easy to spot from the south side. The disadvantage is that the far west side route is much higher.

19.JPG
Looking back at the North side of the ridge from the pass.


Here is the view of the ridge from the south side. I went way too far to the right. You can see it's difficult to determine where the lowest spot is from this side. I finally crossed over almost all the way to the left. You can just make out the large pointed lighter rock on the left. I slept somewhere near the left side on the ridge.

5.JPG
South side of the ridge.


Here are some Google Earth links. (I'm not sure if the kmz files will make it onto this message).

My route. Too far east..kmz
My route. Too far east.
(810 Bytes) Downloaded 28 times


The low point..kmz
The low point in the ridge, from the south side.
(804 Bytes) Downloaded 22 times


Ridge crossover..kmz
The point where I crossed over the ridge.
(801 Bytes) Downloaded 22 times


GouldDragon Pass Chute.kmz
This is where I crossed over, looking from the North side.
(1005 Bytes) Downloaded 20 times


GouldDragon Pass.kmz
Gould/Dragon Pass.
(806 Bytes) Downloaded 26 times
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby Mradford » Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:16 pm

what an awesome trip. i cant imagine what it would be like to sleep on the edge of the mountain. I really love trips with that big mountain scenery you were able to see while on this. AWESOME. Thanks for posting!
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby quentinc » Thu Aug 02, 2012 7:34 pm

Bluewater, thanks for the info.
Unfortunately Microsoft wants to sell me something before letting me open the kmz files.
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby Bluewater » Thu Aug 02, 2012 8:33 pm

Thanks Mradford. Big mountain scenery is what I've been waiting for all winter.

Q, there is a free download from Google that is safe called Google Earth that will automatically open the kmz files once it's been installed. The kmz files will fly you right to the spot. Here's the link:

http://www.google.com/earth/download/ge/agree.html

It's an amazing tool for checking out new routes etc.

I hope that helps!

Andy.
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Re: TR: Gould Pass ~ Cross Country to Rae Lakes

Postby Bluewater » Tue Aug 07, 2012 12:22 am

quentinc wrote:Bluewater, thanks for the info.
Unfortunately Microsoft wants to sell me something before letting me open the kmz files.


quentic: I figured out how to save a screen shot of the route from google earth. This might give a better idea of the route options to Gould Pass.

south side of ridge to gould pass.jpg
south side of ridge to gould pass


north side of ridge to gould pass.jpg
north side of ridge to gould pass
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