My quads groaned as I rolled over to smack the snooze button on my alarm Sunday morning. I dragged myself up and headed straight to the kitchen for coffee, knowing that I had to throw my stuff together and head for Onion Valley to meet up with Tom and Kathy. It was definitely a think-it-do-it morning: establish thought about taking Alleve, take Alleve; pour cereal and milk in bowl, eat cereal; make sandwich, put in pack. Even so, I called Tom to say I was running 30 minutes behind as I loaded the TOF and drove south.
The three of us arrived simultaneously at the OV trailhead and were RTG by 0830. The trail to the Golden Trout Lakes heads NW from the parking lot, up the drainage behind the pack station, gaining altitude quickly above the waterfall. Once above the creek, the trail winds and climbs the rocks of the left side of the drainage above the creek, beautiful snags standing guard all around.
The trail steepens along another cascade, then crosses a moraine of medium-sized rock to enter a marshy meadow . To the left the trail continues up to the Golden Trout Lakes. We headed right and up beneath a towering spire of angular granite slabs, finally reaching the first of the two unnamed lakes and catching our first glimpse of Dragon . It's a short walk then to 'Dead Mouse Lake ' at the base of the peak, its clear emerald waters not hiding the fish skimming for food along the surface. End of the line for the 'trail'.
The moraine on the south side of the lake dumps directly into the water, and Tom chose a gently sloping line up and across to enter the main chute leading to the south face of Dragon. Car-sized boulders filled the gulley, and I donned my brain bucket for possible rockfall protection. We each picked our way up the rocks, heading for the upper headwall and the chute on the right side (which doesn't present itself until you're there). The chute is the loosest part of the day: we tried to stay out of the center and out of each other's fall lines by staying close together.
A short Class 3 scramble brought us up to the ridgeline, with fantastic views into the Rae Lakes region, Mt. Clarance King towering to the NW, and the Tehipite Valley Fire rising like a mushroom cloud in the distance. The ridge itself is mostly Class 2 with a few Class 3 steps, but it's long and narrow, making for slow progress. I knew what was ahead, and by this point just wanted to get it over with. I was trying really hard not to allow my brain to run away with me, but once I saw the crack I was not happy.
Tom stepped across, showing each hand and finger hold dramatically and purposefully so that I could see where to make my moves. My usual SOP is to watch what the lead is doing and attempt to mimic their actions: Tom was stepping, not sideways, so after a few deep breaths and smacking my helmet a few times to clear my brain, I headed out. So first, cross-stepping is NOT OK for me: trying to get one big 'ol leg past the other throws me away from the wall and deep into uncomfortable zone. Second: the words 'bomber' and 'finger hold' do not below in the same sentence. (I'm trying to be funny here, people, which was tough because the situation at the time was not funny ) I got across, Tom gave me a big hug, and, I'll freely admit it here: I was sketched out and there were tears. Personally, I would have preferred a rope, but that's me and my opinion and limited climbing experience. Take it for what you want.
The summit was gorgeous and calm, good clear air since the smoke was blowing north on Sunday. I loved the golden canister holding the register, as if it was a treasure to be up there. Half way through perusing the entries, the calm was shattered by a low, loud thunk , thunk , thunk to the east. We turned to see an immense cloud of dust rising from a chute on the ridge above Dead Mouse Lake, and heard the long follow-up clink of sand and stone plummetting to the moraine below. After the dust settled, we finished snacks and pics, and headed back down to the crack . Once again, I was sketched, but after a few false starts and a lot of "I've gotta be brave, I've gotta be brave" to myself, I whimpered across. Back on bigger platforms on the far side, I screamed at the ridge and rock, a bit different from my usual Call of the Moose.
Picking, picking, picking, we descended the ridge, the chute, and the gulley. My quads were really disgusted with me now, as I lowered myself from rock to rock. Relief came mostly at the lake, where we easily spotted the new rockfall debris, stark white against the older yellow granite. It's still a steep walk down, but the setting sun and twilight hour eased the aching in my legs, and the full moon rising above the Inyos stopped me dead in my tracks.
I looked at my watch. Hmmm... it was 1915 hours. Richard and I started at 1940 under a similar moon a few months ago. Wonder what I have in my car for food...
A few more pics from the day:
The rest of the pics are here.
From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.
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