Mt. Gould P1K SPS
Falcor Peak
Snow Crown P500

Thu, Aug 10, 2017

With: Michael Graupe
Jonathan Mason
Matt Yaussi
Iris Ma
Ken Yee
Tom Grundy
Jim Burd

Etymology
Mt. Gould
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile
Mt. Gould previously climbed Sat, Aug 7, 2004

Unofficially named Falcor and Snow Crown are two summits found in the Kearsarge Pass area. Neither on their own is particularly difficult, so I combined the pair for the 7th day of this year's Challenge, making for a nice tour of the lakes and surrounding terrain on either side of the popular pass. We had ten at the Onion Valley start, though two of those, JD and Robert, planned to leave us at the pass for a much harder objective, Deerhorn (they would end up on West Vidette, a slightly easier one, leaving Deerhorn for another day). With sunrise corresponding closely to our 6a start, we headed up the trail in no particular rush. Most of the others had toughed out the long climb to Sawmill Pass and Woods Peak the day before, taking anywhere from 13 to 22hrs. The latter was done by Scott who had collected another seven bonus peaks, rolling his ankle badly in the process, and not returning until the wee hours of the morning. His absence from our starting group today wasn't unusual - he'd only made it for the official start once or twice, but Iris reported that he was likely to take the day off to give his foot a chance to recover, something I knew would be very hard for him. It was no surprise then that we all seemed pretty content to follow in line behind each other while taking in the scenery and chatting up about adventures old, new and those still to come. We reached the pass around 7:45a and took a short break before turning north.

Mt. Gould lies just north of Kearsarge Pass and is almost a freebie on the way to Falcor, so with the exception of JD and Robert we all headed up that way. I was feeling particularly refreshed since I was coming off a rest day, and was off in front of the others leading the way up to Gould. There are various threads of a use trail that lead up to just below the class 2 rocks and the class 3 summit blocks, taking me about 45min to reach. The others would arrive over the next 20min, each taking their turn on the airy summit before we gathered for a group photo just below it. An ammo box contained a very busy register attesting to the popularity of the summit. Most of us had been up here previously, and though it was my third time I didn't hold the record among our summit group. In perusing the register pages I spotted our faded entry from the 2004 Challenge as well as the 2013 memorial hike for Pat Hadley who had died the previous day in a tragic accident. We added a new entry for 2017 that included a nod to Gordon MacLeod with the large dots before each name, characteristic of his entries that spanned more than 40yrs of Sierra register history.

Ken decided to call it a day here while the rest of us continued on. Less than a mile WNW is Falcor, the first major summit on the 10mi subsidiary ridge running west from the Sierra Crest that eventually drops into Kings Canyon at the junction of Bubbs and Woods Creeks. We dropped NW and west from Gould's summit, avoiding a flattish point on the crest where the subsidiary ridge joins the Sierra Crest. The going here was rather easy and remained so until reaching the saddle with Falcor. Once again I was out in front like a puppy with excessive energy. Upon gaining the dark, volcanic ridge, we followed it roughly along its spine though there was one major deviation to avoid difficulties. I moved left on the west side of the ridge to climb a class 3 gully past the difficulties, others reported finding alternate bypass routes on the east side. Just before the summit we moved east around another difficulty before climbing to the summit from that side. It took about 45min for me to reach the top and another 15min to collect all of us for a group photo. Barbara and Gordon had left a register here in 1982, conveniently allowing me to demonstrate what I had referred to as the "Gordon Dot" back on Gould. This little gem had some 35 pages of entries in a notebook torn in half (also a Gordon-ism). The last three entries were all from Challenge participants including the last day of the 2016 Challenge when Sean O, Scott B and Robert W had traversed it from Glacier Spike near Glenn Pass. Sean Reedy and Eric Su went one better this year in July, by traversing some 8-9mi of the ridge starting from Glacier Monument - now that is badass.

There was no consensus on what the best descent route would be once it was time to head down, and before waiting for some sort of plan to evolve, I decided to head down the Southwest Face for the most direct return to the Kearsarge Pass Trail. I had thought that some of others had started to follow me but in those first few minutes I found myself alone on the chossy slopes found on that side. It was probably a good thing as the slopes were somewhat loose in the chutes I was descending and the solo effort would allow me to have less concern for knocking rocks down. It wasn't the greatest of routes as I found myself in some tedious boulder fields lower down, but at least there were no cliffs or other technical difficulties to present problems. Further downslope in the cirque between Falcor and Rixford I found some delightful displays of shooting stars in a fine, late-season bloom. Kearsarge Pinnacles came into view with Snow Crown to the far left, just below University Peak. About 45min after leaving the summit I came upon the trail I had been looking for but followed it only a short distance before striking off cross-country again, this time heading more or less directly for Snow Crown across the Kearsarge Lakes Basin below. From where I crossed the trail, Snow Crown is a little more than a mile across the basin, with easy hiking through lovely meadow areas, delightful little streams under a blue sky with nary a cloud to be seen. I would periodically look back to scan the terrain for signs of the others but it was as if they had all decided to head off in another direction for parts unknown. As I climbed out of the basin and up towards Snow Crown's West Ridge, I found more talus and boulders to slow things down, but not terribly. The last bit to the summit is class 3 with careful route-finding and by 12:40p I found myself atop Snow Crown.

There were two register books here, the oldest dating to 1952, a rare find, especially for a peak so easily accessible. There were 18 pages of entries up to 1992, after which a newer register took over with plenty more action. The very last party was less than a month earlier when Matthew Holliman paid a visit on a solo climb. Lying atop the Sierra Crest, there are good views from Snow Crown's summit with the higher peaks of Mt. Gould and University Peak to the north and south, respectively. To the west is probably the best view of Kearsarge Pinnacles I've seen yet, and to the east one can look down the drainage to Onion Valley with half a dozen lakes lining the two main canyons divided by Snow Crown's East Ridge. With no reason to rush down, I hung out at the summit for well over an hour, with some 30min elapsing before I finally spied the others and then another 20min before they all arrived at the summit. Tom G was the notable exception, having opted to head for Nameless Pyramid first. We spied him as he was scrambling the class 3 just below the impressive 40-foot, 5.7X blade of granite that comprises the summit block. I've been wanting to climb this for years now but didn't want to carry the rope and gear today, much to my regret. We all watched and photographed Tom as he made an impressive solo ascent of rock blade on its north side. It was a little nerve-wracking to watch him, but he was very cool with the exposure and difficulty, slowly but smoothly making his way up and then back down. He later reported wishing I'd brought the rope because a rappel would have made the descent considerably less worrisome. This performance was followed up by a bit of summit yoga by Iris, after which we all began the descent off the east side. This seemed to be the easiest way back, though not without a little more class 3 climbing at the very top. Sand and scree helped with a quick 30min descent to Bench Lake. Iris and Matt opted to pause here for a swim while Michael and I continued, Mason slowing up to watch the water antics before continuing himself.

Michael and I spent the next 45min making good progress, down past several more lakes and a few friendly deer before getting hung up above Little Pothole Lake. Brush and cliffs conspired to slow us down before we got split up by each taking different routes around the lake. Going around the west and north sides, I found the brush annoying and thick and figured Michael had gotten the best of me on this one. He was nowhere in sight when I finally reached the trail. I took a few shortcuts on the last mile and half of trail, but still caught no sight of him. It wasn't until I had returned to the TH that I turned to find him only a minute behind me, jogging down the trail in his usual fashion and returning in time to share the stage win. We'd finished easily before 4p which would give us plenty of time to relax back in Independence.

Relax we did. Ken had returned after reaching Gould because he wanted to have enough time to prepare the Korean BBQ dinner he was making for us. I don't think I've eaten and enjoyed so much beef in one sitting ever before. Mmmmmm - thanks Ken! Jersey Strategy: Tom Grundy was the only one at this point to have reached all seven of this year's Challenge peaks, putting him in first place for the Yellow Jersey. The Green Jersey reverted to Michael following my rest day, while Scott maintained the lock on the Polka Dot Jersey even though he took a rest day. In fact he would take two more rest days as well but no one could seriously challenge his commanding lead. The only real question was if he was going to be able to break his 38 peak record from the previous year...

Continued...


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