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Kearsarge Peak is one of the easier peaks on SPS list, and was the last easy one I had left on the east side of the Sierra. It seemed a good choice to put between two hard days to Guyot and Fiske/Huxley. I didn't get an early start, not arriving in Onion Valley until 8a. The two usual routes are via Lilly Pass to the west, or the old mine road on the east side. I had thought of doing a loop utilizing both routes, but changed my mind at the last minute. The parking lot lies at the base of Kearsarge's south side, and from there I thought it might be interesting to explore a route up the south side, a broken jumble of fractured cliffs, aretes, and numerous chutes.
The hardest part was getting through the brush lining Golden Trout Creek at the base of the mountain, but once that was accomplished, the rest was pretty fun. My strategy was to pick the broken chutes through cliff bands, keeping the route in the class 3 range as much as possible. Near the base of the mountain I came across an old length of climbing rope maybe six feet in length. One end was tied in a loop, the other frayed. It wasn't tied to anything and looked to have been out in the weather for a number of years judging by the bleached color and its stiffness. I put in my pack to haul back to the trash later. At one point I climbed up a chute that ended in a headwall. The last branch of the chute was some 100ft below, so I didn't want to climb back down. I climbed up as high as I could, until under an overhang with a narrow slot to climb out to the right. I took off my pack, but even then couldn't find holds to get myself under the overhang without pushing myself over the exposed edge. I thought about using the old rope I had to tie to a scraggly tree clinging to the cliff nearby, but that seemed too desperate. This was supposed to be an easy peak, and somehow the thought of dying on a class 2 peak was too embarassing to consider. Down I went. The alternative chute was actually quite nice, leading to a thin arete with some exposed (but safer) climbing. Above the lower third of the mountain, the climbing became easier, more scree than anything, but there were still small aretes to climb to keep it interesting.
Around the halfway mark a small rusty tin caught my eye, half buried in the sand along the arete I was scrambling along. I picked it up, barely able to read the words indicating it was a tobacco tin. With some effort, aided by a handy rock, I was able to open the rusted lid. Inside was a carefully folded single sheet of paper. Dating back to 1950, it was a legal document describing the size, shape, and location of a nearby quartz claim. After reading and photographing it, I folded it back up and returned it to the tin. I put the tin under a small cairn to protect it from the elements, leaving it as a small treasure for a future scrambler to find. Further up I came across the prospect location indicated on the 7.5' map at about 3550m. There was a good deal of reddish-brown rock that had been extracted and poured down the hillside, but nothing left but a small indentation where the pit had been. It seems doubtful that anything useful had been extracted.
I had thought my route would lead directly to the summit, but I found it was a good deal to the east. The true summit was at the west end of the summit ridge, but I didn't realize this until I had traversed over the three or four pinnacles to the east. It took three and half hours at a fairly leisurely pace to reach the summit where I took a longer than usual rest. The weather was quite delightful and it would have been very easy to take a nap up there. After about 30 minutes, I headed west off the summit, an easy descent over boulders turning to sand and scree. This brought me to the gentle slopes north of Lilly Pass. I hiked up to the pass and chose the obvious wide chute to descend. It was fun bootskiing for the most part, taking a very short time to descend to the scree and boulder field at the base of the chute. Somehow I missed the trail, crossing over it and descending through a break in a cliff band. I found the trail below in the meadow where it forks. The rest was a pretty standard hike down the trail and back to the trailhead, about 5.5hrs altogether.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Kearsarge Peak
This page last updated: Fri Jun 29 09:08:45 2007
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