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Mt. Gould previously climbed Sat, Jul 7, 2001|
Mt. Rixford later climbed Sun, Sep 14, 2008
Day 8 of the 2004 Sierra Challenge found us with several new faces. Peter's daughter Vanessa and her boyfriend Wayne had driven from Santa Barbara to join us for a few days, while Heyning Cheng drove in from the Bay Area. Our large party of 10 started out from Onion Valley at 6a, splitting into two groups from the beginning. The main objective was Dragon Peak, but with a class 3 summit block it was considered a bit spicy for the group composed of Peter, Vanessa, and Wayne. They headed up the Kearsarge Pass Trail to tackle Mt. Gould, just north of the pass. The rest of us, consisting of Michael, Matthew, Joe, Michelle, Heyning, Daryn and myself, took the trail towards Golden Trout Lake that branches off 1/2 mile from the TH. Because Dragon Peak is a relatively short dayhike, I planned to keep it in the challenging space by climbing Mts. Gould and Rixford as well, for a 3 SPS peak day.
The sun was just rising as we made our final preparations at the Onion Valley TH. It took us just under an hour to climb the headwall immediately above Onion Valley and reach the hanging valley above. Our party of seven was spread out by a fair distance by this time. This became two parties, Matthew, Michael, Daryn and myself in front, the other three some 10-15 minutes behind. Getting across the broad meadow provided a mild challenge, as it has some marshy sections to avoid and a creek to cross while we kept our eyes out looking for a continuation of the use trail. Matthew and Daryn paused in the middle to fill up on some water, while Michael and I took the circuitous route around the west side of the meadow. We found the use trail again, but lost it on and off on the way up to the first unnamed lake where we got our first view of Dragon Peak. The map showed the trail continuing around the south side of this lake, but it looked like yucky talus to me (and I didn't really believe in the existence of a trail any more). So I went around the north side of the lake while the other three went the southern route, and we hooked up again at the east end of the second lake. Walking around the lake on the south and west sides, we came across three young guys (looked like brothers with dad) fishing in the calm waters of the lake. There was nothing but rock around the lake on all sides and it seemed a pretty mean existence for fish with such a limited ecosystem. But they fished, and we hiked, and everyone seemed pretty content. I filled up my water bottles here, figuring it would be the last water for many hours ahead.
Our party of four was still together as we headed up the broad chute heading west up from the lake towards the Sierra crest. There was some snow here that we couldn't avoid, but it was relatively low angled and didn't give us much trouble in only our boots. Near the top of the chute the route grew steeper and narrower, and there was a small amount of easy class 3 to get to the crest. It may have been possible to keep it to class 2, but we didn't really put in the effort to find if this was the case. It was 8:30a when we reached the crest. I took in the views to the southwest and west across the pass, and looked but found no signs of the slower three to the east. Regrouping here, our party of four then proceeded with the more interesting part of the day as we scrambled along the dark, fractured rock that comprised this part of the crest. Ahead of the others, I was enjoying myself a great deal and continued on without waiting. I climbed a false tower I mistook for the summit, only to realize upon reaching it that the true summit was still 5 minutes further north. Our party finally scrambled its way to the summit block where the infamous class 3 "ledge without holds" was found. Upon inspecting it, it didn't really seem so difficult. The block face slopes at something less than 60 degrees here and the thin ledge angles into the surface making it easy to stand there and just lean against the rock. Going across first, Michael found there were actually holds for the hands if one took a little time to find them. I went across next, and photographed Daryn as he did likewise. Matthew was still a few minutes behind so the three of us continued the remaining 20 feet or so to the summit, arriving at 9a.
While we relaxed, enjoyed a snack, took in the views (S - SSW - SW - W - NW - E), and perused the summit register, we heard Matthew's muffled calls from below. We made out enough to understand he was asking if he was on the correct route, and since he was out of our sight and we thought it was more or less obvious, we replied in the affirmative, guessing he was following on our tails. Matthew struggled a bit but finally joined up with us. Only upon our descent did we find he'd bypassed the ledge with a more difficult effort off to the left of the crack. While we were on the summit, we watched a helicopter come up from the valley below, circle around the summit of Mt. Gould, and then land on the flat plateau north of Gould's summit. A couple of gentlemen got out, unloaded some boxes, and then the helicopter left them to their purpose, whatever it might be. It seemed odd to us at the time, but later we found there is some sort of transmitting tower on the plateau and these were probably technicians flown up to service it.
When it was time to descend, I decided to attempt a different exit off the summit block, leaving the others to return via the traverse along the crack. I climbed down the southeast face of the summit block, and was happy to find I could manage a class 3-4 route off this side. After crossing the regular traverse, Matthew agreed it was much easier than his route up (this photo shows Matthew's ascent in green, my descent in red, the regular route in purple). Time to head for Mt. Gould. As we retraced our steps along the crest, we found another climber, Gino, waiting a short distance from Dragon's summit block. He had come out join us as a walk-on for the Challenge today, but had missed us at the trailhead (not sure if he started before or after us, or which route he'd taken up). He decided to wait for the other three still heading up before doing the summit block, so we left him enjoying the warm sunshine as we continued on our way. We never did find out Gino's last name, but we know he came from Reno - thus we referred to him in the future as "Gino from Reno". Catchy, no? :-)
Back at Gould Pass we were in time to see Michele, Joe, and Heyning nearing the class 3 headwall just below the pass. We watched and joked with them for some five minutes over the distance. Ahead of the others, Michele forged a route up a vertical corner in the wall, probably something like class 4. She was by far the best rock climber amongst us and didn't seem to mind that she wasn't taking the easy route. Joe followed her, perhaps a little hesitantly, Heyning wisely stopped to consider that this wasn't the class 3 way. He turned and went up the face we had taken earlier. Before they reached the crest, we headed on. The traverse to Mt. Gould was not at all difficult. When I was here some years earlier trying to traverse in the opposite direction I was stymied and disoriented by the clouds that surrounded me. No such trouble today, and we enjoyed following Michael as he led us along the interesting scramble. Shortly before reaching the plateau, th fun rocky scramble ended and we slogged up a hundred feet or so of crappy talus to the plateau. Then a long walk south towards Gould summit, circling around on the easier west side before tackling the class summit blocks, where we arrived at 10a. We found the summit of Gould easier than Dragon, though the summit perch was somewhat smaller and had a hard time holding the four of us. While we enjoyed more views and signed into the register, Mike Larkin came waltzing up not five minutes later. He had not started with the group at 6a, but showed up sometime later. He hiked/jogged his way to Kearsarge Pass in about 90 minutes, then climbed the class 2 slopes from the pass to the summit, passing the other three somewhere below the pass. We didn't see the others while we were there, but they arrived some time later.
After 25 minutes or so it was time to move on, so Matthew, Michael, and I headed west along what we thought would be an easy ridge hike to Mt. Rixford. Daryn decided to stay on the summit a while longer with Mike before they headed back to Kearsarge Pass. Gino summited Dragon with Joe, Michele, and Heyning at 10:30p, then made it over to Gould in time to join Mike and Daryn for the descent. Peter, Vanessa, and Wayne arrived at Gould about half an hour later. Heyning was the last to arrive sometime after these three, while Joe and Michele decided they'd had enough and descended from Gould Pass back to the trailhead. Whew! - it was a busy day with climbers all over the area. Meanwhile, three of us trotted on down the easy northwest slopes of Gould to the connecting ridgeline. The easy stuff ended, then it was down along what was fun scrambling to start, but soon grew tedious. It was not the easy hike we had expected from looking at the map. The ridgetop was too serrated to follow along at a reasonable pace and we wanted to avoid a climb of intermediate Peak 3912m, so we dropped onto the south side and started traversing along what was just awful, loose talus. I was higher than the other two for most of the traverse over and across some half dozen or more ribs on the mountainside, and at one point I sent a football-sized rock down in Michael's direction. I was more careful after that, but it was almost impossible to keep from knocking stuff down. Our best defense was to just make sure no one was in anyone else's firing line. We eventually made our way across the rotting face of the ridge to the East Ridge of Mt. Rixford, starting at the saddle between Rixford and Peak 3912m. After a 500ft climb over marginally better rock (at least it was granite, and some of the ridge was actually stable), we arrived at the summit of Rixford shortly before noon. Off of the Sierra crest, the summit offered the best views of the day (N - NE - E - SE - S - SW - W - NW). We signed into the register which included a biography of Dr. Emmet Rixford, the noted professor of surgery at Stanford at the turn of the last century. Apparently he was one of the last of his breed, eschewing antiseptics and routine washing of the hands before surgery as nonsense. But he was big on diseases of the skin, making important contributions in this area. Dr. Rixford was the first person to climb Mt. Rixford, sometime prior to 1897 when his summit note was found by Vernon Kellogg (who suggested the naming of the peak). While I was reading about Rixford, Matthew was looking around as though he wasn't finished. It still seemed like we had plenty of daylight left, but Michael and I were content to head back. This was Matthew's last day on the Challenge and he seemed to want to savor the summit experience longer. We briefly discussed nearby Mt. Bago, but I decided it wasn't worth the extra haul to me. unsuccesful in talking us into joining him, Matthew was undecided on whether to go solo and chose to remain at the summit while Michael and I headed back down (in the end Matthew also decided against Bago, though he's probably regretting that now).
For the descent, Michael and I chose what looked like a broad, sandy chute heading down the east side of South Ridge, starting about a hundred yards south of the summit. As with our ascent route to Rixford, this chute turned out to be less pleasant than expected. Instead of the deep soft sand we imagined we could plunge down in great haste, the surface was more like a layer of compacted, impermiable sand. It was more dangerous than fun, and we had to go slowly, careful not to get out of control. We churned up great clouds of dust, but none of the fun associated with a good, sandy descent. After 500ft of this nonsense, the steep sand covered surface gave way to 1,000ft of boulder and talus - more ughness. Rixford was not a pleasant mountain we found. We eventually made our way back to the Kearsarge Pass Trail below, and took this back to Kearsarge Pass. At the pass I found a Saturday afternoon zoo of some two dozen backpackers and dayhikers congregating, resting, and taking in the views. I waited a few minutes for Michael to make his way up, then we both headed down the east side, making the last five miles in an hour and a quarter. It was 2:15p when we reached the trailhead, and at 8h15m it was our shortest day of the Challenge. We drove down to Lone Pine where we took a room and met the others for dinner at the Pizza Factory at 7p. We had a large group of around ten for dinner, swapping stories, exchanging beta for the following day, and generally recharging our batteries. 8 days down, 2 to go!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Dragon Peak - Mt. Gould - Mt. Rixford
This page last updated: Wed Mar 23 18:33:56 2011
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