Independence Peak P300 SPS / CS

Aug 3, 2003

With: Matthew Holliman

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile


It was the day after a brutal hike which feels somewhat like a hangover. Things sort of ache all over and staying in bed seems like the best course of action for the morning. But I've heard it said that one of the better cures for a hangover is to start drinking again, so with that in mind I suggested that we go climb Independence Peak (although drinking might have been a good idea too). Matthew readily agreed without hesitation. I really like this guy.

After clearing out of our motel room in Independence we drove back up to Onion Valley, this time under gorgeous skies. There would be no repeat of the crummy weather today, thank goodness. Independence Peak lies a short distance from Onion Valley, an easy climb by most standards. To make it a better challenge, I suggested we take the class 4 North Ridge (shown in profile on the left side of the photo), of which only the upper part is reported by Secor to be class 4. Matthew readily agreed as we headed out from the parking lot at 7:30a. We took the Robinson Lake trail out of the campground (it's on the far east end of the campground, not well-marked at all like the Kearsarge Pass Trail) for only a short distance before striking off cross-country to the east, heading for the North Ridge. The talus is rather steep and tedius on the west side of the ridge, and our enjoyment of it was rather minimal. But after an hour we finally reached the ridge and the more enjoyable parts of the route. We also had some great views from here, west to Kearsarge Pass and the Golden Trout Lake area, as well as east to the Owens Valley.

Almost from the beginning we found the ridge challenging, more than we had expected. There are numerous gendarmes lining the ridge, and keeping strictly to the ridge seems to involve class 4 and 5 climbing well-before the advertised upper section. At one such gendarme I chose to follow the ridge more directly while Matthew decided to climb around to the west side and avoid the rock climb. After ten or fifteen fun minutes of rock climbing I found my way to the top of the gendarme, then down to a small col that had a broad chute on the west side that I expected Matthew to follow up. Only problem was he never showed up. I waited for about 15 minutes, then climbed back down a ways along the ridge to see if he took an alternate route. Nope. I shouted a few times and waited to hear his return, but didn't even hear my own echo - just silence. Guessing he may have gone even further around on the west side, I continued on up.

I was far from the summit, not even halfway, and the ridge was getting too spicy for my liking. Maybe I was taking the idea of "ridge" too literally. The west side here looked too steep, so I moved over to the east side of the ridge where I found it possible to make upward progress. There is a gully on the NE side that starts at the road well below Onion Valley, and shoots all the way to the summit blocks - what looks like a direct class 2-3 line all the way, never mentioned by Secor though. I never quite reached this gully, but stayed on the rocks between it and the North Ridge. In several places I found myself on steep slabs with loose sand on top, wishing I was elsewhere. But most of the rock was fairly solid and enjoyable. I moved back over to the North Ridge before reaching the summit, and followed this up until I didn't like the looks of it any more (I would have put it at class 5.5+). As recommended I moved over to the West Face and traversed around towards the South Ridge. Before passing by the summit though, a rib I was crossing caught my attention and I started following it up. It turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the climb, a direct route to the summit on the west side up a steep rib for maybe a hundred feet. The rib rejoined the North Ridge about 50 yards north of the summit, but it was a straightforward climb along the ridge to the highpoint from there.

It was 10:45a when I reached the summit, a bit more than three hours for what beforehand I had guessed would take two. The climbing had been much more exciting than I had expected. I looked in the register for Matthew's name but found none (though one page had a fellow SP member and the names of Brent and Vishal who I'd hiked with previously). All I could tell about Matthew was that he wasn't yet to the summit. Which way might he be coming from? Did he in fact turn back? After about 20 minutes on the summit I began to imagine that he had chosen the latter course and might be already back at the car waiting for me. If I sat at the summit another hour, it wasn't going to help in this case. On the other hand, if he was injured somewhere, climbing back down was going to make it pretty hard to offer assistance. If only I had a clue where he was. The views to be enjoyed were several - Mt. Williamson to the south, University Peak to the west, Gould, Emerson, and Kearsarge to the north, and the Owens Valley to the east. Far below the West Face was Robinson Lake, a pretty, glacier-carved gem, a leftover of a past galcial period.

Having had enough of the North Ridge, I decided to take the quickest way down that I could, and made for the South Ridge and West Face. Getting off the summit was harder than I thought it might be, and I wandered a bit down the southeast side before finding a way over to a notch on the South Ridge. From here I started down the West Face, some tricky class 3 to start but soon opening up to a broad, sandy face that had much evidence of prior travel. I made quick work shooting down the West Face, in bounding leaps where I could, careful stepping where needed, always looking for the next sandy section to take advantage of. It took only about 40 minutes to get from the summit to the bottom of the West Face. I found a use trail with an overabundance of cairns (seemingly every five or six feet), most of which I knocked over as overkill. It wasn't until I was about 15 minutes down the trail that I realized it was the Robinson Lake Trail - I had forgotten how poorly maintained it is. I came across a few hikers out with their dogs as I made my way down, the only persons we say outside the campground all day. I got back to the car at noon, and of course Matthew wasn't there. I looked up at the broad West Face, but had no chance of spying him from such a distance. What to do?

I concluded the best thing I could do is wait. I had no key to the vehicle so I couldn't get inside, instead I decided to make a round of the area to see what my options were should I need to report a missing person. I walked the campground loop but found no ranger, no camp host, no phone I might use. I then walked down the road to the pack station, but found it closed up. It looked like the pack outfitter had closed up shop a few years ago. That's probably why I've never seen any horses at this trailhead and one reason I found the Kearsarge Trail so enjoyable. In about 45 minutes I had surveyed all that could be surveyed in the area, but still no sign of Matthew. I decided to try and nap, so I lay down by the side of his car, using my jacket for a pillow. This got me out of the cool breeze, but it was now too warm with the sun shining on me overhead. So I scooched under his car some to get out of the sun, but found myself too cold to nap. I ended up halfway in between, my head under the car in the shade, most of my torso in the sun to stay warm. I didn't nap much. I considered my options without having a car, a wallet, or a phone. If he didn't show up by 4p I figured I'd have to flag down one a fellow hiker or camper to provide assistance to call out for help. It all seemed a very messy scenario no matter how it played out, one I'd rather not have to go through. I got up from my nap shortly before 2p and began to worry more. Rats. Where could he be?

Fortunately I didn't have to wait much longer, and Matthew did indeed come walking down the road from the trailhead shortly after 2p. He'd gone further right onto the West Face as I'd guessed, but never made it to the summit. After scrambling around for several hours he decided he was probably going to be reported lost, and guessing correctly that I was back at the car already, he headed down. I hardly minded the two hour wait - it was far better than calling in a rescue. Thus ended three days' adventuring. We were disappointed that we didn't make the weekend's primary objective, but we learned a great deal and had much fun, and that's pretty good compensation when you can't make it to the top.

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