On Friday evening Marisa, Quinn, Srisuda and I met at Gray’s Meadow’s campground west of the town of Independence in preparation for a 3 day / 2 night backpacking hike starting from Onion Valley. Our first trip to this area was in 2011.
Most of the group were looking for some relaxing time by the lakes while I also wanted to climb Mt. Rixford. When we arrived at the Onion Valley hiker’s parking lot we found it full and cars were parked along the road. Sierra hiking, particularly over the easier passes, has become more and more popular even in the few years since we have been doing it. We dropped our bags at the trailhead with Srisuda watching over them while we parked the vehicles.
We were only a few steps into the hike when we got stopped by a ranger who wanted to see our permit. We chatted with him a bit and learned that the mosquitoes which plagued us 4 weeks ago were now almost gone. Very welcome news. On the hike to the pass we stopped to check out some of the lakes along the way and had a nice snack break in the shade. The pass itself was very busy, to take pictures with the sign one had to ask others to step aside. From up here we got a great view of our destination right below us. After a short break and picture taking we continued down to the lakes.
There are many camp sites around the Kearsarge Lakes and we spent some time finding a spot. The best spots were taken, but we found a sheltered location in some trees not too far from from a nice, grassy lake front. After setting up our tents we walked a little along the lake to it’s outlet where we hung out enjoying the view and getting some water from the stream. Then it was time to return to camp and prepare dinner. It was windy that evening and clouds were racing over our heads, some below 13,000ft obscuring surrounding peaks. Due to the wind chill we did not last much past sunset before crawling into our tents.
On Sunday morning I got up at sunrise, packed for my Mt. Rixford climb and set off at 7:30 while the others were still in their cozy sleeping bags. Deer were strolling around our camp grazing and not being bothered by our presence. It was just above freezing with frost and ice on the more exposed grass and puddles around. I headed back up to the trail that connects Kearsarge Pass with the John Muir Trail (JMT) / PCT and followed it to the bottom of Mt. Rixford where I found a suitable spot to leave the trail and head up. After a rocky section the climb quickly turned into a sandy / scree slog after leaving the last vegetation behind. This was also the point at which I saw a group of hikers above me. After a while I passed them and it turned out it was a group we had met at the pass the day before. After a short chat with them I continued on. After reaching the final ridge the slope started to change more to talus and it was less steep than below.
The ridge narrowed and there was really no question where to go for the most part. At one point evidence of previous climbers let me a little low and I climb up a bit to the more solid rock. Just below the peak there is a little saddle with scree followed by a dark rock cliff. The cliff looked quite ‘climby’, but upon inspection I found an approx. 20 ft chimney up. It was very easy to climb with plenty of solid handholds. Fun actually. From the top of the chimney it was a quick rock hop to the peak. Views were spectacular on this cloudless day. I was able to spot Whitney way in the back looking south. I was thinking of Jack and his JMT group who planned to climb it the next day. After a nice break during which I took pics, ate my sandwich and signed into the register it was time to head back down. Just as I put on my pack the group I had passed arrived.
Getting down from the peak was not that much faster than getting up on that unstable ground. Upon reaching the trail I headed west towards the JMT. My plan was to head up to Glenn Pass and have a look at the Painted Lady to see if I could maybe climb that also. The JMT up the north side of the Glenn Pass was beautiful, but quiet a climb. I met a lot of JMT and Rae Lakes Loop hikers, a very busy trail. On the pass at 12,000ft I had great views similar to those from the peak earlier. I could also see why the Painted Lady doesn’t get climbed more often. It was a very steep slope with very loose ground. I decided that I did not have the time and energy to attempt it that day. So I sat and enjoyed the views for awhile. On my way back I chose the lower trail along Bullfrog lake from the JMT towards Kearsarge Pass.
When I arrived back at camp I found the others sitting next to the lake enjoying a backpacker’s meal of Creme Brulee and tea. Well, not traditional tea, nobody brought any. They experimented and came up with that they called the “Tres amigas” drink: Pick some fresh limber pine needles, add hot water and some Jack Daniels (How did that get into the bear canister? 🙂 ) and enjoy. They had a lot of that drink with no ill effect. So much that I started to get concerned for there favorite little limber pine tree ;). We updated each other about our day. The others had taken a hike over to Charlotte Lake and enjoyed it’s shore line. Along the way they met some interesting people and had some good chats. We cooked our dinner right there by the lake as there was no wind that evening. After dinner we watched the mountains around us change color in the setting sun while the Brook trout where jumping like crazy in the lake in front of us. The moon rose and it’s reflection added to the nice evening atmosphere by the mountain lake. This was one of the reasons why we were here! It did cool down quickly though and we retired to our tents.
On Monday we got up around the time when the sun hit camp, had breakfast, packed up and got on our way back up to the pass and down on the other side. A work crew was improving the trail up the pass, adding switchbacks to make the climb a little easier. When we arrived at the pass around 10:30 there was nobody up there, but we could already see lots of people come up from Onion Valley. We ended up spending quite some time up there as we got involved in conversations with various people.
We took our time on the way down with some nice breaks enjoying views and just being on the mountain. At the trailhead Marisa surprised us with fizzy apply cider that had survived in the bear locker. It was even cool. We got our tired feet out of the hiking shoes into some sandals, loaded our packs into the vehicles and drove down the mountain. In Independence we could see the huge fire clouds of the Taboose fire burning only a few miles north of us (later I learned that several trails had been closed, hikers at Red Lake evacuated by helicopter and 4 hikers vehicles were lost at one trailhead). Since it was 4pm we all wanted to get underway to our destinations for the day and we just stopped at the sandwich store for a quick bite before all heading off into our different directions.
A fun excursion into the mountains with friends. What could be better?
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