Kearsarge Peak, Horton Lakes, Mt. Morgan

The extreme multi-year drought continues and the snow levels for the southern Sierra only reached about 50% of normal. A side effect is that hiking at elevation is already possible in June.

Kearsarge Peak (12,620 ft / 3847 m)
We drove to Onion Valley where we had a campsite reserved. We arrived in the late afternoon, set up camp, and had dinner. Unfortunately, it was a bit too windy/cold to start a campfire.
The next morning we packed up camp and moved the truck to the hiker’s parking lot where we stored our food in one of the bear lockers. Then we started up the Kearsarge pass trail which we soon departed for the Golden Trout Lakes trail. Normally there is a nice waterfall at the bottom of this trail, but this year it was only a trickle. The trail steeply goes up to the right of the cliff with the waterfall. At the top of the waterfall there is a nice valley that narrows into a canyon. The trail climbs up on the south side of that valley. It became a little overgrown in places and there were minor snowfields that could be avoided. Care was necessary to find the proper route. Eventually one ends up in a swampy meadow which was also very dry for this time of year. Here one trail takes off to the Golden Trout trail to the left. We continued to the upper lakes (not named on the map). This was where Srisuda was going to wait for me. After a quick snack I made my way through some huge talus blocks to the very steep, sandy/scree slope leading up to Lilley Pass. The next 600 ft (182 m) of climbing were absolutely miserable in the loose sand and scree. From the pass the peak is clearly visible and it’s easy to just climb up. The day was overcast, but the clouds were high enough to afford great views of the Sierra Crest to the west.
After a nice snack break I headed back down. The nasty slope now was almost fun. Soon I reached Srisuda and we hiked out to the truck.
Hike stats: 7.5 miles, 3,600 ft gain

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Horton Lakes (9950 ft / 3033 m)
We arrived close to the Horton Lakes trailhead shortly before sunset and found a nice camp spot at an aspen grove. Here we spent the night sheltered from the wind. The idea was to hike to Horton Lakes the next morning, spent the night, and the next day for me to climb Mt. Tom while Srisuda would hang out by the lake. The weather did not let that happen. It was windy, but the trees provided decent protection. However, the forecast for the next day for above 11,000 ft (3350 m) was 45 mp/h (70 km/h) with gusts to 70 mph (112 km/h). No conditions to be in the open at 13,000 ft (4000 m). So instead we had a leisurely breakfast and warmed up in the sun after getting up to 37 F (3 C). Then we hiked back down to the truck.
After cleaning up we drove to Bishop. Before continuing north on Hwy 395 to Rock Creek Road we stopped at the Burger Barn on Hwy 168 in Bishop and enjoyed their excellent burgers.
Hike stats: 4.5 miles (each way), 2,300 ft gain

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Mount Morgan (13,754 ft / 4192 m)
We drove to Rock Creek Lake and checked out the trailhead for the Mt. Morgan hike. The campground there was rather busy and had no sites suitable to sleep in the truck. So we drove back down a little and looked for a spot at Lower Pine Grove campground. We were about to decide on a campsite, still sitting in the truck, when Srisuda spotted a bear calmly walking up right towards us. He turned towards the bathrooms and camphost camp, sniffed at everything, then came back and walked right past the driver door looking at me. Nothing to see at our camp he continued to the next site and leaned on the tent with his front paws, deflating the tent, but not ripping anything. Then he walked over the next tent. The owners of that site just returned in their car and yelled and honked to chase the bear away. He ignored them and deflated their tent also without damage. Then he circled back and spent some time at the trash bins. Unsuccessful in finding anything interesting, everyone had done a good job cleaning their sites clean, he left.

Bear meeting us at Pine Grove campground

That was our signal to get out and set up our camp. I split some wood we had brought and we had a nice campfire. Once the sun was gone it got cold quickly and we crawled into the truck.
After a good night’s sleep we woke up to 29 F (-2 C). With the help of the Peakfinder app we were able to determine exactly when the sun would get over the valley ridge and that’s when we got up, had a hot breakfast, packed up, and drove to the lake. We found a nice parking spot and I set out for the peak while Srisuda got ready for a day by the lake.

From the Tamarack Lakes trailhead I took the trail to Francis Lake. There I continued up the valley over a grassy slope until it turned into a steeper talus slope. I negotiated the talus for a few hundred feet of gain before it became less steep and more stable rock. From there I took the obvious ridges up to the top for the remaining 2000 ft (660 m) of climbing. There were a couple more talus sections to deal with and some small snowfields to avoid before reaching the top. It was warm by now, not the slightest breeze, clear skies, so I ended up staying on top for over 45 minutes. I returned back down basically the same way as I had come up.
Hike stats: 11.5 miles, 4090 ft gain.

(click on any image to enlarge/start slide show)

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