Kearsarge Peak

Summit ridge

Being relatively low (12,500′) and situated on the eastern edge of the Sierra, Kearsarge Peak looked like a good target for this time of year. The standard route starts from Onion Valley, then follows an unpleasantly loose chute to the ridge west of the peak. The road to Onion Valley is “closed” like the Whitney road — you’re welcome to drive as far as you can, but no one is removing the accumulated snow and rocks. The snow was a bit too deep on the shaded portions of the road, so I parked around 7200′ and approached the peak by its east ridge. This being a ridge route, I chose to leave the snowshoes behind.

The climb to the crest of the ridge consisted of moderate snow, soft but not deep enough to be annoying. The first part of the ridge was mixed snow and dirt, with occasional drifts and rock steps complicating things a bit. The ridge flattens and narrows after the initial climb. The deeper snow on this part forced me onto the sometimes-rotten rock; things got slower, and a loose block cost me a knee bruise.

After this first flat section, the ridge broadens and steepens again. This pitch was a mixture of talus and brush, covered by knee- to thigh-deep powder. Though snowshoes would have made this part less frustrating, the rocks and brush would have made them enough of a nuisance that I’m not sure they would be faster.

After this second steep pitch, the ridge became a boulder-hop with snow between the rocks, and I could finally make decent progress. After my crack-of-9:20 alpine start, I was getting to the point where I would incur headlamp time if I kept going, but I steeled myself and hopped on up the ridge.

Toward the top of the third steep pitch, I was surprised to find a built-up trail. It wasn’t helpful — it switchbacked too much, and was often drifted over — but it motivated me to find out where it led. Surprisingly, it passed the ruins of a stone house no more than 100 feet below the summit ridge — whatever miner lived there had Colorado levels of hardiness (in the Dave Barry sense as well). The trail continued to a point on the ridge itself, perhaps a mine, but I was in a hurry, and cut across to the west, passing several pinnacles on the way to the well-marked summit. Unsurprisingly, I was the first visitor in over a month; I was also a very cold visitor, so I only played around for a few minutes before diving down the north side into Sardine (?) Canyon.

The ravine seems to catch an unusual amount of snow and funnel it into one or more chutes running down the center. The snow was unfortunately too soft to glissade, but a hardy skier or sledder could put together a long run. I passed a large collection of mining junk on the way, including four shipping containers that served as housing. The road to the mine was as useless as the trail on the ridge — switchbacking and drifted — so I suffered down the snow chute without snowshoes. I saw plenty of animal tracks, including those of some kind of cat or dog, but the only animals I saw were a pica and a not-fearful-enough buck on the Little Onion Valley road. I avoided headlamp time, but only barely, reaching the car at the tail end of dusk.

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