Day 1: We hiked up Kearsarge Pass. We encountered small patches of snow to cross, but nothing major. We elected to hike up from the pass to bag Mt Gould which was not part of the original plan. The scramble up was boring and uninteresting, but the summit blocks were a lot of fun. The summit block was so small that only one person at a time could be up there. John stood on top of it, but I couldn't do it. It was too windy and the exposure was tremendous.
Our goal for the day was to camp near Bull Frog Lake, but that area was closed for camping. We elected to camp at the Kearsarge Lake closest to Bull Frog Lake. Nice area.
Day 2: We hiked up and over Glenn Pass down into Rae Lakes and up and over Rae Col to a lake just west of Fin Dome. The hike up to Rae Col from Rae Lakes was tougher than we all anticipated. We eventually made our camp near Fin Dome.
Day 3: Mt Clarence King Day.
Matt elected to stay behind to give his knee time to heal. It was sore after the first day of hiking. We nailed the approach. We took the trail all the way until we reached peak 3910 and Mt Clarence King came back into view. We left the trail here. Headed up the left side of the first waterfall and then crossed over the water at the top and made our way up right. We just kept working our way up. It was not that difficult of routefinding.
We easily found the 3rd class ramp with the overhang that you need to climb under in the beginning of the ramp. This led us up to the saddle.
From there we headed up eventually staying close to the East Face.
We reached a friction slab that we could either go straight up or go across the slab. This is where we should have roped up. We elected to continue without roping up and we went left across the friction slab. We ended up roping up on a small little ledge which made it quite uncomfortable. It was a short pitch. I placed one piece of gear and that was it. If we elected to avoid the friction slab and just go straight up we would have reached the rappel anchors. At this point though we still didn't know where they were. It also just started to rain as I finished leading that pitch. Gary and John came up together just tied in below one another on our 30m rope. The summit block proved to be the most difficult part of the climb. John went around to the right and climbed a crack with some webbing in it. Gary and I just climbed the unprotecteable face up to John since he had us on belay. This was fun. Gary did the strenuous mantle move and was on top of the summit first. I then did it slightly different performing the move as a lieback and then I rocked over on my left foot. The exposure was pretty high doing it this way. John did it the way I did it also.
The weather was threatening and so we spent time for a picture and that was it. John downclimbed it first, then Gary and then me. We found the rappel station which was just left (climber's right) of where we came up.
There was one other short section where we looped the rope around a rock and rapped down.
We were all feeling much better now that we were off the difficult part of the climb. As we were getting water about halfway down the approach from where we left the trail, it started to hail the size of mini-golf balls. We were able to keep in touch with Matt throughout the day because I brought 2-way radios. He moved our gear inside our tent when it started to rain which was nice to not have to deal with. Matt spent the day scoping out the 3rd class climb up Fin Dome. He couldn't find anything that he thought was "3rd class".
Day 4: Fin Dome Day.
Gary elected to stay back at camp because he feared that it would rain early again. John, Matt, and I headed out a little after 7am. We went up the "hour-glass" shaped gully on the southwest side close to the dome (not shown in the picture). Shortly after the thinnest part of the gully, look for a small horizontal ledge to traverse on, to escape the gully and get onto the dome. Then work your way through some small trees and traverse until you reach a deadend but a ramp system is just below you. John and Matt jumped down to this ledge system, but I was able to traverse around the block and reached the ramp system rather easily. We took this ramp system until it petered out. Matt elected to bail at this point and rapped off to a ledge system below that he was on yesterday while looking for the route. I felt confident that we had found it and that we were going okay. John was a little stressed fearing that we were getting ourselves into 5th class terrain. We decided to rope up and put our shoes on. I headed up right to another ramp system. Basically, continued until I could go left again. This time I went left all the way to the large black stain that you see on the West Face of Fin Dome. I poked around making sure that we didn't have to climb anything near there. I then headed back up right. At one point, I reached a large chasm. Inside, I was able to climb up the back of it and exit out a small hole. This was sweet. This was a good spot to mark a cairn so that we knew where to go on the return. From here, it was just more easy climbing to the summit. We were able to keep in touch with Gary at camp with the radios the entire time. He could see us the entire time also. We were back at camp by 11am.
We packed up camp and headed back down to Rae Lakes. We hiked up to Dragon Lake which was really beautiful. There was no one back there which made it even better. The original plan was to hike up to the lakes just below South Dragon Pass, but we all agreed that this place was ideal to camp. We then noticed that North Dragon Pass looked like a piece of cake. We opted to go up and over North Dragon Pass instead. Later on that afternoon, Gary pointed out that the pass we were looking at was much farther North than we thought on the map. It still looked like we could make it go though and we elected to camp here tonight and do North Dragon Pass tomorrow.
Day 5: North Dragon Pass was a grind, but pretty straight forward until we reached the high point and we had to down climb the tower. I rate this 3rd/4th class. It was fairly easy, but if you fell, it could have been really bad. I scoped out the descent without my pack. We climbed up to the next high point and came to the next 3rd class obstacle. Matt headed off first and elected to take the right fork. There was some snow in the gully, but we could avoid it. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we were all out of the gully. We knew we had just did the henious North Dragon Pass from the west. We all agreed that we would never ever go that way again. We didn't attempt the peak of Dragon Peak because John had noted that the peak was closed as of July 1st for the Big Horn Sheep. That was a bummer. We eventually reached the prettiest meadows I have ever seen. The rest of the hike after the meadow was uneventful and the trail was in poor shape.
The way to do Dragon Peak would be to go up Kearsarge trail to the pass, head north over Mt Gould and over to South Dragon Pass and approach the peak from there. Then head down South Dragon Pass to the Golden Trout Trail back to Onion Valley for a great loop hike. The meadow is worth seeing a second time.
GPS Map and Profile from the trip.