Beginners try Independence and Gould

4 Oct 1998 - by Mark Elliot

After closely watching the weather reports for the weekend of October 3 and 4, Rhonda Neal and I (Mark Elliot) ventured up to Onion Valley to try some peaks that would require us to depart the comfortable confines of the trail. We were originally going to climb with a PCS group but they cancelled on Thursday with weather concerns. We trusted the Mammoth Mountain weather forcasts and drove up Friday night.


Saturday was crystal clear, cold and windy. We had an extended chat with the local ranger and then decided to try Independence Peak because it had a nice short approach hike and we were starting late, around 12:30. The hike to Robinson was pretty and steep enough to get your heart rate up. After reaching Robinson Lake we experienced our first case of "beginners route selection phobia." Since the talus was singularly unpleasant to walk up, we decided to work our way up along the base of a diagnol ridge line that began above the North end of the lake. This gave us hand holds to pull ourselves up with. The ridge transitioned into a talus chute, which we climbed, by sticking to the easier rock on the sides of the chute. We reached a flat area, and were faced with more options. Running low on time we dumped our packs and tried the talus chute on the right. We worked our way up almost to the base of the summit block where we hit our turn-around time. Thick clouds were cresting Kearsarge pass and the possibility of descending in bad weather and approaching darkness was not very appealing so we retreated, grabbed our packs and returned to the car.


Sunday was another beautiful day, clear, sunny and without the wind of Saturday. We decided to try Gould, heartened by the quote from Steve Roper's "The Climbers Guide to the High Sierra", where he describes Gould as "an easy talus walk from Kearsarge Pass". Secor's "High Sierra" called it "class 1, an easy talus hop." We departed at 10 am and reached the top of the pass by 12:30. After standing around with another case of "route phobia" for about 30 minutes, we decided to traverse and climb to the northwest, searching for the easy way that I had gone up when I climbed this peak at 13 years of age (more than 30 years ago). It was a punishing hand and foot scramble in very loose talus and boulder fields. We never got far enough west to find the easy way, and finally climbed the snow and talus chute between the two summit pinnacles. It was very steep in spots, and I can't imagine how it could be called an "easy class 1". By the definitions provided both books it was class 2 with some sections of class 3, unless as a beginner I am missing something. We had to be very careful about loose hand and foot holds and alert to knocking rocks down onto the climber below. At three in the afternoon we reached the top which was covered by about 2 feet of snow as was the rest of the North side. We climbed the summit block and then rested and ate lunch. It was getting late so we decided to try a shortcut and descend the North side by Golden Trout lake. We had a nice snow walk down the North bowl, it was a relief not to be walking on rocks for a while, and descended a talus chute to the lake. We found a lightly traveled trail at the east end of the lake, and with some difficulty, managed to follow it down to Onion Valley.

Some Thoughts

Now that I know, here it is. The "easy" way to do Gould, is to do a low traverse from Kearsarge pass until the peak is northwest of you, then do the talus climb to the large plateau and walk east back to the peak. Class 1 is defined as "trail walking" and I don't understand how the southeast ridge or any of the south ridges could be classified this way, of course, I'm only a beginner, I could be wrong. Secor's book describes the North approach, that we descended, as class 2 and what we climbed was certainly steeper than that. School is in session...are there any words of wisdom?

Jim Hoffman adds (two years later):

I just got back from climbing Mts Gould and Rixford, and agree with you. There are numerous peaks Secor describes as class 2 that are not nearly as steep and treacherous (loose) as Gould or Rixford (which is even harder to see as class 1).

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