Fire and Dragons
(Golden Trout Lakes Ramble)

19-22 Aug 2020 - by Mike Bigelow

Steve and I met at the trailhead in Onion Valley around 9:00 on Wednesday and hiked up the Golden Trout Lakes trail for packs for four days. The weather was nearly hot, with a temperature around eighty when we started in. The trail to the meadow below the larger of the three lakes was barren and nearly dry. The stream was low to say the least. From the meadow we continued north along a use trail and arrived at a camp between the two lakes in the north basis around 3:00 PM. A large section of the trail before the meadow was wiped out by rock fall years ago and has not been repaired. Several trees were down on the trail as well. The entire trail has a bit of a "use trail" vibe. It appears it's not being maintained. Aside from the lakes, water was very hit or miss. At our camp, we found a small trickle between the two lakes that was manageable, but with lots of organic bits. The upper lake had the best water.

The weather was good in the evening, albeit warm. We retired early with plans to hike up Kearsarge the next morning. We woke Thursday to the smell of smoke in the air and poor visibility. Fires in the Bay area were creating smoke up and down the range. We left camp before 7:30 and headed east, traversing the left (north) side of basin over large and small talus, basically maintaining our elevation, before we rounded a rib and entered the north leading scree slope that climbs to Lilley Pass. From the pass, we traversed over small scree and sand before slogging up the last few hundred feet to the summit. The smoke was so thick, we could barely make out the cars in Onion Valley. Owens valley below was completely obscured. We hung out, made some phone calls and I checked my email. Don't judge me! It was technically a "workday." :-) We were back in camp around 3:00 PM, making it a pretty casual day.

Friday we were up with the sun and off to climb Dragon Peak at 07:00. The smoke had cleared overnight and we were treated to a bluebird of a day. We traversed around the south side of the upper lake and climbed a steep slope of sand, brush and scree into the talus basin just south of Dragon. Heading west and out of the talus there's a good use trail that leads to the cliff face and forces you right (north) into a sandy, steep gully. At the top of the gully you'll see an obvious notch on the right. There's a large chock-stone that you can climb over with a pack, or under without a pack. We chose the pack-less tunnel route and hoisted our packs up. From there the route is obvious as you stay mostly on the west side of the ridge. There is good climbing along the ridge and you eventually work your way the base of the main summit. A ledge marked by white rocks works around a corner and then straight up until you come to a small platform before the final traverse. We had a little gear with us and rigged a belay on a short rope. The traverse is easy, but it's a definite "no fall" zone. We summited before noon and then climbed back to the platform for some lunch before retracing our steps. We rigged a quick rappel at the chock-stone and then it was clear sailing back to camp. Dragon is a great peak and well worth the effort.


Once back in camp, we decided to move to a better spot by the upper lake. Just at the outlet there are several flat spots in the trees. The wind came up in the evening but the weather looked like it was holding.

I had semi-planned to head over North Dragon Col on Saturday and climb Black Mountain, but having seen the tedious ridge from the summit of Dragon, I was losing interest. Saturday morning, my enthusiasm had not returned, so we headed back to the cars.

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