Kennedy Mountain, the hard way

4 Jul 1999 - by Debbie Bulger

How to have more fun on class one

I have long wondered if the "longest switchback in the Sierra," the 3-mile blip around Dead Pine Ridge in Kings Canyon National Park could be shortened. Last Fourth of July I had the opportunity to find out.

On the way back from climbing State Peak, Richard and I were travelling west on the trail from the Middle Fork of Dougherty Creek toward Dead Pine Ridge. The Ranger had told us that if we continued west when the trail turned north to skirt the ridge, we could easily climb Dead Pine Ridge and descend into the Kennedy Creek drainage on the other side. We decided to try a more challenging route.

I love to go off trail. Exploring less traveled areas provides me with the solitude and beauty that is getting harder and harder to find in the backcountry.

We turned south before we reached Dead Pine Ridge and went up into the heart of the Volcanic Lakes. It must be one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. As we ascended it felt like opening nesting Russian dolls with a new delight beyond each rise. It was like Chanukah-unwrapping a new gift each day. It was divine.

Lake upon lake came into view. Tiny falls, cascades edged by wildflowers, rocks stacked to resemble Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. We camped at lake 10,199 poised to tackle Kennedy in the morning.

A ramp of greenery led westward to the ridgetop. There the puzzle began. At first we attempted to descend to the south (left) but soon found ourselves on steep dropoffs with crumbly rock. We reascended and circled to the right, then followed a series of gullies down toward East Kennedy Lake. A few times we came to dead ends, blocked either by water or a sheer face. Finally we gained the secluded E. Kennedy Lake, so near a trail, yet remote.

As we climbed to join the trail to Kennedy Pass, we could see the route we had come. The trick is to stay high and follow the crest of the north rib down to the outlet of the lake. We had descended too quickly.

Once the trail is gained, the climb up Kennedy is easy. On our way down we met a Sierra Club National trip at the saddle. Folks from all over the country. After visiting for a while, we returned to camp via the ridge now that we knew the way.

In the morning, we enjoyed higher Volcanic Lakes and quickly returned to Granite Pass, only a mile away. The green of Granite Basin was a startling contrast to the snow-covered bowl at this time the year before.

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