Taking on two sides of Onion Valley
19-21 Jul 2003 - by Will Mollandsimms
On July 19th I drove up to Onion Valley. The sights on the 395 were impressive, as thunderstorms had engulfed most all of the eastern Sierras. Mt. Whitney could not even be seen through the dark and angry looking clouds. As I got to the Onion Valley parking lot it started to drizzle and I feared the clouds would open any second. Luckily they didn't. I started out at about 5 in the afternoon up the poorly marked Robinson Lake trail. The trail begins in campsite 8 of the Onion Valley campground. There is a sign that points the trail going through a creek, but being the questioning fellow that I am I decided not to follow the creek but go up the faint trail more to the right of the sign. My mistake as this trail is very steep and goes straight up the slope. After a bit of a haul up this trail I found the real trail and was at Robinson Lake soon after 6. There I rendezvoused with my climbing partners for the next couple of days, Judy Molland and Joe Baker. The mosquitoes at Robinson Lake were horrible and it took much deet to get rid of them. The next morning we got up rather late and started back down the trail to climb Independence Peak. After a half-mile or so there is a use trail that goes up the side of the Mountain. We hopped on that and went up it for a ways. The trail continues all the way to a notch near the summit, but we broke off left to go the route less traveled by. We went up through a lot of loose sand and talus until we reached a section near the top, which included a few class 3 moves. Once here we discovered the only way up was through a 100-foot section of exposed class 3-4. Joe decided to run up it and see what more there was. He discovered that after this 100 foot section there is another, longer section of exposed class 3-4 on the ridge and we decided to go down and around and reunite with the trail. We did this and went up to the notch and then traversed up and left to the summit. At the summit we noticed the clouds that had engulfed University peak, our goal for tomorrow, had lifted. Unfortunately we also saw that University pass was totally covered in snow. Without any axes we wouldn't have a chance. We went back down the use trail and back to our camp and then out to the car to find a new destination for the next day.
We decided to try Kearsarge Peak. We stayed at the Onion Valley campground and headed off a little after 8. We went down about half a mile to an old dirt road. From here it was just horrible for about 1500 feet. I supposed if you like walking on very faint and overgrown trails through sharp brush and then up rather inclined sand for 1500 feet this climb is for you, but for anyone sane this is just a pure slog. And to add a little more to the hike the weather had completely changed, as it was very sunny and very hot. After an incredibly annoying two hours of 3 steps forwards 2 steps back we reached a point where the trail became more obvious and less severe. From here the trail gradually switch backed up through a small pine forest. The trail eventually forks with the right trail going up to scree fields near the summit and the left one going around to prospects on the south face of the mountain. We went left and then up a scree field for about 700 feet. When we reached the top of the scree field we discovered an old mining cabin with walls the chimney still intact and the end of the other trail. Oh well, scree is more exiting than trails anyway. From here we managed to go up every false summit until we reached the true summit, which is a ways down the ridge. Once there we found the register and discovered we just the third party there this year and only the second since March. Wonder why that could be... We stayed at the summit for quite a while, as we were tired from the slog up here. The views of the surrounding mountains were very nice, as was the view of the cars in the Onion Valley parking lot. I suppose that this peak would not be that bad if you went up it in spring via Sardine Canyon. It would probably be a very nice ski run and wouldn't be nearly so horrible. However, I would not recomend it in the summer up the trail we did. After lunch on top we went back down, this time via the other trail. After going back down the switchbacks we discovered how much easier it was going down steep sand. What took us 2 hours going up took 20 minutes going down. We got back to Onion valley around 4 after an 8-hour day. We drove down to Independence for a well-deserved meal and went our separate ways.
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