Ascent of Kearsarge Peak on 2018-05-23

Climber: Lucas Lochner

Date:Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Kearsarge Peak
    Elevation:12615 ft / 3845 m

Ascent Trip Report

Made my way up to onion Valley Campground around 10AM, but the outlook for today wasn't too good. Above 11,000 feet the Sierra was shrouded in heavy clouds which had only developed only in the last hour or so while I was grabbing coffee, and my thinking was that it would only get worse. Left the trailhead thinking at some point I would get turned around. The summit of Kearsarge was not visible, lost in a heavy fog. Headed up golden trout lake trail from the campground, also skeptical about the trail given a few trip reports commenting negatively on the trail quality, confirmed also by a comment from a young guy in the parking lot. But while I found the trail to be easily lost at some points, thought navigation was fairly simple without it and intuitively I found my way back onto it, so I really had little trouble with this. Difficulties sticking to the trail I think were overstated, or likely the trail may have undergone some maintenance since then.
When you approach the waterfall at about 10,000 feet you want to stay to the far right, Right even of the second creek coming in from the further north side, so that you more or less scramble up the talus on the far right. Above 10000, you continue along the faint trail, immediately crossing the creek to the south side of the canyon, until you ascend switchbacks to get atop the little ridge just south of the creek here. From this point keep ascending through a forest of mostly fir, white bark (and some foxtail I think) until you reach 10700. At this point, the trail stays to the south side of the creek as the creek passes through a narrow little pass, cliffed out on both sides. Early in season the south side here was covered up with steep snow, so I had to cross at this point to the north side and boulder-hop / navigate some talus up through the narrow exit of the creek. It seems I’m not the first to do this; despite the trail staying to the south there is are signs of a use trail where I was. At 10800 I continued west along the talus, although In hindsight this would’ve been a good time to cross back to the trail on the south side. Either way, you’re gonna want to emerge on the south side of the creek when you hit about 11000 ft at Lilley Meadow, and inevitably gonna have to bushwhack thru some willows growing at the edge of the creek.
From here, pick your own route thru the meadow, staying initially to the south side until you find adequate passage over the creek. Head up to the east of the waterfall, the trail winds it’s way thru the trees here and is easy to lose but the terrain is fairly open so boulder hopping is easy if preferable.
At 11200 I left the trail, boulder-hopping north to about 11400, where I picked my route up to Lilley Pass. The slope here is pretty steep, and a mix of sand, talus and a few boulders and interesting rock outcroppings. The pass is obvious, the only route up to the north without navigating vertical cliffs; it's about a 200-300 ft gap between these cliffs. For the ascent, the talus is easier to navigate obviously than the steep sand, and for this heading straight up the middle is probably best. Use caution here, nothing really is 100% set in place. At the rock outcropping at about 10800, head to the right (east) side; the west side has more sand and makes for a better descent route. Above 10800, things start to get a little more technically challenging, there is some scrambling involved, and while none of the moves are particularly difficult, the steep slope behind you makes it seem fairly exposed and a little more dangerous than perhaps it is. After some scrambling for about 100 ft, the top of the pass starts to round out, and you have to hoof it through some sand until you top out at 12000 ft. It should be noted that a few folks I have seen take a route to the east of Lilley Pass, up a gully running northeast upon which you emerge on the ridge of Kearsarge at 12400. This was not ideal for me today given that it seemed the gully still had some snow leftover, and I wouldn’t want to navigate that much sand anyway. But if you are stubborn enough to handle that, it’s a more direct route to the ridge. Perhaps also a better option on the descent.
From Lilley Pass, the route is fairly trivial, you can ascend via traverse of the talus/boulders on north slope of the ridge until you reach about 12400, or you can head directly east up the ridge. Wanting to avoid any up and down climbing along the ridge, I initially opted for the former, but around the bend found a long stretch of steep ice/snow on the concave aspect of the north slope and was forced up to the ridge to avoid it. The ridge is really fairly easy to navigate and the downclimbing is minimal. Theres a lot of boulder-hopping, and with patches of snow from a day or two ago making the surfaces fairly slippery, I had use a lot more caution than typical I would need. There’s pretty decent exposure on the south side of the ridgeline here, and when the fog started to lift I could actually see back down to the campground. But again, the route finding once your up on the ridge is trivial. Head east over class 2 talus/boulders til you reach the summit.
Was fortunate to have the weather hold up for me, with the clouds even lifting to some extent so that I wasn't shrouded in fog at the summit. Clouds in the area were still threatening, however, and after seeing a few snow pellets falling, decided not to stick around long and head back down. Descent was roughly same as ascent, making a few alterations, mainly heading down the west side of Lilley Pass to keep in the sand.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3515 ft / 1071 m
    Total Elevation Loss:100 ft / 30 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7 mi / 11.3 km
    Grade/Class:class 2+
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3515 ft / 1071 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 3415 ft / 1041 m; Extra: 100 ft / 30m
    Loss on way in:100 ft / 30 m
    Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km
    Route:Lilley Pass
    Start Trailhead:Onion Valley CG  9200 ft / 2804 m
Descent Statistics
    Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km

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