July 1, 2014
Kearsarge Peak Panorama
Great Views But Beware the Mining Trail!
Great views but beware the mining trail! Kearsarge is described in Jay Anderson's Climbing California's Mountains as "possibly the quickest-to-reach significant summit on the entire eastern side of the Sierra." With that kind of billing, who could resist? In keeping with my loop-or-bust tradition, I decided to ascend from the west, via Lilly Pass, with a planned return via that wiggly line on my USGS topo—an old mining trail on the peak's east face.
First, the views: superb. Kearsarge sits well east of the Sierra crest, creating that wonderful juxtaposition of space over Owens Valley. As for the crest, you get an impressive span of High Sierra notables, including a dramatic view of Williamson, a close-up of University Peak, good looks at Brewer and Black Mountain, and much, much more.
Going up went mostly as planned. I started from Onion Valley on the mostly-apparent Golden Trout Lakes Trail, which provides reasonably quick access to Lilly Pass. The ground here was not unbearably loose, but the descent down the east side was another story: an epic scree slog. Given the heat, sand, loose rock, and at-best ghost of a trail, this could rank among the worst 3000' you'll ever climb. I was glad to be going down rather than up, and thank goodness I'd packed scree gaiters.
As route alternatives, you can crunch directly up the south face starting right from the trailhead. Things look more difficult than they actually are; pick a chute and expect at most a bit of Class 3 rock to gain the summit ridge. You can also find very easy ground coming up from the north via the old mining road through Sardine Canyon.