University Peak

Okay, I thought this one was supposed to be easy. When it comes to accurately sizing up a route’s difficulties, I’m beginning to fear either I’m a hopeless optimist or else I’ve gone soft because lately everything seems like a thumping.

In any case, 4400 one-way vertical feet to University Peak’s 13,632' (?) summit sounded reasonable enough to me. From Onion Valley I decided to go up University Peak's north face via the leftish north rib, a moderate line as described by Secor, and then looping down the class 2 southeast ridge, finishing up in the Robinson Lake drainage.

This is a fairly straightforward ascent—trail up to Gilbert Lake, then veer south maybe finding a use trail, maybe not, eventually gaining a high altitude lake directly beneath the north rib. From here, you can stick to the middle of the gully for a maybe class 2, or veer left onto the rib for definitely class 3 and (if you’re not careful) higher.

The talus here was pretty darn junky. Lots of silt-pan triggers and big big loose blocks. Pretty much everything seemed loose, even by eastside standards. Once I gained the northeast ridge, I got my directions crossed and foolishly traversed the east side of the summit pinnacle, finding that dreaded “Sierra Class 3” climbing that we all know and fear.

I definitely did not find a class 1 route to the summit on the south slope. Maybe it’s there, somewhere. Who knows. Great views up top, though I sadly didn’t get to see East Vidette, which as we all know, is beyond doubt the prettiest peak in the Sierra.

Once off the summit blocks, the south face was sandy class 1 for a quick descent along and beneath the southeast ridge. I ended up taking the so-called shortcut variation, which is the first class 2 chute leading down to Robinson Lake.

And here, again, I found very challenging ground. There is a certain mixture of hardness and looseness that is especially punishing (and dangerous). This chute exactly hit that combination, demanding intense effort and concentration at a time when I was well ready to just hit a trail and go on autopilot.

It was pretty much that way all the way down down down to Robinson Lake—challenging, tricky talus that you just constantly had to think about. So overall, modest distance and vertical gain, yes, but this was a tough one. Guess I’m just out of practice when it comes to Sierra scrambling.

— August 19, 2014

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Dan Conger August 22, 2014 at 3:10 am

Beautiful video! Kings Canyon is the deep gorge you were looking into when you said Kern.

Andy August 22, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Noted -- thanks Dan!

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