Mount Gould (13,005′) via North Ridge (Class-3 Mixed Scramble)

Looking south at Mount Gould from the east side of Gould Pass. The more distant peaks are Mount Williamson (left; two horns), University Peak (center), and Junction Peak (right; dark pyramid on horizon).

Looking south at Mount Gould from the east side of Gould Pass. The more distant peaks are Mount Williamson (left; two horns), University Peak (center), and Junction Peak (right; dark pyramid on horizon).

Mount Gould is a 13,005-foot (3,964-meter) peak located in the Sierra Nevada of California. Its massive, double-peaked summit rises directly north of Kearsarge Pass, a popular hiking destination near the town of Independence. Despite being flanked by loose scree on all sides, the top of the mountain is an attractive cluster of granite blocks interwoven with perennial snowfields.

Due to its proximity to Kearsarge Pass, most climbers will ascend Mount Gould by the south talus slopes. A more adventurous approach involves trekking up Golden Trout Valley, up the throat of a steep (>40°) snow couloir, and then over talus slopes to the north ridge. This ridge can be trodden southward until encountering the rocky class-3 terrain of the summit block.


SUMMARY: I climbed Mount Gould in late June of the year 2015, during my 50-day northward ramble along the crest of the Sierra Nevada with Giselle and Max. This story takes place over the first three days of our 10-day journey between the towns of Independence and Bishop, when we were fortunate enough to have Casey with us. The four of us left town in late afternoon, hitch-hiked up to Onion Valley trailhead, and frantically scrambled up to Golden Trout Falls under the cloak of night. The following day, we trekked up and over Gould Pass (also climbing Dragon Peak en route) and made camp on the west side of the pass. When it was time to return Casey to civilization, we did so by climbing up to the summit of Mount Gould and subsequently sending him down the southern scree slopes to Kearsarge Pass and thence back to the trailhead.


FIRST VIEW: Giselle and I first lay eyes on the pastel pyramid of Mount Gould from the summit of University Peak, but it does not show significant prominence until we’ve descended a ways into the basin east of Kearsarge Pass. Previous reports of a “horrendous scree slope” are verified, thus affirming our desire to climb the peak from the opposite, and more aesthetic, side.

Looking northwest at Mount Gould from the east side of Kearsarge Pass.

Looking northwest at Mount Gould from the east side of Kearsarge Pass.

Looking northwest at Mount Gould from the lower Kearsarge Pass trail.

Looking northwest at Mount Gould from the east side of Kearsarge Pass.


24 June, 2015

The temperature hovers above 100°F in the sleepy desert town of Independence. Giselle, Max and I have been resting here for the past 24 hours, awaiting food packages and also the arrival of Casey, who has pledged to join us for the first three days of our upcoming cross-country journey through the Sierra Nevada to the town of Bishop.

Max and Giselle relaxing outside the Courthouse Motel in the sleepy town of Independence.

Max and Giselle relaxing outside the Courthouse Motel in the sleepy town of Independence.

First thing we do upon Casey’s arrival is ambush the only Mexican food establishment in town, which happens to be a charming food truck serving authentic tacos and horchata.

Casey about to tie into a delicious plate of Mexican food from a truck stand in the town of Independence.

Casey about to tie into a delicious plate of Mexican food from a truck stand in the town of Independence.

Second thing we do is gather in the cool courtyard behind the motel to brainstorm how the heck we’re gonna get up to the mountains. Naturally we decide to head for the Onion Valley road intersection and try to hitch-hike.

Max exploring the blacktop roof of the Courthouse Motel in the town of Independence.

Max exploring the blacktop roof of the Courthouse Motel in the town of Independence.

Our hitch-hiking journey up to the trailhead consists of several rides from folks who only take us part of the way, for various reasons. It’s a classic stop-and-go journey with plenty of sitting cross-legged on the side of an empty mountain road, but eventually we get there.

The author attempting to catch a ride up to Onion Valley trailhead.

The author attempting to catch a ride up to Onion Valley trailhead.

The author pointing up towards Onion Valley trailhead while waiting for a ride.

The author pointing up towards Onion Valley trailhead while waiting for a ride.

The events that unfold at the trailhead are almost too ridiculous to describe.

It’s past dark now and we’re bursting with excitement at finally making it to the high country. Maybe a tad over-enthusiastic and impatient. Within the first ten yards of the trail, Casey bumps his knee on a sharp boulder and slices the skin straight to the bone. It gets bandaged up alright, but not long afterwards he somehow manages to snap his rental trekking pole clear in half.

Then we bumble as a bumbling foursome directly up the talus slope because Max, like always, is too impatient to stick to the existing trail. This results in us gradually separating, especially when Max announces (despite our contention) that he would prefer to tackle the waterfall head-on instead of finding a more safe passage up the slope.

So there I am with Casey and Giselle, scrambling awkwardly up the gigantic loose boulders. At last we reach the waterfall and realize that there really is no proper way to safely climb it on this particular side. Miss Pragmatic (Giselle) declares that we should do the smart thing by retracing our steps in order to find the trailhead, but by now I find myself exceedingly sleepy and most definitely NOT in the mood for pragmatic action. As such, I absolutely insist on lying down among the boulders and sleeping right there; I even find a comfortable nook upon which to recline. I ignore Giselle’s pragmatic encouragement to get up from the damn rockpile and act maturely, and I ignore Casey when he informs me of a large white rat heading directly for my rocky nook. In fact, I hear their muffled pleas for reason as my eyes close and I drift off to sleep.

At 3:00 in the morning I awake with sharp back pain, trembling from the cold damp air. “What the heck was I thinking?!” I chastise myself, painfully extracting myself from my stone mattress. I turn to gather my belongings and see that the aforementioned rat is zealously gnawing into the foam handle of my trekking pole. Brushing the ghastly rodent aside, I gradually notice with creeping dread that the damned vermin has done quite a number on many of my belongings, but amazingly nothing is severely damaged. Shaking my head in self-disbelief, I hoist my mildly tattered rucksack and begin heading back for the trail, taking one final look at what is quite possibly the silliest location in which I have ever slept.

Looking down at my "bed" - aka the pile of rocks that looked comfortable under the circumstances.

Looking down at my “bed” – aka the pile of rocks that looked comfortable under the circumstances.

Using my headlamp for guidance, I relocate the trail and follow it for one hour up to the shelf above the waterfall, where Casey and Giselle are lying peacefully in their sleeping bags under the stars. They’re amazed to see me at such an hour, and justifiably amused at the events of the evening. Max is nowhere in sight.

Looking west over our camp at the top of Golden Trout Falls.

Looking west over our camp at the top of Golden Trout Falls.

Casey and I stay awake talking until sunrise, at which point we stir Giselle from her sack and begin brewing instant coffee and oatmeal along with some old portobello mushrooms left over from our in-town food supply. The orange sun slowly raises itself above the Owens Valley, illuminating the fantastic peaks around our makeshift campsite.

Looking southeast at Independence Peak from the top of Golden Trout Falls at sunrise.

Looking southeast at Independence Peak from the top of Golden Trout Falls at sunrise.

Panorama looking southeast at Independence Peak (left) and University Peak (right) from the top of Golden Trout Falls at sunrise.

Panorama looking southeast at Independence Peak (left) and University Peak (right) from the top of Golden Trout Falls at sunrise.

Casey looking south at University Peak from the top of Golden Trout Falls during a rosy sunrise.

Casey looking south at University Peak from the top of Golden Trout Falls during a rosy sunrise.

Looking south at Casey having sunrise discussion over coffee with University Peak behind. Photo taken atop Golden Trout Falls.

Looking south at Casey having sunrise discussion over coffee with University Peak behind. Photo taken atop Golden Trout Falls.

Around 6:00am, the three of us are startled by a human grunt coming from the bushes just beside us. We cry out in simultaneous surprise as we see the groggy figure of Max rousing himself from his own slumber! We shake our heads in collective disbelief at the fact that he had been sleeping not 50 yards away from us the entire night, especially because Casey and Giselle had been screaming his name at the top of their lungs for several minutes before going to bed themselves.

Nonetheless, the four of us are reunited as a group once more. We pack up our things and begin heading up the trail; the bumbling misadventure continues in glorious spirit.

Looking northeast at the author greeting the rising sun in Golden Trout Valley.

Looking northeast at the author greeting the rising sun in Golden Trout Valley.

Looking south at Casey posing in front of University Peak in Golden Trout Valley.

Looking south at Casey posing in front of University Peak in Golden Trout Valley.

Golden Trout Valley

Looking down at Casey scrambling up Golden Trout Valley.

Golden Trout Valley

Max in Golden Trout Valley.

Over the next couple of miles we gain 1,000 vertical feet through Golden Trout Valley, with colourful stone decorating the banks of an brush-choked creek.

Golden Trout Valley

Giselle hiking westward up Golden Trout Valley.

Golden Trout Valley

Max and Giselle hiking up Golden Trout Valley. The spring emerges from the rock wall to the left of the creek, just out of view.

Turning the corner we encounter a channel of water gushing from the cliff, a veritable spring of fresh cold water perfect for drinking and for bathing our faces. It’s a pleasantly unexpected gift from Mother Nature on this hot summer day in California.

Golden Trout Valley spring

Giselle and Casey drinking from a natural spring in Golden Trout Valley.

The author washing his face with cold water from a natural spring in Golden Trout Valley.

The author washing his face with cold water from a natural spring in Golden Trout Valley.

The author washing his face with cold water from a natural spring in Golden Trout Valley.

The author washing his face with cold water from a natural spring in Golden Trout Valley.

An hour past the spring, the trail dissipates into a sun-drenched alpine meadow. The most visually arresting peak is Crystal Turret, the colossal tower on the north side of the valley. We head straight west toward the furthest pass on the horizon, Gould Pass.

Looking north at Crystal Turret from the vicinity of the lower Golden Trout Lakes.

Looking north at Crystal Turret from the vicinity of the lower Golden Trout Lakes. Notice the rucksack of Casey in the bottom of photo.

Lake 11,000′ greets us at 11:00 with its smooth slabs and thin ribbon of beach offering a pleasant relaxation point. I meditate on reflections of Independence Peak, which was a favourite mountain of the great Norman Clyde, legendary mountaineer of the early 20th century.

Looking south across one of the lower Golden Trout Lakes.

Looking south across Lake 11,000′ in Golden Trout Valley.

Looking southwest across one of the lower Golden Trout Lakes.

Looking southwest across Lake 11,000′ the Golden Trout Valley.

Looking north at the author (left) and Giselle (right) relaxing on the shore of Lake 11,000' in Golden Trout Valley.

Looking north at the author (left) and Giselle (right) relaxing on the shore of Lake 11,000′ in Golden Trout Valley.

The four of us continue hiking west toward Gould Pass and reach Golden Trout Lake by noon. The sun is high in the sky and the sapphire surface of the glacial cirque-bound lake glitters like a true jewel of the high country. Above the lake, a band of choppy cliffs seems to narrow the options for further upward progress. Some parts of the mountainside are sheer cliffs on several hundred feet, while others appear to be steep pitches of crumbly talus. We reckon the most stable ground is the snow couloir in the center of the cliffs, evidently representing the stream drainage gully in times of heavy rain or snowmelt.

Looking west at Golden Trout Lake, with the couloir visible above.

Looking west at Golden Trout Lake, with the couloir visible above.

It’s impossible to show through photographs just how many golden trout there are in Golden Trout Lake. Hundreds (yes, literally hundreds) of fish can be seen flopping around at the surface of the water – probably jumping to catch insects, although I don’t know much about fish behavior. This phenomenon creates a dazzling pattern of ripples and also a strangely peaceful “flp-flp” sound that fills the mountain air. No other humans but us to witness this remarkable occurrence.

When I snap myself out of the lacustrine hypnosis, I notice that Casey and Max are frantically scampering around the shallow parts of the lake, clad in underwear and wielding our mosquito-nets as fishing devices. The strategy does not result in success because apparently the fish are hyper-aware of our shadowy presence above the surface. Immense clusters of the creatures instantly flee the area that we step into, leaving us to stare wistfully at the scores and scores of the devious suckers. It’s nice to be able to swim around in the lake, but borderline infuriating to not be able to catch a single fish with our hands!

Looking east across Golden Trout Lake from the west shore.

Looking east across Golden Trout Lake from the west shore.

Looking southeast at the author and Max wading in Golden Trout Lake.

Looking southeast at the author and Max wading in Golden Trout Lake.

The sun is so nice that we spend almost two hours hanging out at Golden Trout Lake. More so than the other three of us, Casey is evidently in heaven. At 2:00pm I offer him the choice: we can stay at the lake for the rest of the day, or we can try to climb the couloir in hopes of making it over Gould Pass to a nice campsite deeper in the backcountry.

Casey is still game to tackle Gould Pass, so the four of us dry ourselves off, hoist our rucksacks, and begin slogging our way up the boulderfield below the couloir. The snow glistens in the midday sunlight, offering the most feasible passage through the set of rotten cliffs.

Looking west up at Golden Trout Couloir from the west shore of Golden Trout Lake.

Looking west up at Golden Trout Couloir from the west shore of Golden Trout Lake.

I lead the charge up the 40° snow slope in the couloir, swinging my ice axe heartily into the beefy springtime snow and carving a veritable staircase for the others.

Looking up at the author climbing the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir.

Looking up at the author climbing the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir.

Giselle nearing the top of the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

Giselle nearing the top of the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

The couloir is actually broken into two sections that are divided by a rocky ledge. The upper segment has roughly the same incline, but is replete with deep suncups that make upward travel a bit tedious. Each step is inconsistent; we can never predict when our feet will break the soft surface and sink to our knees.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the upper section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

Looking down at Giselle climbing the upper section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

Giselle, Max and I share an obligatory celebration at the top of the couloir, yet when I look down our manufactured staircase in the snow, ol’ Casey is nowhere to be found. The only thing to do is go back down the couloir and see what the cause of the holdup is.

I locate Casey near the bottom of the couloir, stuck between the snowpack and the rock lining the walls of the feature. His efforts to avoid contact with the snow are almost as silly as my assumption that, because he works as a snowboard instructor at Mammoth Mountain Resort, he would have no problem climbing a 40° pitch of ice. In his eyes is pure fear, and I realize suddenly that I’ve done a great disservice in leaving him behind. All this man needs is a touch of friendship and guidance to carry him across the obstacle and up to dry safety.

Looking down at Casey attempting to avoid the snow in Golden Trout Couloir.

Looking down at Casey attempting to avoid the snow in Golden Trout Couloir.

Looking down at Casey climbing the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

Looking down at Casey climbing the lower section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

Looking down at Casey climbing the upper section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

Looking down at Casey climbing the upper section of Golden Trout Couloir. The peak in background is Independence Peak.

Above the couloir is a massive slope of loose scree rising up to the horizon. We should be able to make quick progress on this lengthy yet non-technical section of the climb. Since I’d already sent Max and Giselle on ahead to scout the pass, Casey and I have really gotta hustle to catch up.

Looking north at the author at the base of the scree slope leading up to Gould Pass.

Looking north at the author at the base of the scree slope leading up to Gould Pass.

Forty-five minutes later, we find ourselves just below the ridgeline. It’s difficult to tell where the heck Gould Pass is, so I choose a gully at random and follow it to the skyline. It turns out to be a wrong move, but one that deposits us at an epic 12,600-foot notch with our first view of the deep basin below Dragon Peak. Shimmering turquoise lakes stretch out to a fuzzy horizon punctuated by craggy peaks.

Panorama looking southwest from Gould Pass. The double-peaked massif in right-center is Mount Rixford.

Panorama looking southwest from Gould Pass. The double-peaked massif in right-center is Mount Rixford.

Panorama looking northwest from Gould Pass. The tall black peak on far right side is Dragon Peak.

Panorama looking northwest from Gould Pass. The tall black peak on far right side is Dragon Peak.

Here at this notch we are afforded our first view of the north face of Mount Gould, an aesthetic complex of rock and ice standing 13,005 feet tall. Independence Peak, which once towered incomprehensibly far above us, is now nothing but a lowly crag far below our feet.

Panorama looking south from the east side of Gould Pass. The mountain in right-hand foreground is Mount Gould. The more distant mountain in center is University peak, whle the small crag in lower left is Independence Peak.

Panorama looking south from the east side of Gould Pass. The mountain in right-hand foreground is Mount Gould. The more distant mountain in center is University peak, while the small crag in lower left is Independence Peak.

Looking south at Mount Gould from the east side of Gould Pass.

Looking south at Mount Gould from the east side of Gould Pass.

Our ascend of Mount Gould will have to wait for tomorrow, as we’ve got our sights set on a scramble up to terrifying south ridge of Dragon Peak.

Click here to read the article on Dragon Peak.

Anyhow, Casey and Giselle opt out of Dragon Peak, electing instead to descend the west side of Gould Pass and set up camp in the basin. They couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful setting, suspended on a shelf above a serene glacial lake.


 

26 June, 2015

The morning air is thick with the smoke of summer wildfires that rage all across California this time of year. By the time I stir myself from the tent, Casey is already up and at ’em, brewing endless pots of coffee while staring meditatively out to the highland horizon.

Casey at camp

Looking northwest at Casey and his tent at our camp on the west side of Gould Pass. The two tallest pyramids in background are Mount Cotter (far left) and Mount Clarence King (far right; tallest).

Gould Pass camp

Panorama looking northwest from our camp on the west side of Gould Pass. The double-peaked massif in left-hand foreground is Mount Rixford, while the distant pyramids on far right include Mount Cotter and Mount Clarence King.

Camp below Dragon Peak

Looking east at Casey and our campsite below Dragon Peak.

Once we’ve all consumed an excessive amount of instant coffee, the four of us pack up camp and start heading back up the talus slope to Gould Pass. Casey intends to return to civilization today, so we’ve gotta get him set on course for Onion Valley trailhead. “No way in hell am I going back down that damned snow couloir,” he asserts, so without further discussion we aim for the more standard Kearsarge Pass trail.

Gould Pass

Max looking up the horrendous western talus slope of Gould Pass.

Gould Pass - west side

Looking west at Casey on the scramble up the west side of Gould Pass. The double-peaked massif above his head is Mount Rixford.

Gould Pass - west side

Max (carrying Casey’s rucksack) looking up the talus slope on the west side of Gould Pass.

Giselle leads the charge up to Gould Pass; by noon, we see her slender silhouette posted on the skyline far above us. A wise and pragmatic leader, she keeps our group mentality in focus and our morality high.

Looking up at Giselle (left) standing atop Gould Pass from the west side.

Looking up at Giselle (left) standing atop Gould Pass from the west side.

Gould Pass

Panorama looking northwest from Gould Pass. The double-peaked massif in left-hand foreground in Mount Rixford, while the distant pyramids on right-hand side include Mount Cotter and Mount Clarence King.

From the 12,400-foot pass, the four of us begin traversing the east side of Dragon Ridge. Dodging gendarmes and snowfields, we make progress toward the looming mass of Mount Gould.

Mount Gould

Looking south at Max and Giselle navigating the west side of Gould Pass toward Mount Gould (right).

Looking south at Mount Gould from the east side of Gould Pass. The more distant peaks are Mount Williamson (left; two horns), University Peak (center), and Junction Peak (right; dark pyramid on horizon).

Looking south at Mount Gould from the east side of Gould Pass. The more distant peaks are Mount Williamson (left; two horns), University Peak (center), and Junction Peak (right; dark pyramid on horizon).

By 1:00pm we find ourselves on the north side of the peak, on a broad saddle of loose scree with panoramic views of the smoky landscape.

Looking southwest at Max on the broad saddle immediately north of Mount Gould's summit block.

Looking southwest at Max on the broad saddle immediately north of Mount Gould’s summit block.

We reach the summit of Mount Gould by scrambling directly up the class-3 blocks along the main ridgeline. The exposure on this section is overwhelming for Casey and therefore he stops about 100 feet shy, but the remaining three of us continue all the way to the tippy top.

Looking northwest at Max on the north ridge of Mount Gould.

Looking northwest at Max on the north ridge of Mount Gould.

Looking up at Max scrambling the north ridge of Mount Gould.

Looking up at Max scrambling the north ridge of Mount Gould.

Looking down at Giselle scrambling the north ridge of Mount Gould.

Looking down at Giselle scrambling the north ridge of Mount Gould.

Celebrations ensue upon reaching the 13,005-foot summit: Casey is within earshot and therefore we count it as his first successful mountainclimb. The position of this peak so high above everything else makes for captivating views in every direction. Our eyes take in the recognizable shapes of University Peak, Mount Rixford, Mount Clarence King, Mount Cotter, Dragon Peak, and many more.

Looking northwest at cowboy Max on a subsidiary pinnacle of Mount Gould. The colourful peak in upper left is Painted Lady, while the large lakes in upper right are the Rae Lakes.

Looking northwest at cowboy Max on a subsidiary pinnacle of Mount Gould. The colourful peak in upper left is Painted Lady, while the large lakes in upper right are the Rae Lakes.

Panorama looking southwest from the 13,005-ft summit of Mount Gould. Notice two other climbers on the south summit.

Panorama looking southwest from the 13,005-ft summit of Mount Gould. Notice two other climbers on the south summit.

Looking west at the two peaks of Mount Rixford from the 13,005-ft summit of Mount Gould.

Looking west at the two peaks of Mount Rixford from the 13,005-ft summit of Mount Gould.

Looking south at University Peak from the 13,005-ft summit of Mount Gould.

Looking south at University Peak from the 13,005-ft summit of Mount Gould.

The hour strikes 2:00pm, and Casey makes a mountaintop phone call to his father down in the Owens Valley. Directions are arranged through a funny conversation of easts and wests and lefts and rights and ups and downs and everything in between, but by the time he hangs up the phone, we feel confident that he will be able to make it down to Onion Valley trailhead safely. Max, Giselle and I still have eight more days in the wilderness, bidding farewell to Casey as he takes off down the monstrous scree slope on the south side of Mount Gould with toes protruding right out from his boots.

Adventure or misadventure – the line between the two may be blurry at times, though in the end it really doesn’t matter because mountainclimbs become history and friendships persist.

Casey heading down the south slope of Mount Gould toward Kearsarge Pass.

Casey heading down the south slope of Mount Gould toward Kearsarge Pass.

 

THE END.

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