Ascent of Dragon Peak on 2019-08-09

Climber: Rafee Memon

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, August 9, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Dragon Peak
    Elevation:12927 ft / 3940 m

Ascent Trip Report

Staying in Independence for a few days for the Sierra Challenge, I slept in and planned to take a rest day to recover from my minor cold. After getting an omelette from the Alabama Hills Cafe in Lone Pine and working for a few hours, I was feeling good and anxious to hike something. Since the morning was gone, my options were limited, but there were a couple half-day peaks at Onion Valley that I had left to climb. I picked Dragon Peak, one I'd long been anxious about due to the notorious "ledge without holds" near the summit. I decided that since my recent third-class climbs have built up my confidence, I had a good shot at making it; the ledge isn't technical, but the exposure gives you pause.

After wrapping up work around noon, I quickly packed my things and drove to Onion Valley where I arrived to a packed parking lot (I spotted Bob Burd's Jeep near the trailhead) and parked about a quarter mile down the road on a wide pullout. I put on sunscreen and started up the road just after 1:00pm. I switchedbacked once on the Kearsarge Pass Trail, then continued up the trail towards Golden Trout Lakes. Shortly after, I lost the trail in a field of talus and bushwhacked through the weeds and across the creek, eventually somehow arriving back at the main trail. I cursed the trail and continued upward, losing it again near a waterfall, but I powered up through the steep sand and eventually rejoined the trail at the top of the ridge.

I continued up the drainage, crossing a snow field midway, and still somewhat struggled to follow the trail. It was reminiscent of my trip to Kearsarge Peak a couple years prior where I nearly got lost on the descent in the same area. Eventually, I arrived at a wet meadow, crossed over the creek, and proceeded towards the unnamed lakes under Dragon Peak. The trail became faint as I got closer, but the cross country travel was easy. I passed a few campers at the lower lake, and then a fisherman at the upper lake.

I crossed over a snowfield and arrived at the base of the talus field leading to the peak. The slope started with sand but transitioned to large talus that was unnervingly loose in spots. Eventually, I got a view of the entire slope, which had significant snow cover most of the way to the top. I considered traversing the snow to the other side of the gully to continue up the talus, but instead I decided to walk up the snow. I didn't have an axe, but I would take advantage of my late start and the soft snow. The ridge above looked imposing and unclimbable, but as I neared the top, a chute eventually came into view behind a small subridge. I climbed the third-class chute, knocking loose several large rocks.

Topping out of the chute, the summit area came into view a short way up the ridge, although it was unclear which of several pinnacles was the highest point. I continued ascending, past my first guess for the highest point, eventually arriving at the final scramble. At first, I didn't realize I was looking at the infamous sloping slab, but I soon recognized the ledge that provided access to the summit. I climbed to the ledge and easily (but carefully) walked to the other side, taking no more than thirty seconds. I leaned against the slab the whole time, but I felt secure the whole time: the ledge was plenty wide enough for one foot, and there were many holds to be found. It was quite a relief to easily handle the ledge after years of pondering, and a few seconds later, I arrived at the summit at 4:15pm.

I flipped through the summit register and enjoying the views, the highlight being Sixty Lake Basin below Mounts Cotter and Clarence King. Knowing that I was racing sunset, I started back down after twenty minutes. The crack was slightly more difficult on the descent, perhaps because this time it was downhill. I mistakenly tried to descent the wrong chute and got cliffed out in a fourth-class section. I was only two moves away from finishing the downclimb, but I needed to climb back up after realizing I was in over my head. I traversed into the correct chute and easily descended, including climbing through a chockstone that I had somehow avoided on the ascent.

I plunge stepped through the sun-cupped snow and arrived at the late at the base of the chute. I took a break to drink water and watch the fish jumping out of the water, which I took as my cue to apply bug repellent. I retraced my path through the lakes and the meadow, encountering a group of campers on the other side of the water crossing. They were surprised that I was heading to the bottom and offered me water if I needed it. I was mostly successful in following the trail this time. Near the top of the ridge, I came across a single camper who seemed to be setting up camp right on the trail. I stopped to photograph a buck near the trailhead, and I was back at my car down the road at 7:30pm with plenty of light to spare.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3810 ft / 1161 m
    Round-Trip Distance:9.6 mi / 15.4 km
    Route:South chute
    Trailhead:Onion Valley Road  9117 ft / 2778 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Mud/Swamp, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 9 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 56 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rafee Memon
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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