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Hike 42 – Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass | 100 Hikes

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Hike 42 – Onion Valley to Kearsarge Pass

Posted By on February 23, 2011 in Hikes, Photos | 8 comments

An Epic Hike For the Ages!

If I look back at all of the hiking I’ve done in my life, there are a just a few moments that stay on the surface of my memory. Moments where I’ve turned a bend in the trail or come up over a ridge and gained a view of such amazing beauty, I’m forever changed. They are of a time and place that I hope will never leave me. They become a part of me in a way I have trouble explaining. These moments have added an important piece to my view of the world and the beauty it holds. One of these moments occurred on Kearsarge Pass in the Eastern Sierras of California.

I was invited by my friend Sam (who you might remember from previous hikes #18, #21, #39) for a weekend trip to the Eastern Sierras. Also in the expedition was Nikki, Hobie, Mike, Jamie, and Chris. (Chris has joined me on a few other hikes, #6, #21).

Thoughts about the hike:

  1. Although Onion Valley Campsite is the only campsite in the area that you can reserve, there are primitive campgrounds around Flower Lake that are worth looking into.
  2. I felt great in the high altitude after taking Diamox for the days leading up to the trip.  I plan on taking Diamox on all high-altitude adventures from here on out!
  3. Would you believe a backpacker recognized me on the trail from my website??  He even asked me what hike number I was on!  I was bewildered. Bewildered, I tell you!
  4. A change of socks was a lifesaver on this hike.  There no way to underestimate how a nice and dry pair of socks got me to the pass.
  5. I learned on the Telescope Peak hike #21 that listening to music on my iPod can really give me an extra boost of adrenalin.  There were a few miles where I hiked on my own, allowing me to be with my thoughts and music.
  6. I discovered on this hike how important it is to pack your headlamp in an easily-accessible pocket.  I spent far too many minutes rummaging blindly through my pack for it.
  7. I was happy to not find any trash or graffiti on the trail.
  8. I wore a small daypack on this hike. However, in retrospect, I should have worn my larger backpack, which has a chest harness that allows me to clip in my camera strap.  Without it, I always felt like my camera was going to slip off my shoulder.
  9. You haven’t really camped until you’ve made beer pancakes!

Resources:

  1. Onion Valley Campground Reservations
  2. Natural Born Hikers – Kearsarge Pass
  3. BestHike.com Blog – 10 Best Hikes in the Eastern Sierra
  4. Inyo National Forest

Hike #42 Trip GPS Stats:

  • Date of hike: August 15th, 2009
  • Location: Independence, Inyo County, California
  • Length: 9.8 miles
  • Duration: too long!
  • Average speed: ±1.3 mph
  • Altitude at start: 9,200 feet
  • Altitude min.max: 9,200/11,760 feet

This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike. For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.

Video:

Photos:

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Camping at Onion Valley (9,200 ft). The altitude kicked my ass on the first day, but I acclimated faster than expected. (I actually didn't think I'd acclimate much at all.)

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Sisters Sam (left) and Nikki. Now entering the world-famous John Muir Wilderness, hiker's Disneyland!

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A curious Clark's Nutcracker. A moment before this photo was taken, it was using its long beak to crack open the nearby pine cones to get to the seeds.

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Onion Valley looking southwest. Kearsarge Pass is in the distance, just behind the branches of the tree on the right.

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Gilbert Lake with University Peak (13,632 ft elev.) in the background.

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A good-sized trout in Gilbert Lake. The water was crystal clear.

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We stopped at Gilbert Lake for lunch, a few miles into our hike and a little less than half-way to Kearsarge. (Flower Lake is the half way point between Onion Valley Campgrounds and Kearsarge Pass.)

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A big freakin' rock!

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Huffing it up the trail. We're at about 10,000 feet in elevation now and the pine trees are thinning out and being replaced by bristlecone pines.

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Beautiful foliage.

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Looking down on Flower Lake. It looks small only because I am high above it. The large granite boulder just below the lake in this photo is just as big as the boulder pictured earlier in this post.

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Two backpackers head down into Onion Valley.

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I'm hot, tired, and the altitude is making it very slow going. Some of our party have already turned around with symptoms of altitude sickness. At this point, I'm at about 11,000 feet in elevation.

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Heart Lake. To give you an idea of the size of the lake, I've circled in orange a hiker along the shoreline.

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Big Pothole Lake with a nameless peak in the background. I read that some climbers call it "The Finger of God."

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At Kearsarge Pass (11,760 ft) looking down into the back side of Kings Canyon National Park. Seeing this view for the first time is a moment I'll never forget.

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We headed back down as the sun was setting. This was taken at Gilbert Lake, where we took a brief break. Faster members of our party filtered some water and hid some bottles for us in the brush.

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The last of the sunlight highlighted the jagged profile of University Peak.

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We celebrated our fantastic day of hiking around a cozy campfire. Steak, macaroni & cheese, s'mores, and friends. It doesn't get any better than that.

8 Comments

  1. wilberfan February 23, 2011

    I just realized how much I missed reading about your Epic Adventures. Nice job. And way-cool that you were rec-a-nized on the trail!

    • The Hike Guy February 23, 2011

      Thanks! Yes, I’ve made this site a higher priority. I’ve got a lot of hikes to share! I’ve been juggling posts over at thehikeguy.com as well.

  2. Bob in Pasadena February 24, 2011

    Even though this album is new, just one of your pics that you published last year showing the view from Kearsarge Pass was enough me to inspire me to also do this hike last summer. It’s incredibly beautiful, and can give anyone who wants to do this as a dayhike a real taste of what it’s like to backpack in the Sierra. Thanks for sharing it, Kolby.

  3. 100Peaks February 24, 2011

    Awesome trip report. This area is on my list and just got bumped up a few notches. Great photos. Any bear issues or concerns?

    • The Hike Guy February 24, 2011

      Bears are always a concern in the Inyo National Forest. I didn’t see any, but we saw quite a few deer. I came face-to-face with one on a late night trip to the toilette, which I’m certain caused a mild heart attack.

  4. nmkraft80 March 5, 2011

    Thanks for the wonderful experience Kolby!!! I hope to join you on another hike someday. Maybe when I pick up a travel assignment in Cali:) And thanks for posting the pics! Love them!
    ~Nikki~

  5. Anon March 10, 2011

    Kolby, I stumbled on your site and it’s fantastic. Is this a hike you would recommend for a 10 yr old boy?

    • The Hike Guy March 22, 2011

      Hi Anon!

      Thanks! I’m not sure what advice I’d give on taking a 10-year old. Some studies suggest kids do better at acclimating, but I’d check with your pediatrician first. As far as physical difficulty, the trail is straight forward and not difficult for someone in good shape.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  4. 100hikes.com: Resolving to hike 100 times by 2010. - [...] on hike #27, Scott, a new member of my hiking club, Chris (whom has joined me on hikes #6, ...

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