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Hike to "Aussie Lake"
(or, Attempt on University Peak)
Saturday, September 24
So. We had most of a day to climb a High Sierra peak. We were at a relatively high trailhead, not far from the Sierra Crest, and the forecast was for mostly sunny skies with a minimal (10%) chance of a shower. I'd picked University Peak - a 13,600+ foot mountain on the crest. And, I'd picked a relatively easy "Class-2" route that meant that we shouldn't have to be dealing with any slow-us-down exposed climbing. The total distance from trailhead to summit I calculated at about 6.5km (or just over 4 miles), and with a solid but doable 4,500 feet of elevation gain. It seemed quite achievable for us, although the high altitude would probably slow things down.
Kearsarge Pass TH
Kearsarge Pass TH Sign
Start of hike to U. Peak
We packed up our campsite and drove the 100 or so yards from the campground to the day-use parking area at the trailhead. That trailhead was the trailhead for the Kearsarge Pass Trail - the principle trail in this valley.

The route we'd chosen to ascend University Peak ascended a class-2 chute on the northern aspect of the peak, then followed the Sierra Crest pretty much to the summit. To get to the route, we had to follow the Kearsarge Pass trail for a ways, then branch off and head up past Matlock and Bench Lakes, then into the Alpine up to the start of the route near an un-named lake at about 11,500 feet.
courtesy AHyndman
courtesy AHyndman
Bear Warnings
Waiting for lock
Back to Parking lot
There had been some distant lightning and some periods of cloudiness the night before; however, the morning was calm and with only broken clouds above. We were encouraged by the forecast for the day's hike: Mostly Sunny, with only a 10% chance of precipitation.
Strange Tree-fruit
Grove of Trees
Onion Valley and Independence Peak
Starting off just before sunrise, we hiked up the well-graded Kearsarge Pass Trail. It was generously switchbacked, and led up mostly open slopes -- and occasionally through a few beautiful stands of red-barked Ponderosa Pines. The steep aspect of the slope we were switchbacking on prevented us from seeing our day's objective (i.e. University Peak).
Crossing into the John Muir Wilderness
Beautiful Sierra Sunrise
Orange-y Pines
It was a thoroughly scenic and pleasant walk up the trail. There footing was good, and the early morning sun and deep blue skies accentuated the surrounding scenery.
Orange-y Pines
Towering Pines
Morning view to Onion Valley Road
Up into the Sierra
First Glimpse of U. Peak
Independence Creek Cascade
The trail finished its first set of switchbacks as the steep slope we were climbing levelled out. The terrain here held a small lake -- Little Pothole Lake, to be precise, and from here we got our first good view of University Peak. It looked imposing and jagged, especially from its eastern aspect. Our plan was not try anything that was too challenging and/or which would take us a large amount of time. I knew that the route we had chosen was class 2 for most of the way to the summit -- a grade which presented no great technical difficulties.
courtesy JInnes
Arn at Little Pothole Lake
Pine and Kearsarge Peak
Towards University Peak
After the brief bit of flatness near Little Pothole Lake, the Kearsarge Pass trail started switchbacking up the next steep step of terrain towards the Sierra Crest. Again, with excellent footing and grading, the trail easily switchbacked up the slope, staying mostly in the open.
Northern Slopes of U. Peak
Boulder field crossing
Gilbert Lake
We turned off-trail just before the next lake along the trail. This was more direct but, of course, rougher than staying on-trail. About 20 minutes of cross-country travel and we intersected the trail leading to Matlock lake (we decided that perhaps the longer but easier-to-walk-on trail would be better on the way back).

After walking through some more beautiful groves of big ponderosa pines, the trail descended to scenic Matlock Lake, where we got a closer look at University Peak. Matlock Lake was where any sort of real trail ended; from here our journey would be off-trail.
Gilbert Lake
Off-trail shortcut
University Peak gets closer
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[ Return to "2011 Vacation Burnup Trip" Home page | Introduction | To the Sierra Nevada | Attempt on University Peak | Drive through Death Valley | Spring Mountains Drive | Rimrock Hoodoos | The Nautilus | Buckskin Gulch Backpack, Day 1 | Ed Maiers Secret | Buckskin Gulch Backpack, Day 2 | Buckskin Gulch Backpack, Day 3 | Peekaboo & Spooky Slots | J.E.M. Trail Mountain Biking | Angel's Landing | Virgin River Narrows | Las Vegas Loungings | Video Clip Index | GPS Data ]

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