Dragon Peak (#37) and Mount Gould (#38)
Day 31, Dragon Peak and Mount Gould
My alarm clock blared into the chilly darkness. I quickly tuned it off, my body stiff and heavy, and offered myself just a few more minutes of rest. Seconds later, an hour had gone by and the world outside was light. I tried to get ready quickly, but struggled to find the motivation to get myself out the door. By the time I finally got going, the morning sun was fully blazing.
My objectives for the day were Dragon and Gould, two lovely peaks separated by a jagged, technical ridge. I had been debating about whether to approach via Gould or Dragon Pass the previous night. Gould Pass was a dry talus field, while Dragon Pass was steep snow. Climbing the former meant avoiding carrying my skis on the 3rd class ridge, but I would have to traverse that section in both directions. My late start finalized my decision to climb Gould Pass, as climbing a steep, east facing snowfield mid-morning on a hot day is an uncomfortable and dangerous place to be.
I started up the dry trail, the south facing slope scorched by the sun. I felt slow and sluggish, and took my time as I slowly gained elevation. Towering granite walls loomed above me, coming alive in the bright sunlight. After a while, I transitioned to skinning, continuing my slow, steady pace into the basin below Gould.
I inspected my descent route down its east face, and realized that much of the ski line had a slight northeast tilt. This meant that the snow would be funky and transitional, with heavy, fresh snow not quite melted down into corn yet. Oh, well. It seemed that, with some tricky traversing, I might be able to link some more fully transitioned aspects. A problem for later.
Now, I was faced with a much more immediate problem -- the climb up to Gould Pass. The bottom half was a mid-angle snow gully. I opted to forgo crampons, anticipating a pile of mush. And mush it was, until the very top -- as it rounded off, a sheet of blue ice revealed itself barely beneath the surface.
I desperately and ineffectively punched my whippet into the solid surface, ski boots slipping. I tentatively downclimbed, traversed, then hauled myself up with the help of the nearby rock. I switched to trail runners on the flat bench above, then slogged my way up 1000’ of loose scree to the ridgeline above.
The now-familiar views opened up around me as I unburdened myself and set off along the ridge. I gleefully danced along the technical ridge. The warm, dry rock and calm, clear day felt like midsummer. The rock was solid and the movement engaging but easy, and I flowed efficiently along the knife-edge. What a joy it is to move quickly in technical terrain, the world dropping steeply away on both sides, weaving a line through the sky! All too soon I found myself making the final moves up the soaring summit spire of Dragon Peak.
After my usual summit routine, I reversed the traverse, enjoying it even more the second time. With my skis back on my pack, I transformed back from nimble, light, man who waltzes across the sky to slow, sluggish, awkward, bumbling brute. C’est la vie.
The route to the summit of Gould went smoothly nonetheless, and I was soon perched upon its lovely little summit block, basking in the warm sun and epic views.
Knowing that a little more cooking wouldn’t hurt the skiing all that much, I lingered for a while, eyes tracing the forms of each distant summit, imagining the routes I had planned for the coming months.
This area of the Sierra is strikingly beautiful, and I’m eager to return. Alas, even a long break on a summit is never long enough. I continued on to the top of the east face.
It was a novel treat to put on warm, dry ski boots after hours of unencumbered ridge traversing, descent promising to be a swift and easy glide instead of knee-crushing talus. Spring is truly wonderful!
I followed my plan of traversing between patches of ripe corn, and managed to harvest a very enjoyable descent.
The rest of the exit went smoothly and quickly, the trail walking was over before too long, and I was within sight of the trailhead when, skiing on increasingly sparse snow patches, I took a wrong turn and ended up in some classic Eastside ski-schwacking. I suppose some Type-2 is a requirement, otherwise it wouldn’t be mountaineering. Another excellent day!
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