Mount Gould: Don’t Look Down!

Mount Gould is an easy scramble up to a 13,000' peak with a summit block the size of a floor tile.

I continue to do fitness hikes every weekend to get ready for the John Muir Trail. I try to avoid the southern California mountains because it’s so hot here. And, I can hike here anytime I want. Whenever I can, I try to get up in the eastern Sierras where it’s cooler and the terrain is more challenging. I found a peak called Gould Peak, which is just adjacent to Kearsarge Pass and talked my son Wes into coming along.

Mount Gould Quick Facts

  • No permit required for day hikes

  • Allow 12-14 hours

  • Hard – class 2 and class 3 terrain

  • University Peak elevation 13,589′

  • 4,489′ elevation gain

  • 13 miles out and back

There were no camping spaces at the Onion Valley Campground near the trailhead, so we drove up on a Thursday evening and got a hotel in Lone Pine. We got up at 4am the next morning and grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s. Nothing else was open.

(Side note: I had a McGriddle sandwich, which is a pancake sandwich with sausage, egg, and melted cheese on it. It is absolutely despicable, and yet was delicious. I ate one and a half. I almost had two, but my sound mind kicked in and I restained myself from having that last half. It’s no wonder we are all obese and dying of cancer. I probably took a few months off my life eating that abomination.)

We got to the trailhead just after first light and starting hiking toward Kearsarge Pass. We both felt really great with energy to spare. We passed a handful of beautiful lakes on the way and got a great view of University Peak, which is both beautiful and foreboding. It’s also on my list to hike pretty soon. And as I looked at it, I wondered what route I could actually take to get to the summit. From where I was it looked steep and impassable from all directions. That’s a problem for another day.

We got to Kearsarge Pass, had a snack, and still felt pretty good. We estimated another hour to reach the summit from trip reports we had read online. So we started up the steep, loose class 2 rock. We passed a false summit and then, another false summit. And then finally in the distance we saw the “real” summit. A hiker had gotten to it before us and had yelled down to us, “Hey, this is not the summit. It’s right behind me.”

The climb was not technically hard, but we were both pretty winded from the altitude. In fact, Wes and I both felt light headed when we took a break at ~12,500. We shook it off and soldiered on.

The last part of the climb is a great little class 3 section. There’s a vertical climb up 40 feet, but it’s not hard and there is no exposure. The coolest part of Gould Peak is that the summit block is this tiny, two by three foot pedestal that takes some climbing to get up to it.

On one side, there’s a vertical drop of about 400 feet. When you stand on it, there’s a bit of pucker factor. You definitely don’t want to stand up there in the wind. We didn’t have to rope up for it, but we had some gear just in case we needed it, and we used it to protect ourselves on the summit block. I didn’t want one of us to get blown off and die just because I was too lazy to put a harness on.

We powered back down the mountain and grabbed some dinner on the way home. I had my traditional flaming hot Cheetos along with a Gatorade fruit punch, and it was delicious. It was a great day, especially because I got to hang out with my son. I don’t know how many dads in their 50s get to hang out with their adult sons on big mountains. But there’s nothing quite like that. It’s pretty magical, and it’s a great day to be alive and to be a dad.

Trail Map


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Elevation Profile

Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center

No permits are needed for day hikes. You can apply for an overnight permit on Recreation.gov. On your way to the trailhead, you will need to pick up your physical permit at the visitor center in Lone Pine. From there, you are ready to get on the trail.

Onion Valley Campground / Kearsarge Pass Trailhead

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