There hasn’t been a big storm in the Sierras and it’s mid-December. This is not good news for California, since we depend on snowmelt for the state’s water supply. But it’s good news for me! Governor Newsome just issued another complete lockdown of everything because of COVID, so this is the perfect opportunity for me to do some social-distancing on another Sierra peak. Mount Rixford fit the bill since it is not technical and it’s close to a major trailhead. I’d already done University Peak, Mount Gould, and Mount Bago and I really love this area.
I spent most of Saturday catching up on home projects and left for the Onion Valley trailhead at 4:00 pm. I got there by 8:30 pm, and to my surprise, the trailhead was empty! If you’ve been there before, you know that it’s one of the Eastern Sierra’s busiest trailheads. There are usually no less than 50 cars there, and that night I was the only one.
There are usually no less than 50 cars there, and that night I was the only one.
I had my rooftop tent set up in 10 minutes, and I hunkered down for a cold night. It was 35 degrees when I arrived, and strong winds kicked up an hour later. The wind woke me up throughout the night, but I still felt pretty rested in the morning.
Hiking to Kearsarge Pass
When the sun came up, it was clear, calm, and 35 degrees. There was a lot of ice on the trail, but fortunately, I was able to walk around it easily. Although I’ve been on this trail many times, the frozen lakes and light dusting of snow everywhere gave it a magical feel. Once I reached Kearsarge Pass, I didn’t bother to take a break since the base of the mountain was only another mile down the trail.
The West Slope: 1,000 Feet of Loose Talus and Scree
Right before I got to Bullfrog Lake, I left the trail and headed straight up the west slope of Mount Rixford. It took me close to two hours to make the summit ridge, but it seemed more like 4 hours.
It took me close to two hours to make the summit ridge, but it seemed more like 4 hours.
I found myself taking steps upward for 10 seconds and resting for 20. The slope was up to 45 degrees steep in places, and extremely loose. As I got close to the summit ridge, the scree transitioned to larger blocks of talus, but the talus was extremely loose as well. After ~1,000 feet of elevation gain on that miserable slope, I finally made it to the summit ridge. This is the crux of the climb. From the ridge, it was an easy Class 2 scramble to the summit.
The Mount Rixford Summit
As I walked on to the 12,887 ft summit of Mount Rixford, the view was spectacular. It was 1:00 pm and there was no wind. There was not one person at the trailhead, on the trail, or on the mountain. I was completely alone on this big mountain and I felt this sense of euphoria.
There was not one person at the trailhead, on the trail, or on the mountain. I was completely alone on this big mountain and I felt this sense of euphoria.
I laughed out loud. I was utterly alone and I couldn’t have been more at peace. I drank my flask of hot tea and enjoyed the moment for 45 minutes, far longer than I typically stay on a summit. I don’t always, but today I sensed God’s presence in a tangible way. I think he was enjoying this moment as much as I was.
Sliding Back Down to the Trail
Coming down didn’t take long, but it was difficult. I found myself surfing on a 500 lb slab of talus 15 feet before I jumped off as it slid away. “Rocks that big are not supposed to move!” I told God out loud, knowing he put that one there for laughs just to mess with me. The terrain was scary loose in places. I did a lot of scree surfing the rest of the way while I tried to avoid injury from the large blocks of talus that I was kicking loose as I descended.
I found myself surfing on a 500 lb slab of talus 15 feet before I jumped off as it slid away.
I was relieved to be back on the trail and it was easy going from there. I thought I’d be out of energy getting back over Kearsarge Pass, but it was such a beautiful afternoon I still had that sense of euphoria from being utterly alone in the gorgeous place. The sun set as I came off the trail, and by the time I got to my car, it was too dark to see anything. What a fantastic day! I did 5,000 feet of elevation gain and still felt great. I’ve got to get back here before the Sierra winter closes all the roads up here.