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Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

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Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby chufi » Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:16 am

Hi, my GF and I are planning on getting up to the High Sierra for some backpacking over an extended 4th of July weekend and were looking for some advice on where to go. We have one route we are looking at but would be amenable to other suggestions. I filled in the request for info questions below, but the short summary: I have a lot of backpacking experience in my past, but none recently. Probably last 'real' trip was 15 years ago doing 50-60 miles through kings canyon starting at south lake. Recently it is just lots of day hiking and camping. My GF has a lot of camping / day hiking experience and some backpacking (she did a week in yosemite last year) we are late 30's in pretty good shape. We did a test hike with 35lb packs this past saturday at 11.4 miles and a little under 2k elevation gain. A bit sore afterward but not a problem during the hiking. Wouldn't want to do that in the high country (we were at sea level in the SF bay area.) The loop we were looking at was: Mineral King to Pinto Lake -> Big/Little Five Lakes for 2 nights with day trip(s) -> Columbine lake -> Mineral king and the drive home. Is that reasonable? Is snow much of an issue this year given the drought? Other thoughts? Thanks!

What level of backpacking experience do you have?
- I am Level 3, she is Level 2.

What terrain are you comfortable/uncomfortable with?
Comfortable with Class 1 and 2, not super in love with river crossings if they are really flowing but not a big deal, don't want to deal with anything that requires crampons or ice axes. At least this trip.

What is your main interest?
Big Mountain scenery, Photography, Lakes, Forest,

How many days/nights is your trip, not including travel to trailhead?
4 Nights out.

How many miles did you want to do a day, any layovers?
yes to layovers, probably in the 6-8 range per day, Kings canyon is rugged!

Do you have a route logistics preference: Loop

Is there a particular area in the Sierra that your most interested in(Yosemite, SEKI
western sierra start or eastern start ect.)?
Kings Canyon, Western Start. I've heard good things about Hoover wilderness but don't know much about it.

Will you be hiking with a dog? Nope



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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby seanr » Mon Jun 16, 2014 11:31 am

It is good that you are describing Mineral King trips as rugged and planning to limit mileage. Like you note, being at high elevation could have negative impacts. So could trips with lots of elevation gain or losses followed by more big gains. This season or last did both of you experience high elevation hikes with lots of elevation gain? If not, it would be risky to plan a trip with lots of gain, or big ups and downs and ups, even if neither of you tends to experience altitude related issues. What would the overall altitude profile look like on your hardest day? Are you sure you can do it and enjoy it?

The other concern worth considering is likelihood of obtaining a permit for 4th of July weekend (your experience will depend on specific trip, entry date, and maybe some luck). Have you looked into this at MK yet?

As far as Hoover, there are scenic, relatively easy trips there as far as elevation and gain. Green Creek TH comes to mind as well as some others.
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby maverick » Mon Jun 16, 2014 12:27 pm

Hi Chufi,

Welcome to HST! By the time you go snow will not be an issue. Little Five Lakes is
very pretty, especially if explore the ones a little further down and away from the
trail, they are much less visited then the main ones near the ranger station.

Take your time going up Black Rock Pass and get an early start to beat the heat.
Take a break at Spring Lake, quite scenic and a good place to get water on your
way to the top of the pass.

Using hiking poles? From the top of Sawtooth Pass it is a long descent on a sandy
trail to Monarch Lake, and a long zig-zag down to Mineral King , using poles would
take a lot of pressure off of your knees.

Drink water to stay hydrated, otherwise altitude sickness can also become an
issue. Pay attention to the signs of altitude sickness: headache, nausea, vomiting,
dizziness and poor sleep.
Do not ascend further if you suspect altitude sickness, if symptoms get worse
descend immediately to lower elevations.

Little lake on the north side of the trail across from Columbine Lake has some
great views toward the Kaweah Ridge, gets less usage, and has better wind
protection.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby chufi » Mon Jun 16, 2014 1:23 pm

Thanks for the advice and thoughts, definitely appreciate it. I have sent email to the NPS asking about the permit situation (managed to drop and destroy my phone recently and replacement hasn't come) though haven't heard back. When the new phone shows up I'll give them a call if I haven't heard from them by then. If I can't get a permit I will definitely need some advice on alternate plans.

GF and I have both been at high elevation before in the past with no signs of altitude sickness - no guarantees that will continue to hold true of course, but at least some precedent for being at altitude. I actually ended up spending the night at Muir pass years and years ago after climbing up from Dusy Basin (? not sure about the name been ages) with friends, one of whom had a bit of a bum knee so it was slow going and didn't get there till late. Mostly concerned with the altitude just because of the additional effort everything is! Hence trying to keep the days relatively low milage vs hiking at sea level. I think the elevation gain will be fine with the rest day in the 5 lakes area, a challenge, but a good one I hope.

We are definitely early morning people and both use poles. I'm planning on my knees continuing to work for years to come! :) I recently (last year) switched to fixed length carbon fiber poles that I really like. (Gossamer gear LT3C 130) So far have seemed quite sturdy for me, though I don't weigh much for my height.
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby seanr » Mon Jun 16, 2014 2:29 pm

Good luck! It is a great area and you sound up for it. I look forward to returning once my dogs aren't a priority to consider for every trip.

chufi wrote: If I can't get a permit I will definitely need some advice on alternate plans.

...so it was slow going and didn't get there till late. Mostly concerned with the altitude just because of the additional effort everything is! Hence trying to keep the days relatively low milage vs hiking at sea level. I think the elevation gain will be fine with the rest day in the 5 lakes area, a challenge, but a good one I hope.


Maverick filled in the usual tips with great pointers specific to the trip, and it sounds like the general tips are already part of your experiences. Your plans reflect that allowing time to go slow and rest (like on the trip from long ago that you mention) tends to make excessive suffering and altitude sickness less likely. I'm around your age and I find that the old addage about the amount of up and down in a hike being much more important than number of miles to hit home a lot more than it did when in my twenties. Still, I prefer mild suffering to lack of challenge. Knowing that some potential mild suffering or need to strategize around significant ups and downs is preferred by both you and your gf will help if you need advice on alternate trips. Being lightweight for your height does tend to help.
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby oleander » Mon Jun 16, 2014 5:49 pm

I'm going to offer a contrarian view. That is one of my favorite loops in the Sierra. That said, I'd save it for another time.

The first reason is that Mineral King really stands out in a high-water year, and that IMO is when you should go. The very steep canyons are avalanched everywhere, which means if there is a lot of water, the whole place is one gigantic extraordinary sloping meadow paradise of wildflowers, brooks and green. I'd be afraid to go there now because I'd be disappointed. It's kind of like timing a visit to Yosemite Valley when the waterfalls are barely trickling. Why? Save MK for a year when the snowpack is normal or above average (and time it for late July when the wildflowers would be peaking in a normal year).

The second, more important reason perhaps, is that MK is generally a very rugged and steep area. I'm in good shape too, with 20+ years of Sierra experience including some fairly rugged off-trail stuff, and I find MK really taxing. It is All Vertical, All The Time. Your first day to Pinto Lake requires 4000 feet of climbing, including a very steep (by on-trail standards) and unpleasant climb right out of the gate to Timber Gap. Your GF did a weeklong in Yosemite last year, Yosemite terrain is much gentler and my guess is that was a CAKEWALK in comparison. What you are proposing is not a means to ease your way into the Sierra.

I remember the time (a couple of years ago) when someone who described himself similarly to you - in great shape, but with limited recent Sierra experience - came here for advice on MK. He was proposing to do the same or similar loop to you, in reverse (starting with the climb to Columbine). He was told by people on this forum to go for it; but people on this forum lean towards the extremely experienced and I think they often forget how intimidating this terrain is to a relative novice even if in great shape. Indeed, the inquiring hiker and his friends got partway up the climb on the first day and then turned around and gave up. They were rattled by the combination of steepness, ruggedness and high altitude.

Last time I went to MK, I made a promise to myself never again to make it my FIRST trip out, any given summer. At least one or two warm-up trips required.

- Elizabeth
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby acorad » Mon Jun 16, 2014 6:48 pm

I'm probably one of the least experienced Sierra trekkers here, so take it for what it's worth, but I agree with Elizabeth.

My wife and I are (still) in great shape; both of us have done marathons, we do local (Los Angeles) 5Ks, 10ks, 10 milers, and we both usually either win our age group or are in the top 3.

15-20 years ago, pre-kids, when we were in much better shape, we would go to the Sierras 5-6x/year and would train by literally running up the trails to various Eastern Sierra lakes in the Mammoth, June Lakes, Rock Creek, etc., areas, fish for a while, and then run back down to our campsite. These runs were 5-10 miles round-trip, usually.

Anyway, we went to MK one trip about 16-17 years ago and did a day hike out of Kings Cyn, Westward Start, and it was pretty eye-opening to us in its severity.

Extremely steep and unrelenting climb right from the parking lot. It was not at all like what we were used to.

Hauntingly beautiful, though.

Andy
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:19 pm

If you were a bit sore after hauling the pack without gain, that doesn't bode well.

I would recommend a trip out of Courtright Reservoir into the lake basins along the divide - a more gradual walk up, and you can either travel basin to basin, or base camp in the first one you come to and then day hike around to lakes. You can easily climb Hell for Sure pass for excellent views as well. The trails are in a somewhat degraded state but it's not likely to be crowded as the park destinations are.

This year for some reason I'm having to fight to get permits for my hiking group in Sequoia - had to reroute three different trips so far. It may be the year to head for other high country.... We are starting July 3rd and had to resort to the Alta trail for reservations, as most of the other trailheads have reservable permits booked from July 2 - July 5. The only reason Alta works for us is I'm comfortable with cross country travel in the Tablelands (the trail ends at Alta Meadow).
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby Rockyroad » Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:44 pm

I did the same loop a few years ago. The first day getting to the Cliff Creek / Pinto Lake area was more difficult for me than getting over Blackrock Pass. Probably because it was the first day but it's also nearly 9 miles, longer than your preferred 6-8 miles per day. You could probably do it - it's just a question of whether you want to now. BTW, I enjoyed descending down the steep Sawtooth Pass slope. I thought that the sand was "cushy" and easier than if it was more solid. You can check out my MK trip report if you'd like.
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby balance » Tue Jun 17, 2014 8:58 am

Once hiked out of Mineral King, climbed down the ledges at Sawtooth Pass, set up camp at dusk. Saw a big animal that looked like a bear, but then noticed it was thinner than a bear. The mountain lion sat still on a rock about forty yards away and watched me; I sat in front of my tent and watched him or her. After a while, it bobbed its head up and down, then slowly walked away.

Saw a bunch of bears in the Sierra, but that was the only mountain lion.
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 17, 2014 12:12 pm

I think 4 nights is a bit short for that route. Not that it cannot be done, but you would not be able to spend much time really enjoying the area and you would be pushed if the weather went bad. Is there any way you can squeeze one more day in? The "trail" on Sawtooth Pass is not a trail. It is off trail, and requires route finding. If your GF has not done a bit of off-trail travel, with a pack, she may not enjoy the trip. By the way, the road to Mineral King is really slow driving. And then you have to deal with the marmot issue when you park your car.

Next week I am going on my first trip with someone I hope to backpack with in the future too. My destination is Little Five Lakes, but I am going in from Crescent Meadow (or Wolverton if we cannot get a permit from Crescent), over Keweah Gap and then return basically the same route (7 day route). It is longer, and still has much elevation gain, but the trail is in good condition and well graded - really a nice smooth trail for the most part. I chose not to go in Mineral King because although the gal I am going with is in great shape, I have not ever done off-trail with her and I do not want her to hate the trip (and me) so much that she will not consider going with me again!
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Re: Trip/Route advice (Mineral King / Other?)

Postby SSSdave » Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:53 pm

Would not recommend that route over just 4 days for introducing an average fit person to backpacking. Simply too strenuous to the point one would likely not have much energy each day to do anything more than rest and veg in camp after arriving at each destinations.

A key goal when introducing a new person to backpacking one hopes will be interested in future backpacking is to reduce the unpleasant facets of the activity so the general overall experience is on balance quite positive, inspiring, and exciting. That is probably the number one reason why many men will never get their wives to ever backpack with them again. They had one chance the first time and blew it. Stories of such are many forever sentenced to future motel "camping" or public campgrounds. Probably the most common way they failed was because of ambitious over strenuous trips with long mileage and much uphill vertical where each day ended up being all about the effort. And of course it is more than just the strenuous effort. Probably next most common failure is going to places where mosquitoes are bad without having the experience to cope with them. Or having poor gear where a person gets sore shoulders where straps press in, or blisters on feet, or sunburn. And then there is the terror of going to a place where bears come at night and put deep primal fears into a person's mind. Or being too rigid if foul weather strikes and not having a plan B out of the backcountry. Thus you ought to work on an itinerary and plan that guarantees the negatives are minimal.

With 4 days, a much better idea on west slopes of the Southern Sierra is Graveyard Lakes out of T.A. Edison Reservoir. Hike leisurely stopping frequently in no hurry, the 5 miles from the trailhead at 7700 feet to just below Upper Graveyard Meadow at 9250 feet or 1600 feet up. Sure you could go all the way to the lakes but that would be pushing the effort. Spending at least one day down in the canyon bottom is worthwhile and interesting. More wildflowers, birds, bees, and little creatures creek side on a day one probably just wants to take it easy after the effort.

The next morning get up early at sunrise and when fresh hike in shadows up 800 feet and 1.5 miles to the beautiful third lake at 10030 feet. Ought to get there by mid morning when the aesthetic is best and have the whole day to set up a nice camp then enjoy the area. And then a layover day to explore the several other nearby lakes. On the last day its all downhill.
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