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TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

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TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby lauralai627 » Thu Sep 11, 2014 9:18 pm

Here’s a trip report from the Mineral King loop we did over Labor Day weekend. Thanks again to everyone on HST who lent advice!

We ended up as a group of eight, with one person who had never been backpacking before, one person who had been on one previous single-night trip, and one person who hadn’t been backpacking since he was a teenager. Our overall route was Timber Gap Trailhead - Pinto Lake - Black Rock Pass - Little Five Lakes - Free Day at/around Little Five - Big Five Lakes - Lost Canyon - Columbine Lake - Sawtooth Pass back to the car over five days on the trail.

We drove down to Mineral King on Wednesday night, camped at Cold Springs Campground, picked up our permit and hit the trail Thursday morning around 10 am – a little later than we had wanted. It was roughly 2,000 feet up in about 2 miles, followed by about 2,000 feet down and then another 2,000 or so back up to Pinto Lake. What a day.

On Day 2 we slogged up Black Rock Pass. Remembering that we had gone clockwise because someone had told us it’s better to go up Black Rock Pass rather than Sawtooth made us wonder exactly how bad Sawtooth would be (which we’d find out later). Hard as it was, we had excellent views of Spring Lake and Cyclamen Lake heading up to the pass, and when we got over we were treated to a great view of the basin.
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We headed down towards Little Five Lakes and camped at the large site close to the bear bin where we were able to fit four tents easily. We were lucky that there were bear bins at Pinto Lake and Little Five Lakes—we have a bad habit of carrying a LOT of food weight. We all had lemons (in hopes of fish), and other fresh produce. That evening we fished at the next lake over and pulled in about 25 rainbow trout in an hour or so. We threw most of them back and had a small fish feast back at camp.
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We had decided to camp at Little Five Lakes for two nights so that people who wanted to go to Nine Lakes Basin and Kaweah Gap could do so as a day hike, and those who just wanted to hang out could stay and enjoy Little and Big Five Lakes. Maybe it was the feeling that nothing could be harder than Black Rock Pass, or maybe it was the fact that we were already all the way out there and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim in Precipice Lake -- three of us hiked out to Nine Lakes Basin, Kaweah Gap and Precipice Lake on a 14 mile (roundtrip) day hike. We were handsomely rewarded with stunning views of the Kaweahs, Big Arroyo, and Nine Lakes Basin. Precipice Lake, we all agreed, was one of the most stunning lakes we had ever seen. The water was so clear, blue and pristine and the lake was so dramatic with the plunging mountain. We had a great lunch and swim before heading back to Little Five Lakes. And we were sure to pump some of that magical water to drink on the hike back.
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The rest of our group had fished the day away. One friend, who has been fishing in the Sierras his whole life, proclaimed it to be his best fishing day ever.

On day four we hiked Lost Canyon to Columbine Lake. Lost Canyon was practically glowing and the hike up to Columbine wasn’t bad.
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When we got to the top we got to take in all the beauty of the Canyon on one side and Columbine on the other. It was just another instance of us feeling incredibly lucky to be in the Sierras.
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We fished and swam in Columbine and watched the sunset over the martian terrain. There were actually a lot of campsites open and we picked one with a view of Black Rock Pass – if you look closely you can see the trail.
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The next morning we had a late, lazy breakfast and a final swim before tackling Sawtooth Pass. It was a relatively easy climb to the top, with excellent trail markers. We spent quite a bit of time at the top, knowing that once we started the descent we would be on our way out of the mountains. More than one of us remarked, who knew when we would be able to return to Columbine.
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The trail down was nuts. Inconsistent marking and lots of sliding gravel on steep terrain made us realize why we had entered through Black Rock Pass instead of Sawtooth. Our group split in two on the way down and one group ended up taking what we’ll call the scenic route. We met back up at Monarch Lakes where we had a final swim and lunch. The last few miles back to the trailhead felt like some of the longest miles ever, only to be followed by a 5+ hour drive home. The end of our trips are always bittersweet but we always manage to squeeze in a traditional victory beer at the end.

One last note – we did not encounter a single mosquito during our trip. A sign of the apocalypse?



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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby acorad » Fri Sep 12, 2014 10:21 am

Bravo!

Andy
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby Jason98165 » Fri Sep 12, 2014 10:49 am

Awesome trip report!

I'm still in limbo between mineral king and Ansel Adams wilderness. I have four days to decide.
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby copeg » Fri Sep 12, 2014 12:09 pm

Excellent TR! Thanks for posting. I did that very same trip (although a bit quicker and sans the side trips) a few years back and your report and pictures brought back some fond memories (I absolutely loved the hike through Lost Canyon).
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby richlong8 » Fri Sep 12, 2014 2:59 pm

Thanks for sharing your trip report with the photos. I too, fondly remember Lost Canyon, grinding up over Sawtooth, and trips out of Mineral King. Unfortunately, I have not yet been to Precipice. What a great plan, to dayhike over from your basecamp. Sounds like your trip had a little bit of everything, including the fishing. Its been a few years since I have been to MK...your TR makes me want to go back, but I don't miss the road!
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:16 pm

Nice! Looks like you didn't get the traditional Labor Day Weekend crappy weather...maybe because I was up in Washington, and it followed me there. ;)
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby lauralai627 » Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:19 pm

We had gorgeous weather with only some scattered clouds on Saturday morning. I had been anticipating a cold night at Columbine but it was so warm I slept mostly out of my bag. We couldn't have asked for a better weekend.
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby SSSdave » Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:56 pm

Now you can relate to what I posted on your request for advice thread above about that loop having a strenuous amount of vertical (8200 feet up and down) especially from Timber Gap TH over Blackrock Pass. I've advised groups not to do the loop and instead just an out and back over Sawtooth Pass with a first night at Monarch because going over TG is about 1100 feet less vertical and probably not particularly scenic.


You can look at my post in this old thread for the numbers:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6074&p=41292&hilit=+sawtooth#p41292
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby Shhsgirl » Fri Sep 12, 2014 8:10 pm

Oh, yeah! That picture of Precipice Lake trumps mine any day!
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby Rockyroad » Sat Sep 13, 2014 3:42 pm

I also made a similar trip a few years ago but without the side trip to Nine Lakes basin and Precipice Lake. After seeing your beautiful photos, I really wish I had made that side trip. Next time!
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby giantbrookie » Tue Sep 16, 2014 12:05 pm

Nice report and photos. The comments about Sawtooth Pass jog my distant memories of my only visit there 45 years ago. I was never really sure if the sandy treadmill slog up to Sawtooth Pass (and continued to the top of Sawtooth Pk) felt so exhausting because I was a wimpy 10-year-old kid (celebrating 10th birthday on the climb) or because it was in fact especially loose or cruddy or a combination of the two. Of course your report so nicely conveys how the joys of trips like these far outweigh the pain and sweat of the harder parts. That 1969 birthday "celebration" of mine was in fact enjoyed at the time, even though I fell asleep with exhaustion at the top of Sawtooth Pk.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR: Mineral King Loop over Labor Day Weekend

Postby sekihiker » Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:36 pm

Wow. Great photos of a great trip in a great area. Thanks for posting so we can enjoy it from out armchairs.
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