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Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

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Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby franklin411 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 7:16 am

Hi guys,
I got a really cheap rental car rate for today (Budget...$20 total for a standard car for 2 days including the tax!) through Sunday morning, and I'm going to do a lightning trip to the Sierra. I did something like this 2 weeks ago--I left at 3 PM Friday, spent the night at Onion Valley, hiked a wandering route of Onion Valley > Kearsarge Pass > the cirque below University Peak (failed effort to summit via the NW route) > Mt. Gould (consolation prize) > Onion Valley from 5:30 AM through 4:30 PM, and was back home by 10 PM Saturday.

I'd like to do something similar this time. I've always had my eye on Mt. Langley, so I could drive up to Horseshoe Meadow, catch a little sleep in the car tonight, then start hiking around 3 AM. I understand that it takes about 12 hours r/t and is about 22 miles. I did Mt. Whitney last year and seem to have no trouble with altitude aside from the expected lethargy that goes away as soon as I descend. I understand that there's more or less a trail all the way to the top, which I like.

I've also always had my eye on Mineral King, but I've never been because of the marmots. Now could be the perfect time to go, but I'm less clear on a route that gets me a peak and some awesome views in a long dayhike.

I'm starting to do a little bit of class 2, but I still prefer having a trail of some kind all the way to the top. I'll be alone (as always...everyone says they want to go, nobody actually does), and I tend to give up/turn back rather easily when I'm off trail and not sure how to proceed.

Any votes/ideas/suggestion about the plan and/or a viable Mineral King hike would be great! My parameters would be 15-22 miles, up to 6000' of gain, get me a respectable ~12000' or better peak, class 1 or light class 2, no backpacking involved (I decided I hate lugging all that crap around even though I got my backpacking load down to sub-28 lbs including food).

Thanks!



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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby seanr » Fri Sep 19, 2014 8:31 am

You may face thunderstorms at either location. Do you have experience with that and did you check the weather.gov point forecasts?

Regarding altitude/AMS, was your Whitney trip a longer time frame or the same as far as having time to adjust to altitude prior to making tracks to above 12-13,000 feet?

Your Gould experience bodes well for dealing with altitude as well as easy class 2. University Peak is harder than Langley. Langley is easy and pretty much class 1. You should be fine if you have a map to stay on the trails to New Army Pass or Old Army Pass and then over to the summit. The top is easy aside from the likely feeling of lethargy in the thin air.

Mineral King is not generally known for easy trails and easy cross country routes. Sawtooth Peak is great, but does take some easy scrambling to get from Sawtooth Pass to the peak, or to ascend/descend the alternate south slope from between Upper Monarch Lake and Amphitheater Lake. Some don't like going up the sandy slope to Sawtooth Pass, but it would be fun to go down it if you like plunging down scree. Don't go straight down (WSW) to Upper Monarch lake when descending (cliff bands). Sawtooth is slightly less miles than you mention, but just as taxing for someone who deals well with altitude, but who has limited x-country experience. I consider it more exciting to visit than Langley. There are other peaks nearby (Needham, etc.) if you use the Interactive Map feature to look up route descriptions on summitpost. http://www.summitpost.org/object_list.p ... &is_open=1
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby franklin411 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:12 am

Thanks for the advice! I've never been caught in a thunderstorm ever--a combination of good luck and being an early riser. My strategy is to sleep in the car, get up as early as possible (3-4 AM), get on the trail immediately, summit whatever I can by noon or 1 PM, and be back at my car by 4-5 PM. Then I can drive home and arrive around 10 PM, which gives me a nice, normal, easy recovery Sunday at home.

Whitney was a longer time frame--I did the first night at the Portal, the second at Trail Camp (but got no sleep), and summitted the third day.

I'm leaning towards Sawtooth/Mineral King...seems like it offers more flexibility, although it's a bit longer of a drive from where I'm at.

Would there be more people hiking around at Mineral King? I'm thinking it would be safer if so, since I'm alone.

Thanks!
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby maverick » Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:26 pm

Would recommend that you do Sawtooth Peak using the South Ridge route,
starting from above upper Monarch Lake.
Climbing Sawtooth Pass would be tedious, but descending it one can slalom down
it, it took me about 20 min's to get down from the top to lower Monarch Lake
the last time.
If there is any thunderstorm activity around please do not attempt any peak bagging!
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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: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby seanr » Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:28 pm

Other people? I often avoid that. ;)
I haven't been to MK much the past decade due to needing places to hike with my dogs when in that area (not legal there). It is a long, winding road, keeping crowds away. There will be people, but there is no guarantee that someone will be on the crux of your route at the same time or even the same day as you. If I had to bet, I think you will see someone near Sawtooth Pass or even on Sawtooth Peak on a Saturday in September, unless it is pretty stormy. Other peaks probably aren't as popular.
Langley gets lots of traffic at the Cottonwood Lakes, New Army Pass, and Old Army Pass. I would be surprised if nobody else summited Langley on a Saturday, but we are beyond peak summer season.

Edit: I concur with Maverick.
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby franklin411 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:41 pm

Thanks again guys! I'm about to take off, but I marked my topo map for the south ridge. If I make the summit early enough I might try for Needham too, since it looks fairly straightforward. Just head up the south slope from Amphitheater Lake?

I won't be able to reply, but I'll check this when I stop for the inevitable gas/burger/coke break! ;-)
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby RichardCullip » Fri Sep 19, 2014 1:57 pm

Just based on your login name, I'd suggest Franklin Pass........ Something like Farewell Gap->Silver Lake->Shotgun Pass->Rattlesnake Creek->Franklin Pass->back to car.
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby iHartMK » Fri Sep 19, 2014 2:59 pm

Sawtooth Peak in Mineral King.. don't have to worry abouts marmots anymore. They stop "eating" cars by the end of July.
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby RichardCullip » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:32 pm

iHartMK wrote:Sawtooth Peak in Mineral King.. don't have to worry abouts marmots anymore. They stop "eating" cars by the end of July.


Ah, that's why I never had any problems back in the mid 1970's. I always hiked in September, after Labor Day.
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby franklin411 » Sun Sep 21, 2014 2:33 pm

Thanks for the tips/advice everyone! I went to Mineral King and got back late last night.

I was up by 3 AM, on trail by 4, and at the Crystal Lakes/Cobalt Lakes trail junction by first light. By 8:30 AM I was at the upper Crystal Lake and beginning the scramble to the low point, but I went too far to the NW and ended up on a big rock on the Monarch Lake/Crystal Lake divide. Then I saw footprints on the Crystal Lake side of the divide so I followed them and ended up at the divide towards Ampitheatre Lake, but every route I followed was too difficult for me to scramble up. By now it was about 9:30 AM.

So I went back to the Monarch/Crystal Lake divide and worked my way across the bowl to Sawtooth's southern slope. It was definitely work going up the sand, but by 11:30 AM I was within 50' climb of the summit, with maybe 100' of traverse. I was exhausted though, mainly because I hadn't eaten anything but candy since 4 AM, so the plan was to stop for lunch, get some energy back, and push the summit. That's when I noticed that the clouds were getting darker and starting to build at an alarming rate. I never was one to stand on a technicality, and I REALLY didn't want to have to try the descent on rain-slickened granite and sand. So I decided to declare victory and get out.

Then I made my big mistake. I followed some cairns northward that probably led to Sawtooth Pass until I got to two possible directions and no more cairns that I could see. One path went up, and the other went down. I decided that since rain threatened I would go down, and I saw footprints in the sand down there too. I kept finding myself in places where I couldn't proceed because the drops were just big enough for me to be unable to lower myself in a controlled fashion. I worked my way to the Southwest and saw an area where someone had slid down on their bottom, so I followed suit. I ended up in an area with steep sheer granite slabs that were well beyond my skills to the southwest, a big 6-8' drop off a boulder to the northwest, too steep to climb back up, and I couldn't see if the slide ended in a cliff or not.

So I panicked, tried to call someone on my cell phone to report my location, yelled to get someone's attention (nobody around though), etc. The only choice I had was down, so I took a leap of faith and slid down on my back through a boulder-tunnel chute (this allowed me to control my descent...hopefully!). I was lucky--the place I slid down did lead to a steep drop-off, but I stopped in time to be able to work my way Northwest and back onto friendlier ground. From there it was pretty easy to get down to the upper Monarch Lake.

I checked the time at the lower Monarch Lake, where I stopped to empty the sand from my shoes and generally collect myself. 2:30 PM. Back at the trailhead by 4:15.

So conclusion: I claim Sawtooth...the last 50' weren't worth my life, and IMO it's just a technicality. I also got an introduction to off trail navigation and some valuable scrambling experience. Also gained a little more confidence off trail.

I got home and googled the peak again, and sure enough, I saw this on Summitpost. I had seen it before, but it didn't mean anything to me until this experience:

"Went down the steep SW side (no trail and class 3/4) of the peak between the Monarch Lakes and would not recommend this due to scree on top of granite making it very treacherous. Did get down this but not without battle wounds."

Here's a pic of where I got stuck. The sheer granite gully is partially hidden because I didn't think about taking a photo until I was safely down. It goes down the mountainside in a diagonal line from the red box, and you can see its water-darkened granite at the lower right corner of the photo.
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby lambertiana » Sun Sep 21, 2014 5:34 pm

It sounds like you have learned the hard way that use trails and footprints are not always the right way to go. I have done Sawtooth seven or eight times, and if you just follow the footprints you will discover that too many people have gone the wrong way and had similar experiences (I made that mistake once, and ended up in a terrifying situation that I still have not told my wife about, and I have a friend who ended up losing his footing and sliding down on his stomach and managing to stop just inches above a face that would have been a certain fatal fall). The natural inclination is to trend downward, but that just leads to hairy situations. You have to stay high the whole way to Sawtooth Pass. And going down the south ridge you have to choose the right place to drop down or you end up in cliff bands, as you found out. It looks like you dropped too soon, you need to aim for the patch of green visible on the far right edge in you picture and then head down when you are almost there.

Descending the sand/gravel slope from Sawtooth Pass can be fun, I have done it in just over ten minutes. But careful route selection is necessary if you take it that fast, one mistake has serious consequences.

My favorite way to do Sawtooth is to go up Sawtooth Pass (staying to the south of the actual trail, on the edge of the rocks where footing is better) and descending the south ridge to upper Monarch Lake.
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Re: Blitz Trip Today/Tomorrow: Mineral King Area or Mt. Langley?

Postby seanr » Sun Sep 21, 2014 11:20 pm

Good tips from lambertiana!

Franklin411, your attitude about this seems to indicate you may have caught the peakbagging bug, but that at the same time you are disciplined enough to skip the actual summit when conditions call for it.   I had a similar debacle on Sawtooth, gaining more experience in my first High Sierra hike than I generally have accrued in entire seasons thereafter.  I experienced my first midday thunderstorms, which drove me foolishly straight downward from the peak toward Upper Monarch Lake. I slid and awkwardly climbed down scree and cliff bands, at one point losing my wedding ring, but then finding it after a brief search while clinging to the mountainside in near vertical feeling sandy scree atop steeply slanted rock.  Yes, there are lots of use trails there, and another guy actually had a similar experience to me around the same time that same day.  We both knew not to expect any help. I became more disciplined and experienced regarding thunderstorms, researching routes, reading terrain, and both carrying and effectively interpreting a good map.  With this experience under your belt, I bet you'll find Sawtooth easy if you go back some other year in good weather, or you will find some other peak to be a more enjoyable alternative.  My second attempt went smoothly and I've never felt as much in danger since. 
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