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Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber Gap

Posted: Mon Aug 21, 2017 2:53 pm
by zenobe
Hello all - I did a lot of research on this website getting ready for our amazing backpacking adventure, just completed last week, so I wanted to be sure and post our experiences promptly so that others could benefit from fresh information. We began our hike at the Franklin Pass-Farewell Gap trailhead in Mineral King on Monday 8/14, and progressed through Franklin Lakes (day 1 campsite), Little Claire Lake (day 2 campsite), Big Five Lakes (day 3 campsite), Cliff Creek via Little Five Lakes and Black Rock Pass (day 4 campsite), and up over Timber Gap back to Mineral King on day 5. Here is a map of our route:
complete trip.JPG
Our hikers were me (Ben, age 51), my son Danny (19), his buddy Trane (18), and my nephew Sam (18). I grew up in the Bay Area and did a few backpacking trips in the High Sierra with my father in the late 70s, and then moved to Connecticut in the early 2000s when my kids were around kindergarten age. I have always wanted to expose my son (and my daughter if she would ever like to!) to backpacking and the High Sierra and keep up the tradition. The last couple years my son and I did 25 mile loop trips in the Adirondacks as warm ups to get ready. The three of us flew from JFK to SFO on Saturday 8/12, picked up my nephew in SF on Sunday morning, and made our way via rental car to Mineral King on Sunday. We camped in Cold Springs Campground on Sunday night - no reservation, about one-third of the campground was available for us to pick from.

Day 1 we started at Franklin Lakes - Farewell Gap trailhead, and made our way up the valley towards Farewell Gap before turning off towards Franklin Lakes. I had hoped to make it up and over the pass and camp at Forester Lake, but the combination of altitude effects and day 1 hiking legs stopped us on the bench between lower and upper Franklin lakes. A beautiful spot to be sure - one note though, heavy condensation on the tent overnight. Try to find a tent site as far away from the pretty little streams as possible, that will probably help you stay dry.
Franklin sunset.JPG
Sunset looking west from the bench between lower and upper Franklin Lakes

On the morning of day 2 we started up towards Franklin Pass. After about 90 minutes of steady hiking up well graded switchbacks we reached the pass and were rewarded with our first views eastward, down Rattlesnake Canyon. Here is a picture of the snowfield at the top of Franklin Pass as of Tuesday 8/15. Note, this probably looks more dramatic than it is. I found that if we walked the full length of the snow field, there was an easy well established footprint path taking us to the safety of dirt, on the eastern side of the pass, from which we commenced our hike downward.
Franklin Pass snowfield.JPG
Snow field at Franklin Pass

We made our way down the eastern slope of Franklin Pass, and I noted that the trail was less well graded with switchbacks and more just a curving steep track down the dirt and scree. This was also the case with Black Rock Pass later in the trip - for whatever reason, the trail on the eastern side of the pass was steeper and more directly uphill, while on the west side of the pass the trail had nicely graded switchbacks.

We reached Little Claire Lake in time for twilight, dinner and bed. I awoke at dawn and took in the view southeast down the canyon containing Soda Creek, towards Mount Whitney. Very beautiful:
Soda Creek.JPG
View at dawn from Little Claire Lake down Soda Creek drainage looking southeast

Setting off, our route took us down a steep 900 foot switchback to Soda Creek, and at the bottom down an enjoyable trail towards Big Arroyo. Halfway to Big Arroyo we noticed a lot of downed trees that we had to make our way around. We reached the trail fork and went left, towards Big Five Lakes. Climbing and rounding the nose into Lost Canyon, we enjoyed many streams and wildflowers up to the fork in the trail towards Big Five Lakes. This was the first of two stream crossings that made me a bit nervous - the other being Cliff Creek later in the trip. We had a nice lunch break at the fork in the trail, and chatted for a while with two couples who were on their way up Lost Canyon to Sawtooth. Then we continued on to Big Five Lakes, where we camped at the first of the Big Five Lakes, at ~ 9800 feet (and enjoyed a nice campfire).

The next day was our biggest hiking day, encompassing Little Five Lakes, Black Rock Pass, and the trail down to Cliff Creek. The total mileage was 13, but it was the descent from Black Rock Pass that made my 50-year old knees and hips really uncomfortable. They did their duty though, and we made it into camp around 6 pm. One note - the trail down from Black Rock Pass to Cliff Creek is predominantly rocky, requiring close concentration and careful stepping to avoid rolling ankles.

The upper Little Five Lakes was the only part of our trip that the mosquitoes really bothered me. They were also present at Big Five Lakes a bit, but a splash of deet on the exposed skin made me forget all about them. It was only at the highest of the Upper Fives that I wanted to push on because of them.

Here are a few photos. In particular, we looked long and hard at the snowfield above Spring Lake and just below Glacier Pass. A couple of the guys wanted to try for Glacier Pass - this would have shortened the loop by a few miles and taken the Cliff Creek-Timber Gap descent out of play. But the snowfield was sizable and from our distant perch, looked steep and forbidding. I made the call for safety despite some disappointment in the group, and am very glad I did.
Little Five Lakes.JPG
Hiking out of upper Little Five Lakes
Black Rock Pass.JPG
View of the Pater Noster lakes (Spring, Cyclamen, Columbine) from Black Rock Pass. Sublime
Black Rock Pass descent.JPG
The upper part of the descent off of Black Rock Pass

After a restful night listening to Cliff Creek in our camp, we made our way across the creek in the morning and up Timber Gap towards Mineral King. The kids were dreading the 2000+ foot climb, but I had realized by that point that uphill = nice aerobic workout that is good for me, while downhill = tedious joint pain. We got a nice early start and achieved Timber Gap in about 90 minutes, plus or minus. After a lovely descent back to Mineral King, with gorgeous views up Farewell Gap the way we had come five days earlier, we reached our car around noon, and celebrated with burgers and sodas (and an ice cold Sierra Nevada Pale for the old guy) at around 1 pm.

Thanks again all for your help in getting this trip planned. It was a huge success!

hiker dude.JPG

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Mon Aug 21, 2017 3:43 pm
by maverick
Thank you for coming back and writing up your first trip report, very enjoyable and nice pictures too. They only get easier to write after your first one. ;)

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Mon Aug 21, 2017 6:10 pm
by Shawn
Really nice TR and great photos. MK is such a terrific place.

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Mon Aug 21, 2017 7:18 pm
by kpeter
I had a lot of fun reading your report and comparing with my experiences just a couple of week earlier. I'm surprised that the snow in Franklin Pass looks virtually identical to when I was there! And it looked as if you had some threatening weather too. Your shots from Black Rock Pass are very impressive--I've got to see that pass at some point. And your last photo captures that final stretch coming down from Timber Gap perfectly...I felt the same way!

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Mon Aug 21, 2017 9:33 pm
by elenarhodes
Thank you for the trip report! We are headed on the same loop on Monday August 28th! Glad to hear that the mosquitoes were not much of an issue.

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Tue Aug 22, 2017 6:19 am
by zenobe
Mav & Shawn - thanks for the welcome, and thanks again for this online community

kpeter - absolutely, I was much helped by your description of Franklin Pass, so I kind of knew what to expect. I think we went in your footsteps. It doesn't seem to have melted down much since you were there.

elenarhodes - lucky you! Feel free to ask me whatever additional questions you may have

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Tue Aug 22, 2017 11:56 am
by maverick
Thank you for the trip report! We are headed on the same loop on Monday August 28th! Glad to hear that the mosquitoes were not much of an issue.
HI Elenarhodes,

Welcome to HST! Make sure you spend at least a day, or more in the FLL area, specifically the northern ones away from the ranger station. :nod:

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Sat Aug 26, 2017 8:53 pm
by elenarhodes
Thanks for the welcome and advice! I love reading through the forum seeing where people have been and what they have experienced!

Zenobe: What is your thought on making it to Little Claire Lake on the first night? Is it completely out of the question or possible for someone with the right fitness level? I have plan A or B (Loop though Black Rock Pass or Loop through Kaweah Gap) but I think it will depend on how far we make it the first night.


Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Sun Aug 27, 2017 9:06 am
by kpeter

Making it to Little Claire is not out of the question. A group I leapfrogged with made it to Forester on their first day. But it would be a very strenuous day. There is 4000 feet of elevation gain from Mineral King to the top of Franklin Pass. The trail is superb on the way up, which helps, but 4000 feet is still 4000 feet. Then there is another 500 feet as you go over the hump from Forester to Little Claire. 4500 feet in a day is more than I have ever done, but I am sure there are plenty of young, fit, acclimated people who would reel it off with ease. Other considerations are whether you want to rush through Franklin Lakes, which I found quite pretty.

I took two days to reach Little Claire, but each day I would get in by about 2 in the afternoon--necessary as it turned out to avoid the incessant afternoon rain showers. There was plenty of time, had my body been willing, to keep going. I just did not want to.

There are other places to stop. I found the downhill from Franklin Pass coming down into Rattlesnake Creek on a choppy trail to be pretty exhausting, and had the timing been right would have welcomed the delightful camping areas in upper Rattlesnake Creek. If you get an early start from Mineral King, those camping spots are 1500 feet up and a cranky trail down from Franklin Lakes, and could be a reasonable first day destination. Not sure why everyone always wants a lake when gorgeous streams and meadows are in reach.

How many days do you have? I'm a slow poke and planned for 8 for my Franklin/Kaweah/Timber Gap loop, but did it in 7. I like getting in to camp early enough to set up, do my chores, and scout the area for photography before the light begins to improve. Most will go faster than I did and could easily do it in less time. But would you want to? There are several places I would have liked to have more time to explore.

Re: Mineral King TR: Franklin-Little Five-Black Rock-Timber

Posted: Sun Aug 27, 2017 12:02 pm
by webdweeb
Zenobe, I also enjoyed your TR-we did Black Rock Pass the week before you did (our trip was bookended by yours and kpeter's). As you did, we found it beautiful (incredible views of the three lakes to the south on the descent) but very strenuous-the talus made the descent quite challenging. We also stayed at Cliff Creek camp, which was crowded when we were there (it was a Saturday night), but still very pleasant because of the nearby waterfall. Guess I'm overdue for my own TR!