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TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

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TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Oct 06, 2010 3:08 pm

A buddy said "let's go." We pulled out maps and found that Mineral King had no fires (Kings Canyon is full of smoke, Yosemite is hazy with smoke) and he had not been over Sawtooth... so off we went. D and I have been on one other outing together before. And then C wanted to come, neither of us had backpacked with her, but she's younger than us, and probably good to go. I knew her from Search and Rescue trainings - she's gone through rough terrain with a pack before.

We headed up Friday afternoon. The trailhead from the first switchback looked like this:
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After filling out a form and dropping it in the slot (no one home at the ranger station and we are able to self register) we parked in overflow - wow, there were a lot of cars out there on a Friday mid-day.

Clouds were with us the whole four days. They were like living things, crawling up and down slopes and sometimes curling or laying out flat or bunching up - I could have taken pictures for hours and never gotten the same one twice. Any mist or haze you see in my pics? it's clouds, rain or snow.

We went up the switchbacks toward Monarch Lakes in the on and off rain, which at one point turned to sleet. Our paces were totally different and we were spread out on the trail, D sometimes stopped and waited, I caught up to him, and then we both waited patiently for C. As the sleet worsened we were all three holed up under a foxtail which kept the worst of it off. We reached Monarch well before sundown despite starting after one pm.

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Lower Monarch Lake has the bear box but we camped at upper - behind the dam for a wind break. It turned out that the dire warnings of the drenched couple we met coming down were not true tonight, they had said "freezing" and "very windy" and we had a nice breeze with temps in the low 40s.

Next morning we started up Sawtooth.

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Between those two images, there lies an hour and a half of class 3/4 action, during which I wanted to just let the pack fall to the bottom and get the heck down. There's a maze of use trails and I ended up on the wrong one, and not being a mountaineer, just a lowly hiker, I was dismayed to find myself hanging on to any solid item in arm's reach to keep myself from joining tons of loose decomposed granite and rocks on the way down a very steep slope. I finally made it across and up to the use trail - which is fairly well established, if you find the right one - and rejoined D as I reached the pass, where I endured the "I've been waiting for an hour" complaint and informed him if he didn't hike so fast I wouldn't have lost him in the boulder field and been unable to follow him on the trail.... C was similarly lost in boulders. But we made it and lesson learned.

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Got to Columbine Lake without issue but had to put on rain gear again as the clouds descended. We passed a tent where someone had obviously hunkered down. Fifteen minutes later we were beyond Columbine, heading down the switchbacks into Lost Canyon, and the rain stopped. We camped at the trail junction down canyon, at the turnoff to Big Five Lakes. More rain drove us inside, which was sad, as it was the only camp below 10k and we had a nice toasty fire going.

Next day had us traversing around to Soda Creek and up the switchbacks (a respectable climb!) to Little Claire Lake. I took some shots from the switchbacks as the clouds were letting me see some distant and close up peaks pretty well, and then took a shot from the top:
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Another climb and then a drop to Forester Lake, and on to the trail junction at Rattlesnake Creek where we stayed the night - poised to get over Franklin Pass in the morning. The clouds cleared and we were stargazing in awe. It was awesome. About 40-45F and tons of stars visible. After we climbed in for the night, the clouds must have come back... the next time I woke there was a crazy lightening show going on! It lasted for hours. I kept dozing off and each time I woke up again, it was still going. Next morning it was overcast/shifting clouds again, with moments of sun - and then the snow came down for ten minutes, piling corn snow all over the ground.

It stopped as we began to hike. On the way up the pass, it looked threatening and then cleared off... repeatedly. I looked back down Franklin behind me at one point:

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Another shot showing how the clouds kept changing and moving (Whitney was visible part of the time):
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We ate a snack on the pass and booked it down toward Franklin Lakes, where we took another break in the sunshine before heading down into the cloud layer. We could look out at the central valley and see that we would be going home to weather.

Franklin Lakes:
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Looking back at Franklin Pass:
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Much later, looking up at Farewell Gap:
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As we descended it was like walking into coastal fog. Mist everywhere. Weary and damp, we got to the bottom and dodged bear scat down to the road, walked past people standing on the porches of the cabins idly staring (I wondered why they did not have the sense to wear jackets, T shirts in the chilly rain?).

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I had hoped for sun in the aspens... but perhaps next trip.

I very much enjoyed the hike. Lots of elevation gain and loss, like any Mineral King outing, but well worth it, and late in season we saw only five groups/couples backpacking and a handful of dayhikers. And a wet grouse who posed for pictures.

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Full size images plus the rest of the trip photos here
Last edited by AlmostThere on Fri Feb 11, 2011 9:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby lostcoyote » Wed Oct 06, 2010 3:19 pm

great trip report
&
a great little "welcome to the fall season" trip in itself

thanks for sharing
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby windknot » Wed Oct 06, 2010 3:32 pm

Nice shots and report, thanks for sharing your trip. I got rained on for several hours straight on Sunday up in the Northern Sierra, I think the fall is officially here.

Matt
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby maverick » Wed Oct 06, 2010 3:39 pm

Thanks for the great TR, kind of surprised you saw so many cars at the trail head.
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby rlown » Wed Oct 06, 2010 5:44 pm

Beautiful report! great pics!
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby copeg » Wed Oct 06, 2010 9:11 pm

Thanks for posting. Fun read and nice pics on top. You description of Sawtooth describes the route perfectly.
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Oct 06, 2010 10:10 pm

Nice entertaining post and photos. The wet weather photos are particularly cool.

copeg wrote: You description of Sawtooth describes the route perfectly.

Funny that this gets mentioned. Someone was just asking me about that this afternoon (about going up to the pass thence up to Sawtooth Peak) and while it has been 41 years since I've been up there my memories are crystal clear. That is one of the more miserable scree slopes I can remember. Of course it was particularly tough on a little boy celebrating his 10th birthday with 4600' of gain (with the finishing kick up that infernal scree). However, the flip side is that that trip is one of my fondest memories ever, which is why I remember it so vividly. That was also the first trip that I carried a genuine full pack (to Monarch Lakes) and the trip that I learned to use an ice axe (en route to climb Mineral Peak the next day--yes 1969 was a supremely heavy snowfall year). I really should go back there. Only my 27th birthday (when I met my wife) tops my 10th.
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: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Oct 07, 2010 8:28 am

Glad you enjoyed it... was a great trip full of wonder. I've quickly become a fan of popping up the top of a pass and feeling like I've just climbed to the top of the world. (Tho I doubt I will become a peak bagger as a result. As noted, not really a climber...)

Sawtooth was a real challenge for me - I have poor balance to begin with, throw a pack of more than 20 lbs on and I get worse, people get irritated with me as I slowly cross logs over streams. On Sawtooth there were points that I took off the backpack and shoved or threw it ahead of me up the scree while I crawled up trying to get to footing - at one juncture the whole slope started to shift down, rocks and gravel and all, like a big slab of YIKES - I plopped on a solid boulder and waited. And changed direction.

D made light of the whole thing like he does, but he can do that, he's a skier and climber and general mountaineering guy of long standing - for someone like me who just hikes, that sort of thing is a Big Deal. I wouldn't dream of taking a noob up something like Sawtooth with a loaded backpack without guiding them up the known safe route.

Next time, Black Rock! :hippy:
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby bheiser1 » Thu Oct 07, 2010 8:12 pm

Interesting and captivating report ... and great pics! Though I am a total fan of *summer* weather, there's something more "interesting", or maybe even "challenging", under some conditions, about weather like you described.

BTW, did you have any problems with marmots & your vehicle at the trailhead?
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby Herm » Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:56 pm

AlmostThere;
Great post of a trip to a place that holds a special place in my heart. I have done a small portion of the trip you did, and it was priceless. Thanks for sharing, it brought back good memories.

Mineral King marmots are interesting. I have been there many times car camping, and have done 3 different backpacking trips there. Early summer is the only time that marmots have been an issue. On one particular trip in mid-late June, my wife and I drove from our camp at Cold Spring Campground, parked at the Sawtooth parking area, enclosed the truck with chicken wire, strapped cardboard boxes over the wheel wells (the process taking at least half an hour), threw some salt over our shoulders for luck, then set off on a day hike to Timber Gap. When we returned that afternoon, as we approached our truck, we could see several marmots milling about. After removing the cardboard boxes and chicken wire, I opened the hood to inspect - the entire underside of the hood (covered to that point with fiber insulation) had been chewed. Footprints could be seen all over the engine components. And with the hood open, I could hear movement in the engine compartment. It took a while, but finally we flushed out a marmot, who was hiding deep within the wheel well. When I finally moved the truck, it looked like a barber shop had been where the truck was parked, from the chewing of the hood insulation. But no other damage, and in all other trips (more than 50 days parked in the valley), no vehicle damage. One summer, we saw a park service trail crew park at the Eagle Lake parking area, and wrapped their truck in a blue tarp - the big blue burrito.
An excellent place to visit, in fact one of my favorite places in the world.
Herm
I am not in a hurry, so don't be hasty.
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Re: TR: Monarch Lakes, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Franklin Pass

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:23 pm

I enjoyed the trip so much I forgot to mention the marmots. No one at the trailhead had any marmot protection measures in place, and no one had any troubles. We've been told that happens mainly in springtime down there, and one Three Rivers resident who's hiked out of there many times shrugs off any such claims of marmot damage - apparently she's parked there a lot without issues. Maybe she just has a car the marmots don't like?

I think if we do a spring trip out there I might go with poly tarps and chicken wire - wire for the marmots, tarps to protect the car from the wire.
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