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Mineral King Loop

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Mineral King Loop

Postby mkosel » Sun Apr 17, 2011 7:15 am

My wife and I are looking to do a loop in Mineral King this summer. I've had my eye on the following loop

Trailhead--> Monarch Lake --> Galcier Pass --> Spring Lake --> Black Rock Pass --> Little Five Lakes --> Big 5 Lakes -->Lost Canyon Creek --> Columbine Lake -->Sawtooth pass --> Trailhead


We are having trouble figuring out where to camp and was hoping to get advise from someone who knows the hike. Also we would like a recommendation on the best time to go given the amount of snow pack this year.

We are somewhat experienced hikers, we mostly do marked trails but have done a bit of x-country. We typically will hike 8-10 miles a day depending on terrain (but can do more if needed... or less if it makes it more enjoyable). We don't climb/use rope but feel comfortable do some basic rock scrambling.

Thanks for any advise you all can give!



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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Apr 17, 2011 9:28 am

Glacier Pass -- Spring Lake may be a problem if you have not done a lot of off-trail travel. There is likely to be some steep snow on the north side. I think it is class 3 to drop to Spring Lake.

I suggest reverse the route-- Monarch Lake, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Big and Little Five Lakes, out via Black Rock Pass, bite the bullet and drop down, come back up trail back (Timber Gap) to Mineral King. Lost Valley has beautiful camping. Columbine Lake is impressive too -a bit more exposed. Although there is a bear box at the Five Lakes trail junction I would not camp there- it is not scenic at all. At least if you go this way, you will be going down Black Rock Pass and get a veiw of the route from Spring Lake up to Glacier Pass - if it looks good you can do it, otherwise you have a trail option.
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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby SPeacock » Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:38 am

That will be a beautiful loop - a bit strenuous at times. Late August would be about the earliest you would want to be there this year - depending upon your skills. The crux of the trip is Glacier Pass and the possibility of a lot of late snow on the north side. Sawtooth Pass is well... just Sawtooth Pass. There is a gravel patch well ducked for the way up.

Bear Boxes http://www.ultralightbackpacker.com/bear-cans.html

I've been on the grander loop from Crescent Meadows, Bearpaw, 9 Lakes Basin, Little Five, Black Rock Pass, Redwood Meadows, Bearpaw Meadows which is spectacular almost from the git go.

Also have done the Sawtooth, Franklin Passes loop. Very much the same type of hiking and shares a lot of the same scenery.

Sometime ago, with a bunch of teens, we went up to Monarch Lakes. I remember that being the hottest, steepest trail I had ever been on in the Sierra - while corralling and keeping up with kids. We spent day hikes circling Mineral peak and an attempt to circle Sawtooth Peak via Cyclomen Lake to the Sawtooth Pass trail. That didn't work, so we went back up over Glacier Pass which was chancy because of the snow pack (August). There is an easier way down the pass if you climb up a bit on the ridge to the east. You will more than likely have snow even into later season this year. The route once you get off the pass is fairly obvious heading toward the trough leading west from the center of Spring. If that has too much snow (it is steep) you may want to go around down to the small tarn and follow just below and west of the ridge to the north side of the lake.

If you get to Monarch Lakes early, you might want to do a scouting trip up to Glacier Pass to see what you are in for. Black Rock is easier from the east Sawmill from the west.

Camping would be how you feel near the end of the day. You could plan on 8-10 mile days (about 6-7 hours hiking) There is plenty of water along the way (but not on the ascent of any of the passes). It will be a long dry pull over Black Rock Pass, so plan that with enough sun light and full water bottles. A nice day hike from Little Five north to the HST and Arroyo would be worthwhile. If you have the energy, even continue up the trail a bit toward 9 Lakes Basin. When crossing the Big Arroyo, plan on getting wet. Without packs it is about 2-3 hours to Kaweah Gap from Little Five - WHAT A VIEW! You might plan a relatively easy rest day at Big Five Lakes and explore up to the end of the chain. Lost Canyon is a long walk, but I suspect the creek will be running but not sure that you will have water near the start of the long climb up to Columbine. I don't remember that part of the trail at all.

Good trip. Have a ball!
Last edited by SPeacock on Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby SPeacock » Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:40 am

Ahhh, didn't see the insert of the 2001 trip report. They cover the trip well and what you can expect. I agree with the counterclockwise direction for the same reasons Wandering Daisy has.
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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby maverick » Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:58 am

Hi Mkosel

Welcome to HST!
Just use the search feature near the top of the "Backpacking/Hiking/Camping" section
and type in "Mineral King", and you will find numerous trip reports, and suggestions given
to folks asking this same question, if after that you have any further question about
particular sections or variations, please ask.
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

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: Mineral King Loop

Postby texan » Sun Apr 17, 2011 2:09 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:Glacier Pass -- Spring Lake may be a problem if you have not done a lot of off-trail travel. There is likely to be some steep snow on the north side. I think it is class 3 to drop to Spring Lake.

I suggest reverse the route-- Monarch Lake, Sawtooth Pass, Lost Canyon, Big and Little Five Lakes, out via Black Rock Pass, bite the bullet and drop down, come back up trail back (Timber Gap) to Mineral King. Lost Valley has beautiful camping. Columbine Lake is impressive too -a bit more exposed. Although there is a bear box at the Five Lakes trail junction I would not camp there- it is not scenic at all. At least if you go this way, you will be going down Black Rock Pass and get a veiw of the route from Spring Lake up to Glacier Pass - if it looks good you can do it, otherwise you have a trail option.


Glacier Pass is not that difficult. There may be one part at top about 50 feet that could be classified a class 3 but other than that its just steep. It drops a little over 1000 ft in about mile from Glacier Pass to Spring Lake. I have gone over Glacier Pass with a 50-60lb pack many times with no issues. This year it all depends on the snow melt. I wouldn't go over it until at least mid August unless you want to walk in snow all the way down to Spring Lake. I would also visit Cyclamen Lake above Spring Lake. Its has really steep cliffs all around and usually an iceberg during a wet year like this one even in late summer.

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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby SSSdave » Sun Apr 17, 2011 2:22 pm

So a 9-day effort. That is one of the most popular loop trips in the Southern Sierra and also one of the most inefficient due to the deep hole that is Cliff Creek. There is something to be said about loop trips versus out and back trips since one gets a chance to always move through new terrain. However if the price to do so is considerable more effort as is the case on that loop, such becomes more a net negative. Also if one tries the cross country route via Glacier Pass, there is still way more up and down vertical versus simply over and back via Sawtooth. And one has to deal with potential route issues. Not only is there snow below the ridge, but there are steep areas well below one needs good topo map routing skills to avoid. Compare your itinerary with no layovers and constant pack carrying effort just like most groups undertake to this one with considerable flexibility and a lot more time to enjoy your week where it is most glorious:

1 Monarch Lake
2 Lower Lost Canyon meadows
3 lowest Big 5 Lakes
4 Big 5 Lakes
5 Little 5 Lakes
6 Big 5 Lakes
7 Columbine Lake
8 Columbine Lake
9 Sawtooth Pass to trailhead
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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby SPeacock » Sun Apr 17, 2011 8:05 pm

Maverick, I believe, has an incredible picture taken south from Black Rock Pass. Maybe he will post it again or tag a link to it.
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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Wed Apr 20, 2011 2:26 pm

I would not wish going over Sawtooth Pass from the west going east on anybody. My way was much easier:
http://www.doylewdonehoo.com/sawtooth/cover1v10.htm
I can't see any advantage of going over Glacier Pass except just for the heck of it. A lot of effort for the reward when other ways are just as scenic. Someone mentioned the view from Big/Little 5 Lakes, see below. I posted an evening shot of this not too long ago.
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http://www.doylewdonehoo.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Re: Mineral King Loop

Postby Shawn » Wed Apr 20, 2011 8:20 pm

Great photo Doyle....

Ditto the comment about Glacier pass. The only time I went up it was during a day hike in spring when I was circling the bowl (Empire Mountain back around to Sawtooth area).
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