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Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

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Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby AdirondackMike » Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:49 am

After getting some advice and using this forum for research I guess I owe you guys a trip report! Forgive me if I got some elevations wrong, I tried my best using the not-so-great Trails Illustrated map.

My wife and I went to California to visit family and built in 4 days for hiking. We were looking for a 3-night trip that offerred some solitude and big mountain scenery. After some research we selected an approximately 30 mile loop out of Mineral King, which is a trailhead and ranger station at 7,800 ft located in Sequoia National Park. It is accessed from the town of Visalia on the southwestern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The drive to Mineral King is 23 miles on a winding, mostly one-lane road. It is not for faint of heart. We began our trip up the road at 6 pm. After seemingly endless turns and switchbacks the road winds around massive sequoia trees indicating we were near the top. The car thermometer which read 95 degrees at the bottom was in the upper 60's by this time. We arrived at the Cold Spring campground near the Mineral King ranger station around 7:30 pm (90 minutes for 23 miles!). We only had time to set up our tent and have a quick fire before settling in for the night. The mosquitoes were active but we did not have to use head nets or repellent.

We arose at 7:30 to cool temperatures and a deer grazing near the tent. After packing up we headed to the Silver-City Resort to grab some breakfast. This resort is privately owned and was grandfathered into the park's space. After breakfast at their cafe it was off to the ranger station to secure permits and the trailhead to begin. At the trailhead we noticed that several cars were surrounded by netting or chicken-wire to keep hungry marmots from chewing up wires and hoses. Unaware of this problem we could only hope our rental car wouldn't fall victim. After a half hour of food organization and packing we were off!

A map of the hike can be found here: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=760890

Pics here:
https://picasaweb.google.com/1073721993 ... ineralKing

Day 1: Timber Gap to Pinto Lake
The objective of the day was to hike from the trailhead (7,800 ft) over Timber Gap (9,500 ft) down to a trail junction (7,000 ft) and then up to Pinto Lake (8,500 ft). The trail begins switchbacking immediately from the parking lot to the first junction. We huffed and puffed slowly up the first 500 ft or so feeling quite unadjusted to the altitude. We continued slowly through some beautiful pine forest and meadows to Timber Gap, taking about 1.5 hours for the 2 mile trip. Atop the wooded pass we found a beautiful open forest and had our lunch. The long descent from the pass to 7000 ft was tiring and took over 2 hours to finally arriving at the low point, a trail junction along a river. This junction had a bearbox and some decent tent sites which tempted us to camp. Since it was only 3 pm we decided to make the 3 mile trip up to Pinto Lake and camp there. The ascent to Pinto Lake started in the forest along a buggy river but opened up into a canyon. 10,000 ft mountains loomed along the sides and a waterfall several hundred feet cascaded down ahead. As we proceeded towards the lake I felt exhausted and my pace slowed to a crawl. The first day of hiking at higher altitudes with a heavy pack had wore me down but luckily this was the most tired I'd feel at any point of the trip. We hiked slowly up the drainage of a small creek arriving near the lake after 6pm. The mosquitoes were active and biting so for the first time we donned our head nets. My wife Erika set up the tent and I went to the stream to replenish our water. After a quick dinner of mac n' cheese I hung my sweaty clothes to dry and we retired to the tent, feeling quite exhausted. We were awakened several times during the night by the sounds of animals moving around. I had seen several deer before dark but also noticed some bear scat so I wasn't sure which animal was making all the commotion. Fast forward to the morning and all my clothes that were hung out to dry were now soaking wet. It did not rain and everything except my clothes was bone dry. I smell the clothes and its definitely not urine soaking them. Weird! Did a bear take my clothes to the creek and soak them and bring them back? I was pretty sure an animal was somehow responsible for this but had no idea what really happened.

Day 2: Blackrock Pass to Little Five Lakes
The goal was to hike from Pinto Lake (8,500 ft) over Blackrock Pass (11,600 ft) down to the Little Five Lakes (10,500 ft). As we set off we encountered another party who had attempted this hike the previous day but were unable to locate the trail and had to turn back. I asked them if a bear had messed with their clothes and they explained to me that a deer had chewed on one of their hats, and that they do so for the salt. Mystery solved, my clothes were soaked in deer saliva........great. Wearing my saliva soaked hat we set off for Blackrock pass at 9am. This group had explained not to start hiking in the meadow (which seemed like the obvious choice) to find the trail but instead start up the side of the canyon. Against my better instinct we followed their advice. We hiked cross-country up the canyon over large boulders but did not find the trail. After 20-30 minutes of searching we descended a bit and located the trail. The 3 mile hike we were embarking on had over 3000 ft of elevation gain so we expected a slow go. The first set of switchbacks took us into a new green canyon bordered by jagged 11,000 ft peaks on each side. We immediately began ascending the new canyon towards Blackrock Pass. We took our time up the seemingly endless switchbacks to rest and admire the scenery. At around noon we were nearing 11,000 ft when we saw a buck descending the pass. He sauntered down to a nice flat spot and laid down for a rest. We continued slowly and made it to the pass after 1 pm. We stayed on top of the pass for a while exploring, resting, and enjoying the scenery. Then it was a quick descent to the Little Five lakes to camp. The Little Five Lakes offered some of the best backcountry camping I have ever seen. The campsites have a bearbox and room for at least 15 tents but we had it all to ourselves. They sit adjacent to a meadow peppered with large boulders that leads to the lake. Just perfect. The wind was blowing at the lake which kept the mosquitoes down enough to strip down and take a swim. We spent the afternoon enjoying the scenery and reading.

Day 3: Little Five Lakes to Monarch Lake
The plan for the day was to hike by the Big Five Lakes, up Lost Canyon to Columbine Lake (10,800 ft), to Sawtooth Pass (12,000 ft) and then down to Monarch Lake (10,400 ft). We awoke to frost on the meadow and a beautiful still morning. Soon the mosquitoes were buzzing so we packed up and were off. The first 2 miles of hiking to Big Five Lakes were mercifully flat and downhill and we made it there in about 40 minutes. After that we had to ascend and descend a ridge to gain access to Lost Canyon. The lower part of Lost Canyon is forested. As we ascended higher into the canyon it opened up. Glacially marked granite walls towered over the meadow and stream running through the center of the canyon. The hike through the canyon was pleasant and we took our time to enjoy it. When we reached the top of the canyon we ascended the right side via switchbacks to Columbine Lake. This lake was easily our favorite of the trip. Sawtooth Peak (12,400 ft) and its surrounding ridges line the lake. We followed cairns around the lake and up to Sawtooth Pass, which sits below Sawtooth Peak. The rocky ascent reminded us of the Adirondack High Peaks and was a nice contrast to Blackrock pass which was sandy trail all the way. We didn't linger on Sawtooth pass because of the gathering dark clouds and descended the kitty litter like sand and scree approximately 1,500 ft to Monarch lake. We set up camp just before I started feeling nauseous. I am pretty sure this was sickness due to altitude because it was accompanied by frequent yawning which I think was my body's attempt to take in more oxygen. I recovered in time to enjoy sunset with my wife who took a number of pictures of the beautiful area.

Day 4: Monarch Lakes to Trailhead
The goal was to hike down the approximately 4 miles and 2,500 ft to the car. This trip was scenic and pleasant and we observed some deer and pheasant on the descent. After returning our gear to the car we drove approximately 5 miles down the road to the Atwell Mill campground, parked the car, and hiked 1 mile up to the Paradise Ridge trail to a giant sequoia grove. We sat in the cool grove admiring the trees and soaking in the serenity of the spot.

1. Having bearboxes at the lakes was great and prevented us from having to stuff all our stuff into the stupid bear can we brought along.
2. The mosquitoes weren't that bad.
3. I love California and have to move there.
Last edited by AdirondackMike on Mon Jul 09, 2012 1:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby maverick » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:51 am

Thank you for getting back to us and writing up this wonderful, very through
TR, and for including some great pictures.
Sounds like the both of you had a great time, and are looking forward to coming
back to explore the Sierra many more times in the future.
Please feel free to post TR 's from the Adirondack High Peaks or from any where else
in the mean time, in the "Beyond the Sierra Nevada" section at the bottom of the page.
Looking forward to your future contributions to HST.
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

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 TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby fourputt » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:57 am

Thanks for the interesting TR and pix!

I've seen those garbage deer at Pinto Lake that pee on clothes left out overnight. The Park should put up a warning sign.
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Re: Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby sparky » Mon Jul 09, 2012 12:13 pm

That is a really great area....I love it, and unique! Nice pictures :thumbsup:

The park doesn't need any more warning signs....use common sense. :thumbsdown:
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Re: Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby quentinc » Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:03 pm

fourputt wrote:I've seen those garbage deer at Pinto Lake that pee on clothes left out overnight. The Park should put up a warning sign.

There's something about Mineral King that seems to bring out the worst in animals. Between the deer and the marmots....Maybe they need to reintroduce wolves to the area.
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Re: Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby windknot » Wed Jul 11, 2012 1:15 am

Wait, so it was deer pee that didn't smell like deer pee? Inquiring minds want to know!

Thanks for the detailed report and pictures, glad you guys had a good trip to California and the Sierra.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby ndwoods » Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:06 am

Lovely, glad you enjoyed it. I love the Mineral King area! And have to agree Calif is a great place to live if you are a backpacker...:)
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Re: Mineral King Loop TR - 7/2-7/5

Postby cgundersen » Wed Jul 11, 2012 3:34 pm

I'll join the chorus. Thanks for the distraction from city life!
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