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The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

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The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 7:43 pm

For several years I have been looking at the Mineral King 7.5' topo, and a specific pair of lakes at 10,900' at the east end of Mt Needham has been calling my name. The map shows them tucked into a cirque with big walls on the west, and penthouse views of the Whitney group on the east. This year I built an eight day backpacking trip around reaching those lakes. I went with someone whom I met on another backpacking forum; we started on Saturday July 27. I will break this into eight separate posts, one for each day.

As we got the permit at the Mineral King ranger station, it was raining pretty hard, but it eased a little as we started up from Mineral King
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We eventually reached Timber Gap and started down toward Cliff Creek.
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Cliff Creek is a pleasant little stream
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Then we headed up Cliff Creek to camp at Pinto Lake. Some pics along the way

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And finally stopping to camp here for the night
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 7:51 pm

The next morning it dawned clear, and we started the long slog over Black Rock Pass
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When we got to the pass, we could see Columbine, Cyclamen, and Spring lakes with Sawtooth Peak behind them
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From Black Rock Pass (11,600') looking east toward our destination for the day, Lake 10,192 in the Big Five Lakes group, just right of center
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Looking toward the Kaweahs
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We got hit by a hailstorm on the way down from the pass, but by the time we reached the uppermost of the Little Five Lakes it was starting to clear
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Then we finally reached our destination for the day, Big Five Lakes and Lake 10,192
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Evening at Lake 10.192
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 7:54 pm

Monday morning was bright and clear, which portended how most of the rest of the trip would be.
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The plan for the day was to descend Big Arroyo all the way to just below the plateau that separates Big Arroyo from Rattlesnake Creek. The park service website has a warning for this section because it is not maintained and routefinding skills are necessary. On the way, we first passed by the lowest of the Little Five Lakes, with the Kaweahs in the background
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The route we took down to Big Arroyo is very scenic, here is just one example:
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Looking down the upper part of Big Arroyo
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Big Arroyo creek is very refreshing
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In upper Big Arroyo
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Views looking down canyon as we descended
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At around mile 12 for the day, we started running into a lot of this
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At that point, we had to consider our options. The day was running out, and with no trail to follow and not knowing if this deadfall persisted for the remaining two miles, we decided to abort our plans to cross over to Rattlesnake Creek and stopped there for the night.
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 7:56 pm

The next day we went back up Big Arroyo a little way to head up toward Soda Creek. It was a long uphill, but Soda Creek canyon was nice
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We took the switchbacks (back on a decent trail) to Little Claire Lake (10,420')
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The outlet of the lake has outstanding views; first, down canyon toward the Whitney group
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And up the main part of the canyon, with Sawtooth Peak and Needham Mtn at the top
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From there we continued over the divide, and dropped down to Forester Lake (10,354'), where we spent the night.
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I went over the ridge on the SE side of Forest Lake to look down Rattlesnake Creek
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My hiking pal found a nice erratic garden, and I had to go there to get some of my own pictures
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Sunset at Forester Lake, from camp
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 7:58 pm

The next morning was once again bright and clear
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We then backtracked most of the way down Soda Creek, passing Little Claire Lake again
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After reaching the bottom of Soda Creek canyon, we circled around to head up Lost Canyon. Along the way we could see down Big Arroyo; the low plateau in the center was what we would have crossed on the way to lower Rattlesnake Creek if things had gone according to plans
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We then headed up to the lower part of Lost Canyon; we camped near this site
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The Lost Canyon creek goes down a wonderful series of cascades right by where we camped; this shot is a typical example of what a hundred yard section of the creek looks like
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:01 pm

The next day the fun began. My target lakes are far from any trail, so we took our time with the 7.5' topo. As we ascended we were treated with great views
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Then we had close to a mile of boulder hopping with full packs, I actually like this stuff
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We first came to a small lake tucked in a cirque just north of our target lakes
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As we traversed around to the next basin, more views toward the east
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And then, finally, the goal for the day:
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The lower of the two lakes is a long thin lake, and is almost a zero pool when you go down the shore and look eastward
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The upper lake
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We climbed above the lakes, this is looking down on them. We camped on the knoll in the middle. We saw no trace of human presence there; given the off trail location and the difficulty to reach it, I would bet it had not been visited by humans in a long time.
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Scenes from camp
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Sunset on the Whitney Group
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Last edited by lambertiana on Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:04 pm

Sunrise the next morning
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We then headed back to Lost Canyon. On the way, some good pics
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After reaching Lost Canyon, we headed up to the top of the canyon to camp at Columbine Lake (10,970'). Views along the way:
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Finally reaching the top, looking back down the canyon before dropping the short distance to Columbine Lake
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Columbine Lake, with Sawtooth Peak behind it, has its own stark beauty, and deep blue water
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At the outlet, I could see Black Rock Pass (just right of center)
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Evening at Columbine Lake
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 05, 2013 8:08 pm

After another starry night, we awoke to this
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We then went up to Sawtooth Pass (11,660'). From there, looking at Sawtooth Peak
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My hiking pal is from Tennessee, and this was his first time in the Sierra, so we decided to take the side trip to the summit of Sawtooth (12,343'). Here are some views from the top:
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After that, we headed down to lower Monarch Lake (10,400')
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Farther down the trail, looking back at Sawtooth from the west
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Empire Mountain from the south; on the other side is Cliff Creek
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And finally, Mineral King again
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We had a fantastic time, and these pictures do not come close to giving a true feeling for the experience.

Now, my question for you well-traveled sierra hikers: Has anyone been to those two lake basins on the east end of Needham? Do you know of anyone who has? It has a truly remote feeling, and I saw no trace of any human presence there. I would put them on the top of the list of loneliest and least-visited sierra lakes.
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby SSSdave » Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:10 pm

Lb >>>"The route we took down to Big Arroyo is very scenic, here is just one example"

That was right where I almost took a dip after coming down from some higher ramblings. But after considering it was right on the trail despite the lonely location, a being of a modest nature, walked downstream another 200 feet to a nice cascade I knew no one would be venturing by. Soon after enjoying that nice cool sparkling water, maybe a couple hundred feet up the trail, met Sarah, Susan, and Corie, SNP botanists and had to chuckle.

So you beat me to it. Been to Little Claire and have been in Lost Canyon thrice including the week before your trip.

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Have a future trip that planned to visit the east Needham nonames and now know what they be looking like. Lots of similar utterly neglected places in those parts. Did you ascend the obvious slopes of least gradients from 9700 in LC?
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Re: The Loneliest Lake - Eight Day MK Loop

Postby venturefar » Tue Aug 06, 2013 5:40 am

Great report! Awesome photos. Thanks for sharing.
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