TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31

If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!
User avatar

TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31

Postby chandler325i » Sat Aug 24, 2013 1:47 pm

Mineral King > Franklin Lakes > Big Arroyo > Nine Lakes > Little Five Lakes > Timber Gap > MK

This is my first trip report, and I tend to take more photos and interest in peoples' doings than in raw beauty scenery. This is a TR to the trip that so many people's input helped me plan on this thread: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=9129

If you're a skimmer and want the gist: go through Big Arroyo, plan a layover day in Nine Lakes so you can explore, if you see ANY possible signs of altitude sickness in someone early on, overrule their insistence to keep going.

This was an interesting trip. We diverged a lot from our planned itinerary because my dad got hit with altitude sickness that crept up on the first day and grew increasingly severe (duh). What also made it interesting was a contrast in backpacking philosophy. Two of us, in our late twenties, were making a point of getting as close to “ultralight” as possible. Neither of us broke that 10lb baseweight, but came close (I had an 11.5 lb base, my friend had 17.5). The other two members of our group, my dad and his friend, are straddling 60 and both carried a very "traditional camper" load. They carried baseweights of 38 and 28 lbs, respectively. Mind you, that all changed once AMS reared its head and we all took as mush as possible from my dad's pack.

Lesson 1: Everyone has a stake of what other members of the group carry. If you get sick, someone else has to carry it. All those non-essential items that "weigh nothing" ended up in mine and my friend's packs. On the more selfless flip-side; carrying less in your pack leaves you more room to shoulder the burden should someone get sick/injured. My 11.5 lb baseweight sure was nice while it lasted!

In our effort to stay as light as we could, my friend and I carried bottles for only 2L of water each. We felt confident with this capacity after speaking with a number of people who had been in the area recently. Water was plentiful enough that, for the most part, I was only filling/refilling 1L. All “permanent” rivers indicated on my Tom Harrison MK map still had plenty of water, and things marked as seasonal/drainages varied.

We opted to hang our food rather than deal with the cumbersome bear cans, as cans are not required anywhere we went. We never had any great difficulty finding places to hang food (when a bear box wasn’t present), so if you’re planning a route in this area, don’t be afraid to spare yourself the weight of the bear can. Practice the PCT hang variations and you’re good to go.

Lesson 2: Pulling the food up can be difficult. Carry one hang kit for every 6-7 person-days of food to make your life much easier. If two people go out for 3-4 days, you can manage to share one rope. More than that, you'll want to divvy it up between more ropes. You can usually hang them in the same spot; get one rope tossed over the branch, tie its ends together so it is a loop, tie one end of the 2nd rope onto the loop and just pull the first rope so it drags the second rope up and over the branch. Lather, rinse, repeat for any others.


Day 0, 7/23
Camped at Cold Spring. Despite it being a Tuesday, the place was pretty full by the time we rolled in around 6:30pm. Lot of kids, families, and noise. If we were going to be there any longer, we would have parked and walked back to the walk-in sites that I think are 100-200 yards in. I also would have preferred staying here for two nights to give everyone more time to adapt to altitude, but that wasn’t in the cards for us and, as I mentioned, we paid for it.

Note: The Silver City Mountain Resort restaurant is open Thurs-Mon 8a-8p, but you can still get the infamous homemade pie on Tuesdays and Wednesdays


Day 1, 7/27: Franklin Lakes TH to Franklin Lakes
We played it safe and marmot-proofed the car. Half the people we spoke to said "absolutely necessary" and the other half said "you'll be fine this time of year."

Image
My car is just the right amount of crappy without marmots chewing through my brake lines.

Very scenic climb up from the trailhead. Nothing too difficult. Plenty of water early on, but when you cross Franklin Creek just before you start up some switchbacks, make sure to give yourself enough water to get to where the trail crosses Franklin Creek again.

Image
This is looking north, back towards the Franklin Pass trailhead

There’s a very well-marked campsite right near the northwest tip of the lake, but we continued on further. My map shows an additional two bear boxes after that, but we only ever found the one. It’s maybe ¼ mile after this bunch of flat rocks in the photo below (great for napping!), and will be down to your right. These napping rocks are just to the right of the trail, can't miss them. We stored our food in the bear box, and then worked our way a little further down to another shelf that had nicer campsites, and wasn’t too far of a scramble to get down to the lake.

Image
Overlooking the first lake. If you draw a vertical line from the left side of my friend's pack, and follow it up to a large dead tree near the edge of that cliff, you can see one of our group members standing next to it in a white t-shirt. That's where the bear box is

It’s only about 6 miles to Franklin Lakes, but the next viable campsites aren’t until you get over Franklin Pass. So if you’re considering pressing on beyond the lakes, make sure you have the time/steam to make it all the way over the pass. There’s plenty of areas that you can stealth-camp once you get to the bottom; you don’t necessarily have to make it all the way to Forester Lake.

My dad starting having the onset of altitude sickness in the middle of the first day. I wasn’t as objective about the situation as I should have been, and he, having been on many backpacking trips without issue, didn’t pay any mind to it. Hindsight is 20/20 for both of us. After you go over Franklin Pass, there is no easy way down; all exits involve climbing up and over an 11,000+ ft mountain pass. If anyone in your group is showing questionable signs, turn back now. Hike down and camp another night at lower altitude, and revise your itinerary.


Day 2, 7/28: Franklin Lakes to Forester Lake
The trek up to Franklin Pass is dry and rocky. The trail makes huge sweeping switchbacks, so it's not a terribly steep climb, it just feels like slow going.

My dad's AMS and a miscommunication really killed our progress for the day. There’s a reliable water source on the east side of the pass, once you come down from there. You only need enough water to get from the lake and then up and over the pass, and can refill at the bottom. There is a great grassy area right when you come down that has a number of interweaving drainages that were still flowing strong. It’s really gorgeous, and I wish I had photos of it. Great place to break for a bit.

Image
Forester is ok. The campsites are very impacted. I wouldn’t have camped here if we didn’t have to.


Day 3, 7/29: Forester Lake to Big Arroyo
The trail near Little Claire Lake is sometimes indistinguishable. Just trust your map and compass and follow the lake around on its eastern side, and you’ll start to see indications of the trail. When in doubt, we looked for cut-outs in fallen trees. Then it’s a small saddle to get up and over, and what seemed like a lengthy decent to Soda Creek (maybe cause it was raining). You can travel quickly on the trail along Soda Creek. The creek is never all that far away from the trail, so feel free to go light on water and refill on-the-go. The trail descending from down to Big Arroyo is extremely rocky and sometimes difficult to discern washout from trail. Take your time, and keep an eye out for cairns.

Image
I don't remember if this is crossing Lost Canyon Creek as we entered Big Arroyo, or crossing Big Arroyo about a mile later. In either case, feet got wet.

Big Arroyo is amazing. I highly HIGHLY recommend taking this route. A ranger later told us that maybe 50 people per year—including hikers, rangers, and trail crew—travel through that canyon. The trail is “unmaintained,” so if you like a well-worn path that you can travel super fast on, you might not be a fan. And expect river crossings. It is so completely rugged and noticeably untouched. Make sure you have bear cans or are proficient in hanging, and be extremely mindful of your smellables at night. Heavy signs of bear and cougar activity throughout. Sadly, we never saw any of the above. The Big Arroyo was flowing strong when we went through, offering great views, water refills, and a great rapids soundtrack for us.

We stopped and camped on this large rock about 1-2 miles after entering the canyon. There were a number of areas prior to this that would have worked, but there isn’t as much as you continue past this. If you hit this rock and don’t anticipate having the time/energy to make it another few miles, consider calling it a night here. We hung our food from a large Sequoia just south/southeast of the campsite.

Image
I'm taking this photo facing southeast, the direction we'd come from. The trail is passing just to my left, the river is over that ledge to the right. And I believe that V shaped Jeffrey Pine in the left side of the frame is where we found a reliable branch to hang food from.


Day 4: Big Arroyo to HST jct to Nine Lakes Basin
We had to cross through some very marshy areas in Big Arroyo during the northern half of it. With diligence, it’s possible to find dryer footing. Keep an eye out for cairns. In some spots, the trail disappears into a marsh all together, but if you look how a cairn is aimed, you can catch sight of the trail on the other side. You can also travel up to the northeast into more wooded areas and circumnavigate the marshy areas. Yes, you are near the river the whole time, but it’s not always easy to get to, so seize opportunities to refill water.

We dropped my dad and his friend off at the campsite at the HST junction. We made it there by about 3:30pm, and they were going to rest up for the day and head straight to Little Five Lakes the next day. We pressed on to Nine Lakes. The 3-3.5 miles to Nine Lakes is not difficult, and you can travel at a pretty good clip.

Image
That look of concentration is one of someone who has dry feet for the first time in 36 hours and is NOT about to get them wet in the river. On all river crossings other than in Big Arroyo, it was fairly easy to find rocks to hop across and stay dry.

There really didn’t seem to be a “bad” way to get into Nine Lakes. Just veer off the trail and go for it whenever you feel like it. If you’re not a fan of off-trail travel, stay on the trail as it bends towards Kaweah Gap. It’ll come right up next to the drainage from the horseshoe lake, and at that point just follow that drainage. We noticed that some of the nicer looking camp spots in this lower part of the basin were on the western side, near the trail up to Kaweah Gap. If you’re hanging food, however, there are trees just to the east of the horseshoe lake. We found one lone dead tree and did an alternate PCT hang from there. We hand’t seen any signs of bears or large wildlife in quite some distance, so really were only hanging it to protect from marmots.

I don’t know if this is common, but the Nine Lakes weather can be intimidating. On our approach, the basin was completely covered in heavy grey clouds that cut off the tops of all the surrounding mountains. It never rained on us, and it cleared up completely by nightfall. Star visibility was astonishing. The next day, weather started off nice. Then dark clouds rolled in, and we heard thunder from the east side of the Kaweah Peaks Ridge. Again, it never rained on us. The clouds flowed down out of the basin and into Big Arroyo and beyond, and began storming. I suspect a lot of threatening weather builds in the basin, but gets swept out in a katabatic flow. Point is, don’t be quick to be scared outta here!

Image
On the approach into the dungeon clouds. I *think* that's Black Kaweah (please correct me if I'm wrong) that is totally engulfed on my right. Notice the pointy boulder at the bottom center of the frame...

Image
This is Kyle standing on top of that same boulder. This photo is taken at nearly the exact same time, but facing the opposite direction (south, along the HST). Much different sky


Day 5, 7/28: Nine Lakes to Little Five Lakes
With only 5-6 miles to cover to get to Little Five, we spent the first half of the day exploring. We hiked up to Kaweah Gap; from Nine Lakes, it’s only a few hundred feet. And without packs on, it took minimal time. I highly recommend making this little side trip.

Image
Morning light hitting Mt Stewart and the Western Divide

The view down the western side of the Western Divide is breathtaking. Once you get up to Kaweah Gap, follow the trail down to the west a little bit but once it veers more south for Precipice Lake, head straight west off the trail and cross-country your way up to the top of the next ridge (straight north of Precipice Lake)…

Image
the trail continues down to the left of the frame; instead, just go straight up the side of that ridge. Not difficult, maybe class 1-2

Image
the payoff

Image
back on Kaweah Gap. I'm looking to the east over Nine Lakes charting out our intended exploration. Neither of us noticed that placard behind me until after we looked at the photos. Does anyone know what it says??

I really wish we had more time to explore Nine Lakes. We got scared off by threatening clouds, so instead of climbing up to some of the other lakes, we hung out on a spot we liked along the drainage coming out of the southern end of the horseshoe lake.

Following the HST back to the Big Arroyo jct (where the others camped the night before) is a fast trek. The whole trip is slightly down hill, and you can do that whole leg in about an hour. The next part, however, up the Little Five, is BRUTAL. The switchbacks up out of Big Arroyo are steep, and dry, and relentless. Give yourself close to 3 hours to get from the Big Arroyo/HST jct to Little Five.

The others had already set up camp when we arrived. Little Five is extremely busy and highly impacted.

Image
Lake 10476

I would not have camped here if I didn’t have to. If the you logistically need to camp in the area, continue up the trail to the west towards Black Rock Pass. After the first set of switchbacks, the trail will level out a bit and come alongside a smaller lake. I noticed plenty of good sites up there, which would not have been plagued with the same crowds. Food-hanging trees were a little scarce, but present. And if you camp here, you can get right down to business getting over Black Rock, and already have the first few hundred feet of the ascent out of the way.

Image
camp near this lake instead


Day 6, 7/29: Little Five Lakes to Pinto Lake
Before making your push up Black Rock Pass, fill up water at the aforementioned lake. You don’t get another water source until you get down the west side of Black Rock, and even then, you’d have to go out of your way for it.

Image
Fruit-by-the-Foot is highly recommended for the tops of all mountain passes

Image
Coming down the west side of Black Rock, looking at Spring Lake, Cyclamen Lake, and Columbine Lake. Kyle and I originally planned to xc up through these three lakes and then exit via Sawtooth Pass, but our various setbacks made that an impossibility. Also, the climb from Cyclamen to Columbine looks like it might be just shy of ridiculous to do with packs on.

Image
descending towards Pinto Lake. There's a dry, barren humpback looking chunk of rock near the middle of the frame.

We swam in Pinto Lake. There might have been an easier way to get back to it, but I followed the trail around to the north/west of the bear box and then veered off it and sort of bushwacked my way back to the lake. Didn’t see an easier entrance, even when I was in the lake. The lake was great for swimming; refreshing enough to jolt some life back in you, but not too cold.


Day 7, 7/30: Pinto Lake to Timber Gap Creek
The river splits near Pinto Lake. The trail follows the river up and around to the north side of the rock outcropping. My dad and his friend followed the trail, and my friend and I followed the southern fork of the river for some off-trail exploring, with the plan to meet where the rivers rejoin. It was a lot of fun of light boulder-hopping, until we arrived at a very large, very abrupt waterfall, which doesn’t look like it should be so abrupt on the map. Short of backtracking all the way back to the campsite and trail, we couldn’t see a better route. We downclimbed the cliff just to the east of the waterfall. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. It was incredibly dangerous in spots, and even with some climbing experience, we were both pretty shaken in a couple spots.

Image
fun

Image
fun

Image
not good. You can see the trail switchbacks in the background.

Image
This is a photo from just after those switchbacks, near the junction where they waited for us. Kyle and I are in this photo making our way down the cliff; we saw them stop and take it. They didn't see us, and we're too tiny to find in the photo. From this view, we could see a more gentle slope further to the west (left, off camera) had we managed to traverse around/gone up and over, but we could not see that from our vantage point. It took us almost an hour from reaching the top of the waterfall, to reaching the rest of our group waiting at the bottom. I tossed my pack ~20ft onto some thick bushes at one point because I didn't think I could make the climb with it on.

If you have the time, this side of the river IS worth making an out-and-back hike out of. Hiking it from the campsites at Pinto to the waterfall and back would only take 1-2 hours, and would be a lot of fun. And not scary or dangerous

We were told by a ranger not to count on there being any water between Cliff Creek and returning to Mineral King. We were a little anxious about this because usually Pinto Lake to MK is a 1-day hike, but with a sick member of our group, we were stopping to camp somewhere prior to Timber Gap.

After some additional lolligagging, Kyle and I caught up to the others at Cliff Creek/Timber Gap jct.

Image
That's Cliff Creek in the background, last bastion of hydration. You can read their body language as, "How much water will I need, and how heavy is that going to be?" I don't know what they were all worried about, we were carrying their water. And as it turns out, we didn't have to worry all that much to begin with; I was conservative with my 2L of water and made it through the night and all the way through to exiting at MK the next day (or close enough to it not to care)

A third of a mile or so after finishing the switchbacks up from Cliff Creek, we found some campsites off to the left (east side) a hundred feet or so off the trail. It looked like something trail crew used. I wouldn’t suggest camping anywhere between MK and Cliff Creek, we only camped there out of necessity.


Day 8, 7/31: Timber Gap Creek to Mineral King
The ranger was only half-correct about the water situation. You can’t get water from Timber Gap Creek. It is a long way down a very steep ridge.

Image
Timber Gap Creek. Not getting water from there

There were, however, at least 3 drainages during the ~2 miles as you approach the switchbacks up to Timber Gap. They weren’t rushing by any means, but enough water that you could source water from them (I did not; my friend and I challenged ourselves to make it from Cliff Creek on just 2L/ea, and stuck to that). Mind you, the area had rain right before our trip started, and then rain went through on at least two of the days we were on the trail.

Note: If you’re approaching this MK-Timber Gap-Cliff Creek stretch anytime that there hasn’t been rain within 3-4 days, don’t count on any water between MK and Cliff Creek.

And that's is. All in all, we all had an amazing time, everyone made it home mostly in one piece, and we had plenty of lessons to take away for the next one.

- chris
Last edited by chandler325i on Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.



User avatar
chandler325i
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 18
Joined: Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:35 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31

Postby lambertiana » Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:18 pm

Looks like a great trip. I covered a lot of the same ground a week before you did. Like you, I enjoyed the sense of solitude in Big Arroyo.

There are plenty of bear-clawed trees in Big Arroyo, but we didn't see any, either.

You're crazier that I am if you went down those falls below Pinto. That would be quite the climb.

FYI, that V-shaped "sequoia" in Big Arroyo is a jeffrey pine. There are no sequoias in Big Arroyo. I looked at that tree when we passed by, and it was interesting how it had such huge branches that were hanging almost straight down to the ground.
User avatar
lambertiana
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 159
Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2010 3:13 pm
Location: Visalia, CA
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31

Postby chandler325i » Sun Aug 25, 2013 9:51 pm

Jeffrey Pine! thank you, corrected!

Yes, there were a lot of bear claw marks on trees in Big Arroyo, and Soda Creek as well
User avatar
chandler325i
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 18
Joined: Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:35 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Aug 26, 2013 8:40 am

Thanks for the report. I am surprised that bear canisters were not required. From Keweah Gap, another side-trip, Mt. Stewart is a fun 1-hour scramble (class 2-3) with fantastic views north into Pine Creek (Tamarack Lake). Too bad that Little Five Lakes is so crowded. May just be time of year - bet if you went after Labor Day, it would be different.
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2610
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31

Postby lambertiana » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:48 pm

We went over to Lake 10,192 in the Big Five Lakes instead of staying at Little Five Lakes and, as far as I could tell, had the entire basin to ourselves. There were a good number of people at Little Five Lakes when we passed through.

I knew I had a picture of that plaque at Kaweah Gap from a different trip a few years ago, here it is..

Image[/URL]
User avatar
lambertiana
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 159
Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2010 3:13 pm
Location: Visalia, CA
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Mineral King to Nine Lakes loop, July 24-31

Postby chandler325i » Wed Nov 13, 2013 3:00 pm

Thanks for the plaque close-up. Solves a mystery for us!

I just realized that all the photo links were broken. I must have accidentally deleted the Flickr album that they were all linked do. I'll try to get that fixed this week
User avatar
chandler325i
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 18
Joined: Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:35 pm
Experience: N/A


Return to Backpacking / Hiking / Camping



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Yahoo [Bot] and 15 guests