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Mineral King, winter travelers?

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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Mineral King, winter travelers?

Postby JM21760 » Tue Dec 27, 2005 7:26 pm

About 17 years ago, I skied into MK from the road closure well below Atwell. We were still in the Transition zone, Oak trees and such. A storm developed, that was supposed to stay north. We ended up camped in Atwell, just off the road. Next day, encompassed the trek into the Valley. Breaking trail, we reached Silver City, "High Bridge", (Avo territory, :paranoid: ) Faculty Flat, and, the killer hill up to Monarch Creek. As darkness set in, as well as the storm, we reached the cabin. We popped in through the second story window, into the loft. After catching our breath, we dug a stairway out the kitchen door, up about 15 feet. A small fire was stoked in the wood stove, after checking the flue to be sure it was not capped by drifts.
My Brother in Law was supposed to be right behind us that day, after leaving work, maybe a couple of hours later than when we hit the trail. The storm intensified, big time. We figured Bro had stayed home after seeing the weather forecast.
9, or 10 O'Clock. Full on white out, wind whipping. Noises outside! We open the back (Kitchen) door. "Sasquatch" appears. It's Mike, looking like he just came off Everest on a bad day. 15 feet, down, into the cabin, strip down, new warm duds, hot drinks, a shot or two of "Schnort" spirits, a spell by the fire, and... All is good. Wild approach stories are exchanged, then bed.
During the night, the storm seems to rage on. Buried under 20' of existing snow, you still hear the Zephyer's whipping the cabin, avalanches cutting loose off "Potato Patch", and behind our roost, up towards the Mosquito region. Sounds a bit like a train, coming towards you. About 4 or 5 feet of snow out of this storm.

The next 4 days were sunny, and fine. Easy glide out to the Trucks.

So, has anyone else skied into Mineral King in the winter? Just wondering.



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Postby Shawn » Tue Dec 27, 2005 9:07 pm

Well I never have, but wanted to comment what a great experience that must have been!

Early in the spring (this year) I was up at MK not too long after the gate opened. A young ranger, which happened to be female, gave me a ride from the ranger station to the trailhead. Along the way she explained that she had the dubious honor of being the sole "winter ranger" in MK. Wow. I didn't know someone stayed during the winter months and thought what a great time that would be. She certainly seemed thrilled to have been there during the winter (and you'll recall it was a harsh winter too).

Anyway, I can't wait for that gate to open again as I don't think I could muster the energy to ski all the way up that road.
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Postby JM21760 » Wed Dec 28, 2005 12:44 am

Hey Shaun, my old Brother in law spent a winter at MK, back about 1980-81-82, one of those huge winters. He was "caretaking' the cabins that winter, kind of a contract with the cabin owners. We had split a cord of kindling for him, and layed in a lot more "stove' wood. He had his NPS radio for communication. The New Year's storm hit. NPS, as I recall, told him to plan on getting out, soon. It dumped so fast, and so hard, he had to bail. Everything was unloading into the Valley, non stop. He made it out, barely, skiing out in the failing light, crossing High Bridge in frightful conditions. A good 12 mile, balls out ski. Safe at home, in the Three Rivers area, he waited for 6 or 7 days for the storm to break.
A week later, as the weather did break, a good friend of his who has acre's of Orange groves, offered a ride. They jumped into the Helicopter, and made their way up the the East Fork drainage. Upon arrival in MK, the sight was atrocious. Confirmed later, a propane, (butane?) leak had developed in the cabin. Detonation ensued.
A blast crater, almost 30 feet deep in the snow pack, was all there was. I saw some pictures. The cabin was gone. What was left, burned. I'll tell ya, we were all crying. It was as if we had been kicked in the stomach, and then in the head.
Next summer, we went up to MK. We salvaged little things, door knobs, broken pieces of plates, that was about it. My Brother in law was left with the clothes on his back. This was his home.
The NPS was able to make a deal, with a cabin owner just uphill form his cabin. He took over this cabin, and his cabin was the replacement for restoring Natural Areas, per the NPS. Everything was square, and everything was good. The kitchen, and bedroom were backwards from the old cabin, and, at least, it seemed to confuse the Bears, a bit.
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Postby Skibum » Wed Dec 28, 2005 9:57 am

Ski there lots. I worked as the winter patrol Ranger in 96-97. I now conduct the snow surveys for the state. We ski up Farewell Canyon to Farewell Gap around 11,600 ft. (serious avalanche terrain). Also ski the Hockett/Quin survey out of Atwell. First survey is coming up in Jan. Woo Hoo! :D

JM, that "High Bridge" area can be extremely treacherous in high snow years. The winter I worked there was a good El Nino year and crossing that spot in the snow-cat was very scary :eek:

Shawn, that was Sarah Cowell, she's there again this winter. She is an awesome Teli/backcountry skier. She's also my surfing buddy. :cool:
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Postby Shawn » Wed Dec 28, 2005 12:58 pm

Sarah! That's her, terrific Skibum. What a small world. She reminded me of the ultimate professional, but very friendly at the same time. All of my other contacts with rangers have been quick "hi, how are you" greetings on the trail. Sarah should get a pay raise for PR if nothing else. Thanks for the insight. :)
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Postby JM21760 » Fri Dec 30, 2005 12:01 am

Skibum, it's almost like I might know you, but it's been a long time since I ran the hills down there. I can imagine a cat getting through High Bridge in deep snow, first tracks. Nice view to the right, yes? The Hockett Quinn circuit is a good trip. Do you spend a night out? One other question for everyone who might have traveled to MK in the late 70's. Anyone remember the old crank phone at the road end near Eagle trailhead? I thought it was so great. You cranked the phone, a dynamo of sorts, and an operator, usually out of Fresno, would come on the line. Then you could place your call. You would tell them the number, or, if within the park, give them a station number to connect to, like "Dorst Creek 2". When the real telephonic lines reached the valley, I ran the line from the termination, to my Brother in laws cabin. The first time the phone rang inside the cabin, I jumped like 20 feet! Very, very, out of place!. It's hard to believe MK has residential phone numbers. In the day, it was a baseball game on the radio, horseshoes, and gas mantle lighting. No phones, no TV, no electricity, no street lights, no computers of course, perfect. The evening show was a fire out back, sitting, winding down from the days ramblings, sharing stories about fishing, or hikes. Watching, as the coals glowed, and as the stars began to do the same. Ah Hell, I miss that so much. I really do.
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Postby Skibum » Fri Dec 30, 2005 8:44 am

Hey JM,

Yes, the Hockett Quinn trip is usually a 4 day trip. We ski to the ranger cabin at Hockett stay there 2 nights, then ski to the snow survey cabin at Quinn, stay 1 night, then ski out.
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Postby JM21760 » Tue Jan 03, 2006 4:34 pm

Skibum, be sure to fill us in on the Jan snow survey to MK! Have a careful trip!
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Postby Rockman » Tue Jan 03, 2006 7:38 pm

Here's a webcam for the MK area.

http://www.mk-webcam.net/

I'm sure most of you know about Sierra Visions, but for those that don't, they have a good webcam page listing.



Yeah, my first post since being back! :unibrow:
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Postby ERIC » Tue Jan 03, 2006 8:52 pm

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