Archives -> Mineral King - Sequoia National Park

Mineral King is located in southern Sequoia National Park. In late august, 2009 I spent several days hiking and backpacking a loop starting and ending at the Sawtooth trailhead in Mineral King. Consisting of 3 high passes and dozens of High Sierra Lakes, there is reason this loop is one of the more popular backpacking routes in the area.

Standing on driving induced stiff legs, my neck hurt looking up towards Timber Gap. But with spirits high I hoisted my pack and charged up the Sawtooth Pass trail. I could hear, smell, taste, and feel the heat bearing down on me, mid-day on an open slope in a hot spell was a brutal place to be, but for some reason I liked punishment. The squeal of chipmunks broke me out of my trance, and I looked up to see a Cooper's Hawk sail past through the forest, the ground erupting with warning calls along its path. 1700 feet up to Timber Gap, and 2500 feet down I was filling up my water bottle and belly along Cliff Creek, sitting next to a seemingly unclaimed pair of jeans and socks drying in the sun. My hopes of making it far up Cliff Creek fading, I threw down my pack near Pinto Lake, exhausted and dehydrated.

It didn't take much effort to sleep in the next morning. Tired, lazy, and packed I began the climb up the canyon. I didn't think twice about Black Rock Pass until I stood at its base. Massive switchbacks slowly stole my strength from me, and by noon I stood at its top exhausted, being blasted by a cold wind coming up canyon. A hawk soared overhead, enjoying the stiff breeze as it sailed past. A few hours later and somewhat recharged, I was rounding several of the Little Five Lakes, fishing all the while but coming up empty. Sunset moved in, and later that night I was listening to the movement of several nocturnals while enjoying the Kaweah's bathed in moonlight.

A relatively easy day on schedule, I stopped to visit Big Five Lakes, not having time to explore as much as I liked but getting my fill nonetheless, along the way a few pieces of garbage made their way into my backpack. Before long I was eating PBJ's in Lost Canyon. With each stride higher the more desolate the landscape became. sierra graniteLarge sculptured cairns led the way around Columbine Lake. The wind packed a punch, and seemed to constantly pound every campsite available. Before long it got to me, dissatisfied with my first choice I found myself moving camp to a less secluded but more protected spot. Brookies were caught every other cast, but sheer laziness stopped me from a nice trout dinner. The wind finally started dwindling when I ducked into my tent that night.

I don't know what kept me awake that night, my mind racing or the rustling outside my tent. Curious, I stepped outside to see the ground scatter in all directions. Headlamp on, I thought the mice were going to walk off with my backpack on their shoulders, like ants marching back to their nest. What they were after I don't know, but my vestibule came in handy that night and the infestation went away after I moved some of my things inside.

I dreamt of Sawtooth Pass, and hauling myself up the east side the next morning I kept thinking "this isn't as bad as I've heard". Less than thirty minutes later I stood on top of the pass, tucked into the leeward side of a rock enjoying the views. Five minutes later I was cursing to myself "this is worse than I've heard". I descended down the west side, sliding and cursing as I went. Off and on the gravel gave way to rock, then to slippery gravel on top of slippery rock. Coincident with each sudden change I noticed the deafening crunch under my feet come and go. At last I was at Monarch Lake, nursing my feet back to life. It wasn't too long before they were punished just a bit more, but finally relieved as I slipped off my socks at the trailhead. Thirsty and exhausted I opened the hood of my truck to find the ranger was spot on: late season the marmots do find treats other than hoses, asbestos, and fan belts.