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Mineral King

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007 by

In late July of 2006 , I went with Ryan, Danny, Erin and Joe for an overnight backpack in Sequoia National Park’s Mineral King Valley. We started there, headed south over Farewell Gap, thus crossing into Sequoia National Forest, and arduously headed on to Bullfrog Lakes, where we spent the night. The two day total was 17 mi RT, with 3400′ of gain over both days (600′ of drop, so 2800′ climbing the first day). The starting elevation was 8000′, pretty much right on the money, and the elevation at the lakes was 10,700. Pretty out there. Also, marmots! Read more after the pictures.


marmot-scurries

pretty-field


goal
We are heading straight for the obvious low-point in the mountain wall in front of us, at the bottom of the V.

Erin, Joe and I headed up on Friday. The road into Mineral King Valley itself starts west of the “normal” park entrance, in Three Rivers, CA and is pretty vicious. But, we finally made it there, and cleverly snagged one of the last 2 walk-in campsites available. Good timing on our part, if I do say so myself. We tried to get our backcountry permit, but the ranger station closed earlier than we had expected. After a lot of effort trying to find a way to call Ryan, I succeeded, we made dinner, we sat around and talked for a bit, and we went to bed.

When we woke up, Ryan and Danny were there, but they hadn’t gotten in until 2 AM! But they were game, so we got up, ate breakfast, got our permit, drove the further couple of miles to the trailhead, and started on our merry way at about quarter past nine in the morning.

Right from the beginning, you can see where you’re headed to, so nothing much exciting happens to the view in that sense, although the view of the valley behind you gets progressively more spectacular, as you can see more and more mountain ranges behind you. None of this part of the trail is too steep, and there are a couple of fun stream crossings. A few switchbacks, each giving you a noticeable better view behind, and leaving you appreciably closer to the Gap.


small-hikers-edit
Walking along the trail, nice slope.

At 4 mi there is a trail junction to Franklin Lakes, which took us about 2.5 hours to get to. Everyone else we had seen on the trail seemed to be turning off at that point, as it and points beyond it are fairly popular destinations. We, being different and special, continued straight up the valley, but now having the trail all to ourselves. Shortly after this junction, at noon, we stopped in a nice (and growingly unusual) small copse of trees to have our lunch, and took an hour break.

After that, we just kept on up the valley, becoming more switchbacky all the time, taking another hour and a half to make it to Farewell Gap itself, at 6.7 mi from the trailhead, and at an elevation of 10,587′.


MK-from-gap
View down into Mineral King from Farewell Gap. Dude.

The view from up there was pretty impressive. Obviously, you’re at a saddle point, but you look down both ahead and behind at some amazing valleys, and ranges and ranges of mountains behind other mountains. And for me, personally, I really like being on borders of things, so this edgeline being the boundary between the park and the national forest was pretty cool, although of course there is no real physical meaning to that.

We stopped at the top for about half an hour, relaxing, taking photos, enjoying the view and feeling that nice sense that comes from having achieved a goal. After that time, we headed down the trail (more switchbacks!) heading into the bowl beneath us in the Sierra National Forest. We got the first turnoff we were supposed to find, but missed the second completely, so we had to backtrack for a couple hundred feet. Then, in a fit of pain, we proceeded to walk more or less straight up the slope for a mile to our goal. Ick.

I could only do this in clumps of 50 steps or so before I needed to stop and take a breath. It was pretty killer, and on top of it all, a storm was rolling in. At one point though, Erin and Joe and I were standing there taking a breather, and Joe and I were facing downhill, and Erin was facing uphill and she suddenly said “deer!”. We had no clue at all what she was talking about, and then two fawns came running down the slope past Joe. “It was about then that we figured out what she was talking about”.

We finally got to the top, and Erin and I , who had fallen behind, went to look for where the boys had gotten to, as the trail had petered out about the top. We found them near the lake, and proceeded to put up our tent right away, because the rain was about upon us. This was about 5 PM, so it took us just about two hours to get there from the Gap.


dinner
Dealing with fire is harder in nasty drizzle. Mmmmm, dinner.

We sat around for a bit, in general “collapse” mode, and then we started making dinner. It was tasty! Although anything is tasty after you’ve done a hike. Danny had also schlepped a bottle of port all the way up the hill, which was quite a bit crazy of him, but we really enjoyed it. Mmmm, port. We didn’t really play in the water or explore at all (even though it was a lovely little lake, and apparently there was a second lake just a little farther beyond the one we were at) because we were tired and it was also a fair bit cooler out than previously. It did clear up a bit and we watched the sunset, but we were mostly just tired, so we went to bed.

Next morning, we pretty simply packed up, ate breakfast, and left. Ryan and Danny and I decided to go back the way we had come, down the slope of doom and then back up the switchbacks, but Erin and Joe decided to make the traverse across the scree-riffic hillside over to Farewell Gap. (at one point we saw them stop for a bit, which they then explained was them trying to figure out just which way to go, and then realizing they *had the maps on them*).

Our two groups made it back to the Gap at around the same time, though Danny had to run back and rescue me a bit because we somehow (I have no clue how) missed a switchback up the hill and sort of had to hoof our way up as best as possible, which of course was much more difficult than walking up a hill.

Then just down and down and down into the Mineral King valley. We stopped for lunch at the same place we had stopped on the way up, and saw yet more marmots. (Marmots!). It got pretty hot by the end, which was sucky for us, and especially for Erin, so once done, we just set out home.


sunset

sunrise
sunrise, sunset

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