Mineral King Backpack with Perfect Pace
(9/10/08) Written by Dave B.
Photo Credits: Glen O.
It was the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and it was time for my first backpack with Perfect Pace. Carlos came over at 7:30am and we set off.
At some point, it seemed like we would be too early to meet everyone, so we stopped for a greasy breakfast and then proceeded onward. As we got to the curvy, slightly dangerous Mineral King Road and started twisting our way around it, it became clear that making it to the restaurant at 12:30 was going to be more difficult than expected. We were about 10 or 20 minutes late, but it sounded like everyone had difficulties with the drive, so no problem. I was still full from breakfast, but that wasn't going to deter me from eating a meal I didn't have to carry...
We pressed onward a few miles to the Mineral King ranger station, and then dropped everyone off at trailhead. A car shuttle was set up, while some group members started up the wrong trail. Fortunately, Glen caught up with them and crossed the canyon. With the group together, we began ascending in earnest, first up Farewell Canyon, then up the canyon to Franklin Lakes. It wasn't easy, especially for those having trouble with the altitude, but eventually the whole group was at camp and got to relax to a pleasant dinner.
In the morning the steep, heavily switchbacked trail leading up to Franklin Pass was the first obstacle; Erez and I decided to bypass that with some class 2 boulder-hopping up to the middle and upper Franklin Lakes (actually there was one little class 3 move...). We indulged in a little skinny-dipping in these pleasant, pristine lakes.
At the pass, the group relaxed, took some celebratory photos and snacked. Erez, ever adventurous, convinced me to join him to Florence Peak, which was another pleasant little class 2 scramble. The group was supposed to wait about a hour for us to catch up at Forester Lake-- it took a bit longer, but they didn't seem to mind the delay as the day's hiking was nearly over, and the lake is a really amazing spot. They even tolerated waiting a bit more for us to eat and swim.
We hiked onward and upward to Little Clare Lake. It was less than two miles away-- and crowded. But we found a great spot on the Soda Creek side of the lake. More swimming, and celebration of Erez's 30th Birthday with some excellent cake (made by Andy) and perhaps too much whisky.
The next day's hike was the longest, but anticipation led the group to start early and move fast. We descended to lovely Soda Creek, and climbed back to Lost Canyon. We charged on to the Big Five Lakes, where we set up a windy camp. It was a beautiful location where we could finally have a fire, but alas the wind and cold drove people into their tents and sleeping bags early.
The goal for the day was to take a little cross-country shortcut: rumor had it that the saddle between Big Five Lakes and Little Five Lakes was easy to cross, and it was. (Erez and I checked out upper Big Five Lake too -- a cold invigorating swim)
After picking up some last water at the Little Five lake, and cooling off, we started the serious task for the day: crossing Black Rock Pass.
Up we went. The views were wild: Whitney, the Kaweahs, many lakes. Eventually, having eaten lunch and soaked in the views, we had to descend to our final camp: Pinto Lake.
This lake is relatively small and is perhaps the warmest of the lakes we visited. Most people at least got in, and many enjoyed the immersive and sublime experience of being in the middle of a pool of water, with pinnacles and cliffs rising dramatically in all directions.
Dinner was delayed somewhat as a ranger struggled with a subterranean fire. Some of our group were recruited or volunteered to ferry water over to the fire.
We enjoyed our last dinner, hung out, drank the final bits of whisky, watched brazen deer, and eventually got tired and went to sleep.
We awoke for an early start: some had to make it all the way back to San Diego that day. The descent along the canyon was great, followed by a strenuous climb to Timber Gap. A short descent led us back to our cars. Packs were weighed and we began the tiresome drive back to civilization, in the form of Three Rivers. We ate a pleasant lunch, and drove home.