Gem of the Great Western Divide, Sequoia National Park, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13141A, Backpacking


  • Roam through deep canyons and cross High Sierra passes amid classic alpine scenery
  • Camp at beautiful pristine lakes, below majestic peaks
  • Enjoy the spectacular scenery of the south Sierra in five trekking days


  • Lightweight cooking equipment and bear-proof canisters
  • Simple yet hearty meals
  • First-night trailhead camping and wilderness permits


DatesAug 12–17, 2013
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffLesley Kao

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Rising more than 4,000 feet above the subalpine valley of Mineral King is the Great Western Divide -- named because it separates the waters of the Kern and Kaweah Rivers. Mineral King is a 7.5-mile-long, one-mile-wide glacial valley in the southern Sierra Nevada. The valley floor lies at an elevation of 7,400 feet, while the granite peaks that rise above the head of the valley reach heights of 11,000 feet or more.

This is a trip that makes great demands -- big elevation gains and losses -- and returns equally great rewards; some of the most spectacular scenery in the southwestern Sierra. You will see lavish displays of wildflowers, watch morning light over Franklin Lake pick out the marbled colors on Tulare Peak, and gasp your way up high passes and then gasp again and again at the panorama revealed at the top. 

This relatively short trip spends five days in the field, which makes our packs a bit lighter and helps ease the rigors of hiking. 

Our route starts from Mineral King, at an elevation of 7,800 feet, and heads up over Franklin Pass. Before crossing the Divide at Franklin Pass, we'll spend the first night in the Franklin Lakes Basin. We will get a good look at a glacier, and enjoy a colorful sunset from our campsite near a grove of gnarled foxtail pines. The next day, on top of the Great Western Divide at Franklin Pass, the panorama sweeps beyond the jutting crags of Sawtooth Peak and Needham Mountain, to the Kaweah Range in the north, and across the Chagoopa Plateau and the Kern River trench, to the Whitney region in the east. Close by to the southwest looms Florence Peak.

As we continue down granite ridges and along shimmering lakes amid forests of lodgepole pine, we may hear the occasional chirp of the yellow-rumped warbler, the raucous call of Clark's nutcracker, or the jeering trill of the white-throated swift. Passing Little Claire Lake, we will head down the canyon of Soda Creek, and then up Lost Canyon. After recrossing the Great Western Divide at Sawtooth Pass, we will swiftly descend to Monarch Lake and back to our cars at Mineral King.


Day 1: We will meet at one of the campgrounds along the Mineral King Road on Monday, August 12. Please try to arrive at the latest, by 4 p.m.  We will spend the rest of the day getting to know each other before we have dinner at the campground.

Day 2: After a short, light trailhead breakfast, we will drive our cars to the nearby trailhead parking (7,800 feet) and start hiking. Our first camp is at Lower Franklin Lakes (10,400 feet), about six miles up the trail. The elevation gain is about 2,600 feet.

Day 3: We will ascend to Franklin Pass (11,700 feet) and descend steeply to Little Claire Lake (10,400 feet). The distance is about six miles, with an elevation gain and loss of about 1,300 feet.

Day 4: We will start the day descending on Soda Creek Trail before heading up Lost Canyon Trail to our campsite at 9,600 feet. The distance is about eight miles, the elevation gain about 1,000 feet, and the elevation loss about 1,800 feet.

Day 5: We will ascend Lost Canyon, passing Columbine Lake, to Sawtooth Pass (11,700 feet) and descend to Monarch Lake (10,500 feet). The distance is about eight miles, elevation gain about 2,200 feet, and elevation loss about 1,200 feet.

Day 6: We will descend to our cars at Mineral King. The distance is about four miles, with an elevation loss of about 2,700 feet.

We plan to be on the trail by about 8:00 a.m. each morning, and get into camp by mid afternoon. 

The route and itinerary should be regarded as preliminary, and might be subject to change. Snow conditions, runoff, progress of the group, camp site availability, and other factors may require the leader to make adjustments. Participants must be flexible. The daily itinerary may be changed due to unforeseen conditions or circumstances.

We expect to return to our cars by early afternoon on Saturday, August 17; however, we cannot guarantee a specific time. To be safe and allow enough time for the long drive out, we advise that participants not plan their return flights before the next day (August 18).



Getting There

Mineral King is located at 7,800 feet in Sequoia National Park, about 60 miles from the Central Valley town of Visalia. The village of Three Rivers is 35 miles east of Visalia on Highway 198. Allow at least an hour and a half to drive from Three Rivers to Mineral King. The distance is just 25 miles, but the dirt road is steep and reportedly contains 198 curves.

Airlines, buses, and Amtrak serve Fresno, 40 miles north of Visalia. Mineral King is about 290 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area (six and a half hours driving time) and 240 miles from Los Angeles (five and a half hours).

To assist participants who want to share rides with other trip members, we will provide a group roster well before the trip begins. Those arriving a few days early may enjoy camping at one of the several campgrounds in other sections of Sequoia National Park or at the park service campgrounds along the road between Three Rivers and Mineral King. Lodging is available in Three Rivers, or at the Silver City Resort on the Mineral King Road.

Accommodations and Food

The trip price includes first night’s (August 12) car camping. Our first meal will be dinner at the campground that night. Our last meal will be lunch on the last day (August 17).

Our meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) will be a hearty combination of meat, fish, and vegetables, including soup as the first course of each dinner. We will try to accommodate vegetarians. However other special diets may be difficult to accommodate.  If you prefer vegetarian meals or have other special dietary requirements, you are encouraged to contact the leader to see if your needs can be met. Snack bags are provided for each trip member to carry, so you will always have something to munch. Every effort is made to include a wide variety of nutritious and tasty foods to fuel our adventure. Trip members take turns serving on cook crews and performing various camp chores. The leaders will take care of the stoves and supervise the meal preparation.

Trip Difficulty

The trip is rated 3 on a scale between 1 and 5. That means that there will be pretty strenuous and rather easy sections. Our hiking distances will be between 4 and 10 miles per day. The maximum elevation gain per day is about 2,600 feet. Most of our hiking will be on established graded trails. The exceptions are the steep and rugged trail descending from Sawtooth Pass, requiring crossing on steep, loose sand. Wet creek crossings are possible. Those of us with a little more ambition will have the option of bagging Florence Peak and/or Sawtooth Peak. Both are Class 2-3 scrambles, leading hiking over talus with the occasional use of hands for balance.

In order to enjoy this trip, participants need to be in very good physical condition.  Previous backpacking experience is preferred, but strong novices might be considered. Regular aerobic exercise (such as treadmill, running, swimming, biking, or serious day hiking) during the 3-4 months before the trip is essential. Most importantly, you should plan for at least one weekend backpack trip wearing a loaded pack and the boots you want to use on this trip.

Most of our campsites are between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, so acclimatization to the high altitude is essential. Those who are not used to these elevations might want to consider arriving a couple of days earlier, and to acclimatize by doing day hikes in Sequoia National Park. There is plenty to see and to do and the leaders are happy to provide some suggestions.

Equipment and Clothing

In addition to all of the food, the Sierra Club will also provide all lightweight cooking gear (stove, fuel, pots, and pans), chlorine tablets for water treatment, group first-aid kit, tarp and the bear-proof canisters that we will use to store our food.

The following is a list of the gear and clothing you will need to provide and carry for the trip. More details will be provided in pre-trip bulletins. The leaders will be more than happy to give advice on selecting the proper equipment so please feel free to contact us before you go out and spend a lot of money. Novices who need to purchase all or most of their equipment should be aware that this might be a considerable expense.


  • Backpack (internal or external frame)
  • Comfortable hiking boots. They should provide good ankle support and need to be well broken-in.
  • Sleeping bag (temperature rating 25oF or below)
  • Sleeping pad (foam or ThermaRest)
  • Tent with rain fly and ground cover
  • Rain gear (pants + parka)
  • Fleece or wool jacket
  • Warm hat
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Hiking shorts or pants (1-2 pairs), no cotton (e.g. jeans)
  • Light-midweight long-sleeved shirt (no cotton)
  • T-shirt (cotton o.k.)
  • Comfortable clothes for camp
  • Change of underwear (cotton or synthetic)
  • Long underwear
  • Change of socks (hiking socks and thin liner socks underneath to prevent blisters)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses + sunscreen with SPF-20 or above and sun hat)
  • Personal first-aid kit (moleskin or adhesive tape for blister treatment, Tylenol)
  • Personal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap, your own toilet paper). Women should bring extra tampons, even if it is not the time of your regular period.
  • Small shovel
  • Eating utensils (plate, cup, spoon, fork)
  • Insect repellent
  • Water bottle(s) or canteen (two quarts total recommended)
  • Lightweight headlamp or flashlight


  • Sandals or Tevas (nice in camp or for stream crossings)
  • Bandana (handkerchief)
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking poles
  • Lightweight camera
  • Water filter or purifier if you do not want to use the chlorine tablets that we provide
  • Fishing gear

All clothing needs to be stored in waterproof stuff sacks or plastic bags. Sleeping bags need to be wrapped in a plastic bag to stay dry. If your tent is not freestanding, we recommend  bringing some cord to tie it down, because staking might be difficult in some places. If you have a large tent (for more than one person), you might want consider sharing it with another trip member in order to keep your pack weight down.

All participants should try to keep their personal pack weight below 25 pounds (not including hiking boots and water). The weight of the commissary gear is about 15 pounds per person. We will weigh all packs before we start, and people whose personal gear is too heavy might need to leave some non-essential items behind. Please think ahead about what you want to bring.

Please also keep in mind that you must have the additional capacity in your pack for about 1½ large grocery bags. This will be the volume of the commissary gear for each person. Most of it is sturdy (non-compressible).

Your gear will be much easier and safer to carry if it is tucked away inside your pack and not dangling on the outside.



  • U.S.G.S. 7.5 min quadrangle: "Mineral King” and “Chagoopa Falls"
  • TOPO! CD- ROM: "Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park"
  • Tom Harrison's trail map: "Mount Whitney High Country"


  • Secor, R. J., The High Sierra Peaks, Passes, Trails.
  • Scheidt, L., Hiking Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.


Kings Canyon National Park exists as a direct result of Sierra Club conservation efforts.  The Club actively lobbied Congress for years for the creation of the park. Some of the biggest names in Club history, including Ansel Adams and David Brower, contributed mightily in this effort, succeeding in 1940 with the initial park boundaries and later with the inclusion of Tehipite Valley and the Cedar Grove area.  Eight years later, the Club successfully blocked the construction of hydroelectric dams in the newly protected canyon.

Mineral King, in adjacent Sequoia National Park, is the site of one of the Sierra Club’s most important conservation victories.  The area’s early history involves mining and “claims” of ore, then settlement as a high and remote community.  After World War II, the Sierra Club actually proposed that Mineral King should be developed as a ski resort!  Fortunately, no developers were interested at that time.  Then in the 1960s, Walt Disney wanted to build a huge resort in the valley. After extensive internal debate, the Sierra Club decided to oppose the project.  The ensuing lengthy environmental battle eventually was won, and in October 1978, Mineral King was added to Sequoia National Park.

The Sierra Club Outings program provides an excellent opportunity for members to discuss current problems while also celebrating past conservation victories. Trip participants are encouraged to come prepared to discuss issues affecting their home communities.


Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.



Lesley Kao has been an active member of the Sierra Club since 1998. She has started backpacking after moving to California. Most of her trips are in the Sierra Nevada, including a through-hike of the John Muir Trail and many sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Occasionally, Lesley ventures into treks in Nepal, Tibet, and South America.

Assistant Leader:

Thomas Meissner has been backpacking in California, the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest, and on the East Coast since 1994. This includes a through-hike of the John Muir Trail, and several large sections of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He has done extensive trekking in Europe, New Zealand and Africa and led more than 100 backpack trips into California’s High Sierra and coastal mountains. Thomas has also been organizing and teaching the annual backpack beginners course of the local San Francisco Sierra Club Bay Chapter since 2001.

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