Mineral King Majesty, Sequoia National Park, California
- Hike a spectacular and challenging route, mostly on trails
- Make camp in solitude at high alpine lakes, and take an afternoon dip with views of the surrounding peaks
- Explore or relax on two planned layover days
- Great meals for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike
- Cooking gear and bear canisters
- All meals and snacks from dinner on September 7 to lunch on September 16
|Dates||Sep 7–16, 2014|
|Difficulty||4 (out of 5)|
Resting beneath the towering peaks of the Great Western Divide, the remote valley of Mineral King is the entry point for our nine-day trek into the southern Sierra high country. Here, at the headwaters of the Kaweah River's East Fork, we'll start and finish a spectacular and challenging adventure that explores the high passes, deep valleys, and pristine alpine lakes of this magnificent region. We'll travel mostly on maintained trails, though we may occasionally depart short distances from the trails to achieve greater solitude at our campsites. Our 46-mile loop traverses the Great Western Divide twice at high passes, which provide vast panoramas of peaks and valleys, including the nearby Kaweah Peaks Ridge and glacially carved Big Arroyo. Late summer is a wonderful time to visit -- the lighting and colors are beginning to change, and the crowds are reduced from the mid-summer peak. Two planned layover days will provide time to climb a peak or just relax.
Join us if you're looking for spectacular scenery, relative solitude, and a mostly-on-trail adventure with a group of experienced fellow hikers! Please don't hesitate to contact the leaders if you have additional questions after reading the full trip description.
Our hiking schedule is not rigid. How far we get each day and where we camp depends on how we feel, the weather, and other factors outside of our control. Flexibility is important. The itinerary described here should be taken as a general plan, and the actual route and schedule may well depart from this plan.
Day 1: Our trip officially starts at 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 7, when we will meet at a campground near Mineral King in Sequoia National Park. A campground dinner will be served this evening, and campsites will be provided for the night.
Day 2: We will serve breakfast, make final preparations, and then drive the short distance to the Mineral King trailhead (7,820 feet), where we will begin our hike. On this first hiking day we will trek approximately six miles and gain about 2,500 feet of elevation to reach Franklin Lakes (10,330 feet), set in a cirque beneath Florence and Tulare Peaks. Here we will make our first camp.
Days 3-4: We will climb another 1,400 feet on trail to cross the Great Western Divide at Franklin Pass (11,720 feet), where we'll pause to enjoy panoramic views of surrounding peaks and valleys. Then we'll descend some 1,500 feet on the eastern side of the divide to camp at one of several lakes in the area. Here we plan to take a layover day to explore or climb a peak or relax.
Day 5: This day we will descend nearly 2,500 feet into Big Arroyo, a broad, U-shaped, glacial valley. We'll hike a short distance upstream along Big Arroyo Creek before making camp. This should be our only camp that is significantly below 10,000 feet.
Day 6: We'll continue up our glacial valley, climbing steadily alongside Big Arroyo Creek. We'll ascend nearly 1,500 feet before reaching the junction with the Black Rock Pass and Little Five Lakes Trail, where we'll make camp not far from an old patrol cabin.
Days 7-8: As we traverse upward on the southwest wall of Big Arroyo, we'll be rewarded with panoramic views back across the valley to the towering Kaweah Peaks Ridge. We'll stop to enjoy the vistas from Little Five Lakes, dramatically nestled against the Great Western Divide, before crossing one more ridge into the Big Five Lakes basin. Our climb this day is roughly 1,000 feet in about six miles. We'll spend two nights here, taking another layover day to relax and explore -- perhaps climbing Hands and Knees Pass for more spectacular views.
Day 9: We start our trek out of the high country by traversing to Lost Canyon and then hiking upward alongside Lost Canyon Creek. We'll make our final camp somewhere along the creek, or perhaps as high as Columbine Lake.
Day 10: On our last day, we'll again cross the Great Western Divide, this time on a sandy, indistinct path over Sawtooth Pass (11,720 feet), returning here to the Kaweah drainage. Then we'll steadily descend some 3,400 feet to the floor of the peaceful Mineral King Valley, which remains today a very different place than imagined in Disney's plans for a ski area.
Our trip officially starts at 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 7 at a campground near Mineral King in Sequoia National Park. Mineral King is located at the end of a winding 24-mile road that heads east from the town of Three Rivers on the western side of the Sierra Nevada. Detailed directions to the campground will be provided in pre-trip letters.
The closest major airports are in Fresno (100 miles), in the Los Angeles area (250 miles), and in the San Francisco Bay Area (285 miles). Trip members flying from other parts of the country should consider sharing a rental car or arranging rides from one of these airports. We will provide a trip roster with contact information to help facilitate shared travel arrangements.
Accommodations and Food
We will plan a diverse and appealing menu to accommodate both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Responsibility for cooking will be shared among the trip members. Our first meal will be dinner on Sunday evening, and our last meal will be lunch on the final day.
The overall difficulty of the trip is rated 4 on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 denotes the least difficult and 5 the most difficult trips). Altogether, we will hike about 46 miles, almost entirely on maintained trails. We plan to hike six to ten miles on travel days, and we intend to take two layover days.
Our greatest elevation gain will come on the very first day, when we will climb 2,500 feet from the Mineral King Valley to Franklin Lakes. Three of the subsequent days will have elevation gains between 1,400 and 1,700 feet. The total elevation gain summed over seven planned moving days will be about 9,000 feet.
Excluding layover-day hikes, the maximum elevation we will reach will be 11,700 feet, which we will achieve twice, first when crossing Franklin Pass and later when crossing Sawtooth Pass. All but one of our planned camps are at elevations of about 10,000 feet or higher.
Participation in this outing requires that you be experienced and in shape, and have reasonable expectations for the trip. Recent backpacking experience and very good aerobic conditioning are essential. Our objectives are to enjoy some spectacular country and to complete the trip safely as a group.
If you have questions or have concerns about whether this trip is appropriate for you, please do not hesitate to contact the leaders.
Equipment and Clothing
A list of suggested personal equipment will be sent to all participants. If you would like the list before signing up, let the leader know and he will send you a copy. Each person should keep the weight of personal gear below 25 pounds so that, with the addition of approximately 15 to 20 pounds of commissary equipment and food, total pack weight will be less than 40 to 45 pounds at the start.
We will provide all food and cooking equipment, but you must bring your own personal eating utensils. Some of the group equipment is relatively bulky, particularly pot sets and bear canisters. Your pack should be sufficiently large to carry an item about the size of a full paper grocery bag (alternatively, four or five one-gallon milk jugs) in addition to your personal gear.
Although Sierra summers are generally relatively dry, you still must be prepared for rain. For shelter, tents are strongly encouraged, and lightweight waterproof tarps are the required minimum. Where possible, we will help participants contact other trip members who want to share shelters. For clothing, you should bring a waterproof jacket and rain pants rather than a poncho.
Please plan on bringing your own map and compass -- not only is this a matter of safety, but you will have a better appreciation of where we are going and where we have been.
A number of available maps provide a good description of our route, including any of the following alternative choices:
- The combination of three USGS 7.5-minute quadrangles: Mineral King, Chagoopa Falls, and Triple Divide Peak.
- The Mt. Whitney High Country map published by Tom Harrison Maps (www.tomharrisonmaps.com).
- The two-sheet map set for the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia/Kings Canyon Wilderness published by the U.S. Forest Service.
- Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. The Mountaineers. An excellent general reference to trails, cross-country routes, and climbing routes in the Sierra Nevada.
- Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Heyday Books. An excellent field guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra. We will bring a copy of this guide for use by the group.
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.
Once a bustling 19th-century mining community, and later a mountain retreat for city dwellers escaping central California's summer heat, Mineral King in the 1960s and '70s was at the center of a major conservation battle over Walt Disney's plan to develop a major new ski area. Ultimately, protection of the valley won out and Mineral King was annexed to Sequoia National Park in 1978. Much of the valley was designated as wilderness in 2009. Saved from development, the Mineral King Valley today remains a remote and peaceful portal to the high country.
In 2014, America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, plus the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. The Sierra Club’s outings program is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park.