Just under 50 miles (plus whatever miles traveled in 9 Lakes Basin)
Mostly on trail...except 9 Lakes Basin & Sawtooth Pass "use trail"
Chased out of Nine Lakes Basin for the second time in two days due to thunder and lightning just seemed like an ill omen for this trip. However, Gary and I just don't seem to get the message sometimes....:) If you are the kind of person who likes to be "out there" in the weather, energized by elements totally out of your control, hiking by topographical map and compass....getting by on only what you can carry on your back for shelter, food and clothing ...well, you just don't always take the hint that maybe you should be turning around, retreating and throwing in the towel. I'm almost always glad I didn't throw in the towel...as in this trip that took us all over but where we wanted to go!
Nine Lakes Basin beckoned to us for some time before we actually planned a trip there. Seemed like an easy adventure...on trail most of the trip. Arriving at 9 Lakes Basin in a couple of days whereupon we would meander happily off trail up the canyon oohing and ahing over each of the gorgeous 9 lakes we explored. I envisioned sunny skies and green grasses dotting the lovely flat approaches to each lake, and an idyllic relaxing lunch by a charming lake each day. I'd be taking pictures to later look back on, while Gary sat quietly reading his book. Premade mental images don't always pan out though....
|Sunny trail out of Sawtooth towards Timber Gap|
The first few miles actually turned out to be quite hot, and more than we bargained for. An uphill unrelenting climb of 2.2 miles took us from the Sawtooth parking area at 7,800 feet, to Timber Gap at 9,400 feet. That amount of elevation gain is not that much really...unless you are in intense heat. Ah, the shade of Timber Gap was just perfect for a quick snack and to rest our hot tired feet! And, as you can see from the picture, just as we reached Timber Gap, the hot sun gave up it's battle to foglike clouds. Never anywhere else we have hiked have we experienced such swiftly changing elements! Each trip to Mineral King has astounded us....foglike clouds can roll in and roll out every few minutes with a rapidity that is just amazing! You just have to have your camera at the ready to capture any of it!
|Clouds rolling over Timber Gap|
|Near Pinto Lake on the approach to Black Rock Pass|
|Hiking thru fields of lovely "Bigelow's Sneezeweed"|
The next morning, refreshed and energized by a sound sleep under the stars, we packed up and headed out once more for unknown territory. Most backpackers go to great lengths seeking out new trails they've never traveled, and this was one such trip for us. After a mile or so, we reached Black Rock Pass, and stayed a bit to savor views in all directions. However, the trail soon called, so off we went before long and in a short day's hike stopped at Five Lakes Basin for the night. Five Lakes Basin is home to one of a handful of backcountry ranger huts in the Sequoia Kings Canyon backcountry. However, the ranger was out on patrol and the hut locked up, so we had the lake we chose all to ourselves for the night. Perfect! Solitude is one of the sparkling gems of backcountry travel and we feel quite lucky when we find it!
|A thick blanket of clouds had rolled in....|
|A break in the storm allowed for a quick shot of camp|
Eventually, the storm passed and we were able to open our bivies and enjoy the night sky at least. In the morning we packed up and wandered back up canyon again to Nine Lakes Basin. With an eye on the distant clouds, we decided not to take the morning sun for granted, and we packed our little lightweight silnylon daypack, stashed our packs behind some rocks and scurried up into the Basin. Oh what a lovely spot we found! Each lake a gem, each section of Basin between the lakes a wonder to explore in and of itself. We could indeed have spent days enjoying this amazing spot. We moseyed from lake to lake oohing and ahing over the deep turquoise blue of the largest lakes just as I had envisioned, and delighted in the easy travel up the canyon that we had all to ourselves. Once again though, the weather would chase us out. Clouds moved rapidly in, and as we decided to head back to our packs we heard the first clap of thunder in the distance. Making a hasty retreat once again, we vowed to come back and spend more time here...it would not be this trip however.
|Clouds rolling in over Nine Lake Basin|
|Taking a last look back at enshrouded Nine Lakes Basin|
|Taking pics here and there...|
|Dee just plain having fun!|
The rest of our trip was anticlimatic. No raging storms, no sleeping near old graves. However, we explored closely this incredible area on our hike out. Hiking past the old cabin in the Big Arroyo, we followed the river down and eventually turned West and hiked up beautiful Lost Canyon. Climbing up to lonely and austere Columbine Lake we spent another lovely night in the wilderness before going over Sawtooth Pass. The trail over Sawtooth Pass is an unmaintained unofficial trail, thus not well engineered, nor is it marked. The trail over the pass is however, fairly easy to follow as it is well used. Once over the top though, the fun really begins. The sandy west side of the pass leading back to the trailhead gets quite deep and steep. At one point Gary and I were running and pushing off into giant leaps downward, feeling much like we were on the low gravity of the moon! Each step was a huge springing step down the hill. Yes, I did catapult myself into a huge slide at one point...landing ignominiously on my bum! However, it was just too much fun and I sprang back up and took some more giant leaps! Sawtooth's deep sand provides great cushion for falls. And for the first time on our entire trip on this last day, we finally saw other hikers. As we careened past them on our downhill slolam course, Gary and I remarked quietly how lucky we were to be going downhill in that deep sand and not trying to slog up through it. We have since been back to Sawtooth Pass....but never uphill on the sandy west side!
We have returned to Mineral King many times to hike over the years. A close friend first told me about this area and that it was her favorite. It has steadily risen in rank each trip to become one of mine. Go explore Mineral King and find the most fascinating weather in the Sierra, wonderful wildflowers, perhaps a grave or two....and maybe it will become one of your favorites too.
|Hard to get lost in the Sierra Nevada with landmarks like Sawtooth Peak guiding you...|
|Looking up towards Columbine Basin|
|Gary playing in Columbine Lake|
|We always manage to find the most amazing flat spots...|
|Dee on Sawtooth Pass, Mineral King, Sequoia|
|Dee on the top of the steep Sawtooth Descent...still on fairly hardpack sand...|
|Gary negotiating the steep westside of Sawtooth Pass|
|Dominating Sawtooth Peak from the Westside|
|End of the Trail.|