Florence Peak

6 Sep 1998 - by Phyllis Olrich

Skies were partly cloudy as six weary travelers gathered at the Mineral King Ranger Station in the morning hours of Friday, September 4. There was Debbie Benham, trip leader; Scree Editor Bob Bynum; Desert Peak Survivor Brad Mayer; newcomers Don Hobler and Noriko Sekikawa; and your reporter, Phyllis Olrich. The night before, Debbie, Noriko, and I had found a first-class campground just west of Three Rivers called Horse Creek Campground on the shores of Lake Kaweah. The steep entrance fee ($14) was worth it as far as I was concerned due to the excellent shower facilities. We breakfasted at the quaint Noisy Waters Restaurant in Three Rivers, entertained by the activity surrounding a string of hummingbird feeders outside our window.

In the interest of scouting out the local accommodations, Bob had treated himself to a cabin in Silver City, which he subsequently dubbed the "Unabomber's Cabin," due to its many fine amenities, no doubt.

Following a lecture on minimum-impact backcountry travel and camping techniques, we headed for the trailhead for our last- minute packing. After a short while a large group of young to middle-aged men arrived and began preparing their packs also; my curiosity was peaked. Turns out they were headed for Franklin Lakes also, to hold a somewhat unusual bachelor party. We vowed to arrive at the lake before them in order to nab the best campsite next to one of the three bearboxes that have been placed there.

The trail up to the lake is lovely and gradual, not like the barren, hot, exposed, steep slogs you see on the east side; several uneventful stream crossings accentuated our journey. From the 7,800' trailhead at Mineral King, we climbed to about 10,000' to lower Franklin Lake. As we ascended into the mist, visibility lessened and raingear was unpacked. Moisture from a very unusual semitropical storm kept us cool. I hurried ahead, fearing the approaching bachelor party, and eventually spied a sign by the trail declaring "no camping within 100 feet of lake." But where was the lake? I looked down and all I could see was a white shroud covering what could possibly be a lake. As the others arrived, the fog began to lift and lo and behold, we saw our beautiful alpine lake and a perfect campsite about 100 yards away.

We set up our tents and went down for what would become our traditional afternoon nap. The weather was very unstable and we weren't sure what the weekend would hold for us. Saturday morning dawned bright and promising however, so we all hit the trail by 7:30 am. There was only one problem. We could not see the top of Florence Peak, our destination; again, mist enveloped our goal.

The trail to 11,400' Franklin Pass featured more of the same gradual wide switchbacks. In no time, we sat resting atop the pass, admiring the top of the peak, which we could now see clearly. I have observed that PCS can turn any class 2 mountain into a class 3 climb and this trip proved no exception. We chose to cling to the ridgeline, its large granite rocks affording us ample opportunities to practice our bouldering and route finding skills. Everyone enjoyed the climb immensely; we reached the summit of 12,432' Florence Peak before 11:00 am. The view was stunning. Brad describes the weather as "less than perfect, even though it was at its 'most perfect' at the summit. There was no wind, but a huge bank of clouds, moving in an unusual northwest direction, was pouring over the Sierra crest about 50 miles to the east."

We descended on a more southeasterly slope, which proved to be the true class 2 route. The distant roll of thunder forced us to abandon Debbie's original plan to descend to Silver Lake, catch the trail that approaches Farewell gap from the south, bag Vandever Mountain, descend into Farewell Canyon, then head back to camp on the same trail we had come in on the day before, completing a big loop. Instead we took the conservative route and headed back to camp. Our timing was perfect; we crawled into our bags just as the afternoon sprinkles hit.

Saturday evening provided an inspiring red-hued sunset as we all spontaneously gathered on a large granite slab overlooking the lake. Good conversation flowed and I must say we were more rowdy than the bachelor party camped behind the ledge above us; the peculiar scent of their "campfire" wafting by us was, no doubt, nothing more than a traditional herbal remedy for what they had assured us would be a hard night of high-altitude revelry.

Brad was hot to try for Vandever the next morning, but the rest of us were fixated on brunch at the We Three Bakery in Three Rivers, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by a local camping nearby. Brad eventually succumbed to temptation and hiked out with us. Noriko stayed behind to enjoy another day in the mountains. I was very impressed by her determination. She just moved to the Bay Area from New York about two months ago and has already climbed Mt. Shasta! Florence was her first Sierra peak and I'm sure not her last.

Hiking out was a totally different experience than the hike in. We could see from whence we came! I could have been on a completely different trail, for all I knew. But clouds were gathering and I wouldn't be surprised if it did shower again that afternoon.

We Three Bakery did not disappoint -- breakfast is served all day. The five of us proved that we live to eat, not the other way around.

All commended Debbie on her excellent planning and leadership skills. This was a glorious trip; it may sound trite, but everyone had a wonderful time. We laughed, we shared ourselves, we bonded, we experienced the awe-inspiring beauty of the wilderness, we bagged a peak.

Bob Bynum adds:

Silver City Resort & Thursday Evening Hike

This was my first PCS trip of the season and first trip to Mineral King. I wanted to spend Thursday night at as high an elevation as possible to acclimate. and I wanted to know where I would stay rather than take a hit or miss shot at finding a campground. Furthermore, I didn't want a long drive on the day of the trip. My first thought was to spend the night at the Cold Springs campground. After discovering this campground operates on a first come first serve basis, I decided to stay at the Silver City Resort which is about 2 miles from the trailhead and is at 6935 FT.

Their accommodations consist of varying sizes of cabins which range from one double bed to a two bedroom, four bed, with kitchen. Also they have a store and restaurant. My cabin had one double bed, a sink, a wood stove, three oil lanterns, and no electricity. These cabins are rustic, yet comfortable. It was especially nice to have when a thunderstorm hit shortly after my 3:40 PM arrival. After napping through the storm, I drove up to the trailhead for scouting purposes and then went for an evening hike on the Timber Gap trail. This lasted for about an hour and half when the rain started again. At this point I returned to Silver City, had dinner, and then went to bed to rest up for the next day's trip. For a future trip, we could rent a few of the large cabins and go on various day hikes.


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