Once above the lakes, the weather took an ominous turn. Looking through Timber Gap, we could see clouds quickly moving through the gap and up Monarch Creek. By the time we reached the elevation of Glacier Pass, we were enveloped in fog and visibility was poor. There is a description of the Sawtooth Pass trail in Ron Felzer's Mineral King hiking guide that fits our experience. There are numerous bootleg trails going every which way up here and the actual trail is ill-defined.
Needless to say, it is still true. With the poor visibility, we promptly lost the pass trail and began traversing over hill and dale parallel to the strike of the Sawtooth ridgeline. After several hours of picking our way through very coarse granitic sand and boulders, we caught a glimpse of blue sky and we climbed vertically to the ridge. To our surprise, we were in the saddle at about 12,200 feet just north of the peak. Here we caught fleeting views of Columbine Lake and the Mt. Whitney ridgeline. Everything to the north, including the Kaweah Peaks and Chagoopa Plateau; and all views west were obscured by clouds.
At about 3:00 pm my son reached the summit and finally realized his childhood dream. We retraced our steps and reached Lower Monarch Lake in an hour and a half following a dusty descent in the Sawtooth granitic sands. After a short victory celebration, we elected to take the trail toward the Crystal Lake junction to save our knees. At Groundhog Meadow, we descended below cloud level and were treated to a wonderful sunset. We arrived at the trailhead at about 7:00 pm, weary, but satisfied with our experience.
We couldn't find the summit register to sign in. I guess we'll have to plan another trip!
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