A Mineral King Double

22 Sep 1995 - by Richard Vassar

This was a solo trip, so on the first day of autumn, 22 September 1995, with the support of family and friends, I left the Bay Area for Mineral King on Friday afternoon. A six hour drive, with a stop for dinner in Visalia, got me to the Cold Springs Campground in Mineral King. I found a walk-in site to my liking at the far end of the campground and set up camp.

On Saturday, I did a warm up hike to an alpine basin containing Eagle Lake. One of the interesting aspects of this hike was that the trail passed by a large sinkhole into which Eagle Creek flowed and disappeared.

Peak day, Sunday, promised to be a long one, so I got up in the dark, eating breakfast and packing my pack by headlamp. I drove to the Eagle/Mosquito trailhead and started hiking on the Franklin Pass trail at 6:15 AM. It was just light enough to see the ground underneath my feet. The morning was cool, with frost on the ground. I saw 9 deer (7 does, 1 buck, and 1 yearling) on the way to Franklin Lakes. There was still a plenty of water but there was no difficulty with the stream crossings of Crystal Creek and Franklin Creek-quite a different story from Debbie Bulger's trip in July. I passed Franklin Lakes at 9:00 AM and met the first group of hikers I had seen about half a mile above the lakes. I pressed on reaching Franklin Pass, 8.6 miles from the parking area at about 10:30 AM. Where the trail crossed, there was a large snowfield on the south side of the divide which was a challenge for backpackers as the snow was very firm. From Franklin Pass I headed east through an area with large rock outcroppings toward the base of Florence Peak. The easiest route, as I soon discovered after trying to find a route between the large rocks, is to stick to the scree just below the rocks on the south side of the pass. Two sizable snowfields remained on the northeast ridge of Florence Pk. On the way up I went below and to the south side of the two snowfields. Near the summit, large boulders made the climbing borderline class 3 in spite of the class 2 rating in Roper and Secor. I summited at noon. There was a excellent view from the summit (elev. 12432 ft) with Franklin Lake and Tulare Peak below and the Kaweahs to the northeast. I found the register box (an ammo can) and unfortunately both register notebooks were damp. I signed in and noticed that a few parties had done some of the technical routes on the northwest face above Franklin Lakes earlier this year.

On my way down, I went a different route staying to the north of the snowfields. This proved more difficult than the route up, but soon I was back at Franklin Pass and the trail. It still looked like there was plenty of daylight left so I decided to go for Rainbow Mountain to complete my double. After a short hike back down the trail, I left the trail and headed diagonally up a mixed scree and rock slope to the southeast ridge of Rainbow Mountain. Once on the ridge, the climbing was easy all the way to the summit. I summited at about 2:15 PM. There was a good view from the summit (elev. 12043 ft.). I found the trail register in another ammo box. It was one small notebook going back to 1982. Apparently Rainbow Mountain is not climbed all that often (a result perhaps of people not wanting to climb a peak that isn't on the SPS list). Fourteen parties had climbed the peak this year, not many when you consider that it is just above popular Franklin Lakes. In some years only 4 or 5 parties had signed the register. After taking some photos, I took the direct route down to the lake. The mountain was steep and I ended up doing a lot of scree glissading. If you try this route just remember to watch out for the cliffs. After refilling my water bottles at Franklin Creek below the lake (it was a warm day), I hiked quickly out along the trail, reaching the parking area.

It was a long day up two fine Sierra peaks (12 hours, 19 miles, 5400 ft elevation gain).

On Monday, I decided to hike up to Crystal Lake before driving home. When I arrived at the trailhead there were no other cars at the Sawtooth-Monarch parking area. Wow, this place really clears out after the weekend. I had a beautiful hike into isolated Crystal Lakes. The weather was alternately cloudy and sunny with the mountain summits sometimes shrouded in fog. Mineral Peak (elev. 11550 ft.) is a striking peak just north of Lower Crystal Lake. The class 2 route from Crystal Lake in Secor's book appears to start at Upper Crystal Lake (there is a use path marked by a duck branching from the trail just below Lower Crystal Lake) and ascends the southeast slope. Secor mentions that the summit rocks are best approached from the south. I can't vouch for that since I didn't have time to go for the summit. A loop trip including Monarch Lakes, Mineral Peak, and Crystal Lakes looks like an intriguing possibility. According to Browning's book, Sierra Place Names, prior to the acceptance of its current name Mineral Peak was sometimes called "The Matterhorn" since it resembles that peak from certain angles. After lunch, I hiked back out to the trailhead. I drove back to the Bay Area, arriving about 9:00 PM. All in all, the trip was a highly enjoyable fall weekend getaway to the High Sierra.

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