No avoiding the wet spot at Mineral King

4 Jul 1995 - by Debbie Bulger

The summer of '95 will be remembered not only for Kevin Costner's Waterworld but also for the Sierra Waterworld. Sequoia National Park the week of July 4 was no exception. We left Mineral King at 7:30 a.m. The crossing of usually placid Crystal Creek took 30 minutes. It was raging. Richard jumped across to a rock upstream from the trail. I handed the packs across balanced on a shaky, thin sapling log. Then, after deliberating for 10 minutes, I got up the courage to leap. Whew!

Next, we found Franklin Creek an uncrossable torrent. It splashed and crashed at a streep angle over the slippery rocks. As a result, we backtracked to a snow bridge over the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Then we bushwacked to a point above the confluence of Franklin Creek and the Kaweah where we set a fixed line across the River. I doned my O'Neill surfing shoes and set up the rope. Then we brought the packs over. I won't tell what I stripped down to, but only Richard was around.

All this took about three hours. We had traveled one and a half miles.

We never did see the junction of the Franklin Pass Trail and the Farewell Gap Trail. There was snow everywhere above 8600 feet . When we had to finally cross Franklin Creek, we were high enough to find another snow bridge. The first night we camped at Franklin Lakes just below the dam in the snow at 10,331 feet.

One the second day it took five and a half hours to make it to the top of Franklin Pass. Slow going. While we waited for the sun to soften the west-facing pass, (we did not take crampons) we replaced the valve on our Whisperlight to cure the anemic flame we had to deal with at breakfast. At the top of the pass we were buzzed by a fire spotter helicopter, perhaps sent by the rangers who tried to convince us not to attempt the backpack. We waved to show we were alive, and actually having fun.

With the very slow going and the corniced summit on Florence, we decided to save that peak for another time. It was already 3:30 p.m. and the clouds were building fast. The way down the other side was not clear with all that snow. By contouring we avoided the really steep descent, but were still impressed with our tracks from camp at the bottom. We found a great campsite in the snow among the foxtail pines.

On the third day we got slightly off route in the trees and ended up climbing and descending an extra 500 feet on the way up to Shotgun Pass. The view, however compensated, for the extra work. Descending Shotgun provided more excitement then we needed. There was melting snow everywhere. Steep cliffs were to the right and left. The 20 feet of exposed trail was totally washed out. Worse, the rotten snow was undercut with rushing water just where we wanted to contour.

We managed to downclimb some rock ledges covered with slippery pea gravel and running water. I lowered the packs using a boot ax belay to Richard who had downclimbed to the cravasse where the snow met the rock. Then, I joined Richard and, since I weigh less, leaped onto the snow hoping I wouldn't fall through. Rah! It held!

Next Richard tossed the packs to me and followed. We held our breath as we crossed the rotten mushy surface. We breathed a sigh of relief when we finally reached frozen Silver Lake. We were elated but exhausted when we found a patch of bare ground underneath a huge Western White Pine.

We had now crossed the Great Western Divide twice on the trip under more difficult conditions than either winter or summer. We were totally alone. If anything were to happen, it would be a long way to go for help. We took extra care in hanging the food bags.

Day four was uneventful and pleasant. We needed it. We hiked from Silver Lake to Bullion Flats just south of Farewell Gap. That evening we had to throw rocks at the aggressive marmot at our campsite. The furry creature was chewing on the strap on my ice ax, and even tasted some of the paint! During the day we had seen all sorts of flowers-paintbrush, columbine, forget-me-nots, johnny jump ups, not yet blooming lupines, and shooting star. Ceanothus, manzanita, wild onions, penstamon and some itty-bitty blues ones we couldn't identify. Many were growing all over the still untrod-upon trail.

On the last day we ascended Farewell Gap then dropped our packs at the wind-swept top and began to climb Vandever Peak. The wind increased to an estimated 60 mile/hour force. The route was exposed, and this trip was Richard's first experience with an ice ax. All I could picture was my husband sliding downhill unable to self arrest. And it would be my fault! I couldn't handle that. We retreated.

Back at the Farewell Gap saddle we prepared to glissade down the other side. Then we searched for yet another snow bridge. Another day and it would have been melted. In order to avoid time-consuming creek and river crossings, we headed cross country. The route took us through a forest of massive red firs where a herd of mule deer were bedded. The buck in charge was magnificant sporting at least an eight point rack. The deer trotted ahead of us, showing us the best way down off the steep ridge.

Back at the trail head we discovered hugh muddy bear paw prints all over the truck hood. And under the hood, the marmots had been at work munching on the distributor wires. Even with yards of electrical tape repair work, we limped down to Three Rivers and then home. The garage charged about $100 for the marmot lunch. A small price to pay for an extreamly good adventure.

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