Florence, Needham, Sawtooth (N), Vandever

30 Aug - 2 Sep 2002 - by Ron Hudson

Five of us started up the Franklin Lakes trail Saturday morning after we lightened packs to get them below 30 lb. I had brought chicken wire because of marmot protection for cars, but we were told that there hadn't been any marmot problems since July. Nobody else had any protection in place, so I didn't bother with the wire. The plan was to get to Little Claire Lake on the west side of Franklin Pass. The weather was great. We were not particularly rapid, but we did get to the Pass and leave our packs there while we ascended Mt Florence. It got late, but we managed to get down the pass, after returning to our packs, to the first water on its west side and set up camp there by dusk. Not making the Lake meant a longer day Sunday, but also packs didn't have to be carried as far.

Sunday the agenda was to go up the Soda Creek drainage to Needham Mtn; about a 4000' and 12 mile day, mostly x-c. We started around sunrise, first traversing the plateau area south of Little Claire Lake and avoiding a drop by way of the regular trail. Then we went down the switchbacks N of Little Claire, then x-c toward Needham. It was quite pretty as we got above timberline among the meadows near Amphitheater Lake. We left some gear at the base of Needham and proceeded up its class 2 SW side. Some sandy stretches there, but no problem getting up. The summit view was nice, and we continued on toward Sawtooth Pk. The group, except for one who did not do Sawtooth, wanted the peak even though we understood it would mean getting back to camp after dark. We went down Needham much of the way, then traversed across and up Sawtooth's SW face. Up the face climb, class 2, went rather quickly. Back down at Amphitheater Lake we relaxed a bit,and talked to some other people who had come up into this remote basin. A group from San Diego on a wilderness travel course had packed in there. We proceeded with haste to go down Soda Creek canyon, climb back up 1200' via Little Claire Lake, cross the plateau and end up at our camp below Franklin Pass. We went quickly and managed to have just enough light to find the old use trail on the plateau by nightfall. Back in camp about 9 PM, we had time for a happy hour and dinner and got to bed at a reasonable hour for the next long day.

Off at 7 in the morning, we did the grind up the sandy trail to Franklin Pass and celebrated finishing our last with-backpack uphill leg. We moved on to the Farewell Gap trail junction and deposited our packs there. We had bear canisters, so there was not a threat of having the packs invaded while were we were on Vandever Mtn. We proceeded up the class 1 peak and enjoyed our 4th summit in 3 days. One person was feeling the wear of the 4000'+ and long days, so we did not get back to the cars until 7PM. But all enjoyed the experience. Lots of animals around Mineral King. Unusual to see a group of buck and does together eating the hay from bales at the pack station corrals. I was glad to visit the area again after at least ten years and to do two peaks again by a different way. Patty Rambert was co-leader.

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