Seven Day Loop, Mineral King Sequoia NP

9:29 p.m. on August 3, 2014 (EDT)
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This year's trip started as a plan to repeat my 2012 trip to Picket Creek (Sarah's Lake) and Kaweah Basin, with my niece who originally planned to do that trip with me then and then backed out because she got married a month prior to the trip.  This year she confirmed that she would be able to make it, so I planned accordingly.  Well, three months ago she backed out (for a good reason, baby on the way) so I had to evaluate my options.  The only other person (outside the other family members who were going to accompany my niece) who was planning to come was the friend who did that trip with me in 2012.  He had never been in most of the areas around Mineral King and had previously expressed a desire to go there, so I changed plans and laid out a route that included a fair amount of what Patrick and I did last year, plus some more off trail to the section of Big Arroyo that we didn't complete last year and to visit some more off-trail lakes at the top of Soda Creek.

We started on Saturday July 26 at Mineral King, going over Timber Gap.  A few views along the way, ascending from Mineral King:
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Near the top of Timber Gap, we had to make a hard decision.  My friend, who had thought that he had recovered from a respiratory infection, was having serious difficulty.  At the pace he was going, there was no way that he could make the trip, and I was very concerned that we would drop down the other side of Timber Gap and then find that he could not continue and would have to be evacuated.  He agreed with me (professionally, he is a risk manager for an oil company) so we had to weigh our options.  Finally, it was decided that he would go back to Mineral King and hang out there relaxing for the week while I continued.  For my part, I had to drop any off-trail plans and change my route to do only trail walking.  So, on I went, trying to figure out how I would break the news to my wife that I went solo.

Cresting Timber Gap, some nice views opened looking north as I descended to Cliff Creek:


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Cliff Creek is a pleasant stream, even in this severe drought year:


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From there I continued up Cliff Creek
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Patrick should remember this cascade:


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I went to camp at Pinto Lake, same as last year.  Pics from that spot":


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The next morning was the slog up to Black Rock Pass (11,600').   As I ascended I could finally see Spring Lake:



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Getting higher:

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And finally, at the top, you can see Spring, Cyclamen, and Columbine Lakes:


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Looking east from the pass toward the Kaweahs:


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Then, in an eerie repeat of last year, during the descent I got hit by a hailstorm.  At Little Five Lakes I waited for a while for things to clear, but only got mediocre lighting for pictures:


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From there I descended to the trail junction in Big Arroyo.  Along the way:


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Looking down Big Arroyo, where Patrick and I went last year:
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Big Arroyo Creek, where I camped that night:


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9:38 p.m. on August 3, 2014 (EDT)
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The next day I joined the High Sierra Trail and headed up onto Chagoopa Plateau.  I have done most sections of the High Sierra Trail, but not this one, which is why I included it in my modified plans.  As I ascended there were plenty of great views, but the overcast skies did not lend proper lighting, all the pictures are flat:


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The peak just right of center is above where I camped with Patrick last year at Big Five Lakes:
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A nice meadow on Chagoopa Plateau:


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Just for Patrick, some foxtail pines:


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At that point the rain started, and would continue for the rest of the day's walking.  It made for different photographic conditions, I'm used to brilliant sunshine in the Sierra:


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When I arrived at Moraine Lake, I waited for an hour for the rain to stop, this is what it looked like there:


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I walked over to the top of the rise west of the lake, in the next two pictures you can see the cliffs above the two off-trail lakes that Patrick and I visited last year (the only trails there are at the bottom of the slopes below this picture's view):


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9:47 p.m. on August 3, 2014 (EDT)
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The next morning I got a reprieve from the rain and got some pictures around Moraine Lake:

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Then I walked back to the rise to the west for shots from that location:

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Then it was back on the trail.  My goal was to descend to the Kern River, go south to Rattlesnake Creek, and then head up Rattlesnake Creek.   It didn't take long to get to Sky Parlor Meadow:

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Then came the drop to the Kern, this is at the top just as I started to descend:

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Views down the Kern trench as I dropped:

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At the bottom I passed upper Funston Meadow:

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I was surprised by the volume of water in the Kern during the drought:

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Then came the initial climb up Rattlesnake Creek.  It was hot because it is only 6500' at the junction of the Kern River and Rattlesnake Creek.  The first part is quite steep, and Rattlesnake Creek crashes down over steep rapids and waterfalls:
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From there I went just a short distance up Rattlesnake Creek above the steep initial section and stopped for the night.

10:03 p.m. on August 3, 2014 (EDT)
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The next morning it was already overcast with dark clouds when I got up, so I got an early start on the trail to avoid problems going over the pass above Forester Lake later in the day when I knew the storm would surely start.  As I ascended, I had views all along the way:


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Looking down the canyon:

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Getting higher:
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Finally I arrived at Forester Lake:

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From there I kept on upward to go over the pass to Little Claire Lake, some views along the way:

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Cresting over, Sawtooth in the background:
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Right when I got to Little Claire Lake the storm descended on me, I made it over the pass just in time.  I managed to get a couple pictures before I had to put my camera away to protect it from the rain.  Little Claire Lake:

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Upper Soda Creek (my original plans included visiting three off-trail lakes there):
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Looking east from the outlet of Little Claire Lake:

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Then the heavens opened and the lightning started.  I beat a hasty retreat down the trail into Soda Creek, with lightning hitting the slopes above me and heavy rain and hail coming down.  I had to keep my camera put a way for the next several hours to keep it dry, so I only got a few pictures.  In this one, you can see the streams coursing down the cliff faces that were dry as a bone earlier:

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I stopped for the night near the bottom of Soda Creek.  Everything in my pack was soaked, my pack cover did not live up to its water repellent claims.  One thing of interest was in a stand of lodgepole pines by camp.  Interspersed among healthy trees were a large number of younger trees that were bent over to the ground in random directions.  I see similar things regularly where an avalanche or microburst have leveled trees, but then all of the trees are affected and they all lie in the same direction.   In this case, it was random, and just the smaller trees.  Let me know if you have any theories:


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10:21 p.m. on August 3, 2014 (EDT)
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The next morning the sun came out, and stayed with me for most of the rest of the trip.  I headed over to Lost Canyon, this is looking back to the lower part of Soda Creek:
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Going up Lost Canyon:

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Looking up toward Sawtooth (remember the pic of Patrick on top last year?).  It's one of my favorite summits because you really get the feeling of being on top of something, nice and pointy with big drops on all sides:

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Upper Lost Canyon:
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Nearing Columbine Lake, looking back down Lost Canyon:


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Then I got to my destination for the day, Columbine Lake, which would be my highest camp of the trip (lake level is 10,970').  Just of few pictures of the lake:

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Looking toward Black Rock Pass to the north (just left of the boulder on the right side):

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Evening shot in the same direction:

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Then yesterday morning I headed over Sawtooth Pass (11,700') to go back to Mineral King.  Going up, looking at Sawtooth, with a foxtail intentionally included for Patrick:

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Views from the pass, gotta love the air quality in the valley where I live, there is a large forest fire to the north contributing a lot of smoke:


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Looking up the ridge to Sawtooth, you can tell that it is a drought year because there are only a couple tiny patches of snow, normally the whole lower slope is covered with snow this time of year:

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No more pics from there, it's the same as what I posted from the descent to Mineral King last year.  Although the trip started with problems, overall it was good and I got to see some areas that I have wanted to visit for some time.

2:03 a.m. on August 4, 2014 (EDT)
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Great trip report.  Your pictures are amazing.  It's hard to rival an area like Mineral King.  I've only been that one time in July, but I hope to go many more times for years to come.  Hiking through Lost Canyon has got to be one of my most fondest backpacking experiences.  Thanks for sharing.

7:33 a.m. on August 4, 2014 (EDT)
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Haha! This is awesome John! I'm sorry your friend was too ill to make the trip but you still pulled a fantastic route, even without the off trail exploration. Thanks for the foxtails, I enjoyed them!

I can only imagine what it felt like trying to hustle down Soda Creek with lightning blasting the mountain. wow

Both Chagoopa Plateau and Sky Parlor Meadow seem far more expansive them I imagined from looking over the map.

Love the erratic garden at Moraine too.

Ok, yes, I wish I could have done this trip with you.:)

Too many incredible places and too few vacation days.....

8:12 a.m. on August 4, 2014 (EDT)
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Despite all the changes in plan that seems to have turned out to be quite the epic adventure.  Lots of great pics even if the weather didn't cooperate all the time.

I go on a lot of solo trips but usually don't spend so much time above the tree line.  The open views really underscore how alone you are up there and how small :)  Thanks for sharing this trip!

11:03 a.m. on August 4, 2014 (EDT)
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sugar pine,

Nice job. Please tell us again what type of camera you used. My small portable camera does not do much of a job with scenics.

7:48 p.m. on August 4, 2014 (EDT)
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Great report. I could stare at those photos for hours. 

The downed lodgepole pines sure are interesting. Hmmmmm...

12:35 a.m. on August 5, 2014 (EDT)
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ppine - I have been using a Canon SX130.  I used to lug around a Leicaflex SLR in my film days, and sometimes I miss the quality of photos I could get with that.  But the Canon is so much lighter, and I can take a lot of pictures without worrying about film.  

At this point I don't want to buy a full size digital SLR because of the weight and bulk (plus, I can't afford it).  I dream of one day getting a really nice compact digital SLR...

My SX130 is a little larger than the point-and-shoot cameras that most people use, and the size does lend itself to a little more stability when taking pictures.  One of the features that I really like is that it uses two AA batteries instead of rechargeable batteries.  I can take over 1000 daylight pictures on one set of lithium AA batteries.  For most equivalent cameras that use a rechargeable battery, I would have to have at least three or four of them on a week long trip, and that gets expensive.

The SX130 gives good color saturation, too.

10:45 a.m. on August 5, 2014 (EDT)
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Great report, John! I am glad you survived the t-storms. I love the pictures!! As always, I love seeing your Sierra reports. I miss it there!

2:07 p.m. on August 5, 2014 (EDT)
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Wow! Thank you...

2:33 p.m. on August 5, 2014 (EDT)
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What an amazing trip, thanks for sharing.  I love lots of pictures!

December 20, 2014
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