great barrier reef, australia

Mineral King

"Three days and nights pursuit. No food, no rest. No sign of our quarry, but what bare rock can tell!" ~Gimli

Only a day after the completion of the Yosemite Trail Ride (now the end of July), it was back to the Sierras with Jimmy and Nick for a 4-day, 3-night backpacking trip to summit Black Kaweah. We began our journey at Mineral King in Sequoia National Park, and little did we know, it would be the most challenging backpacking trip to date.

Day 1:
The remoteness of Mineral King and our intended destination of Black Kaweah became clear after a few miles on the trail when there was no longer a trail to follow. Instead, we were scrambling over talus (steadied by our trekking poles) and constantly referring to the map to determine if we were on the correct path to Glacier Pass. Once we made it to the pass, we decided to take a small detour to summit the nearby Sawtooth Peak. After what seemed like a good decision and a fun hike, we soon found ourselves scrambling through the loose scree on the steep slope to the summit. We all eventually made it to the summit, and the view was amazing, but we couldn’t stay long since we still had to get back to Glacier Pass and down to Spring Lake, which was the planned camp for the night. So, we hurried back to Glacier Pass, and in doing so, we all descended at our different speeds and became separated. This was not good, since Nick and I found ourselves traversing a bit lower than Jimmy, and as it turns out, the lower you traverse Sawtooth Peak, the steeper the slope became. We all individually got ourselves into less than desirable climbing situations, and we unnecessarily turned a class 2 scramble into a class 3 climb. Needless to say, it was an unexpected surprise that we should have avoided.

After getting back to Glacier Pass, we vowed to not get so separated in the future and rapidly descended to Spring Lake and arrived just in time to witness a beautiful sunset on the surrounding mountains.

Day 2:
After breakfast and re-packing the backpacks, we spent some time fishing Spring Lake before continuing on to the foreboding Black Rock Pass. This wilderness Sierra fishing experience was the first for Jimmy and Nick, and they seemed surprised at how easy it was to catch trout in the mountain lakes. Nearly all of the trout we caught were too small to eat, though, so the fishing on this trip consisted of catch and release.

Once we completed the 1000 foot vertical hike up Black Rock Pass, we saw Black Kaweah for the second time on the trip (the first was from Sawtooth Peak). Unfortunately it looked like there was too much snow to summit Black Kaweah, so we changed the goal of the trip to now summit Red Kaweah, which was the peak next to Black Kaweah that had less snow. We then continued the hike to the base of the Kaweahs by descending into the Big Arroyo and climbing to a spot just below the fire line (the elevation above which fires are not allowed). We went to bed early for the big day that awaited us.

Day 3:
The climb to Red Kaweah began at 6am with a scramble up some steep talus to a picturesque basin with a bright blue tarn. Upon reaching what felt like the base of Red Kaweah, I realized my limits and decided to bow out of the remainder of the class 3 climb – I was too tired to safely continue, especially given the imposing view of Red Kaweah and the large distance that still remained. Jimmy and Nick continued the climb and returned a number of hours later, reporting that they had successfully signed the summit register from 1936. We hurried back down the mountain, grabbed our bags, and made it to an incredible campsite at one of the Little Five Lakes. The lake here was filled with fish, and I spent the evening catching Rainbow and Golden trout before relaxing around the campfire.

Day 4:
From here on out we simply had to retrace our steps back to the car, which involved climbing Black Rock Pass and Glacier Pass. We made good time, though, and we soon found ourselves enjoying the obligatory meal at In-N-Out, which was definitely deserved after our first trip to Mineral King. Next time, we plan to go later in the season and summit Black Kaweah via a different route, so stay tuned!

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