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#39077 - 07/27/14 11:19 PM Mineral King to Whitney Portal
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
Mineral King to Whitney Portal, July 2014
Day 1 - 2

I've always liked trans-Sierra crossings. I also wanted to see Kern Hot Springs for the first time, and ending at Mt Whitney is always fun. Since I took a High Sierra Trail shortcut (Pants Pass) and skipped the hot springs two years ago, this was a good time to cover that section. More pictures from this trip are included in this album:   Mineral King to Whitney Portal, July 2014

Additional info:  Here's the pre-trip thread, including commentary from those watching my progress via the SPOT signals.

This trip started in Mineral King (south part of Sequoia N.P. on the west side), and ended at Whitney Portal on the east side. Friends Larry and Travis drove me from Fresno to MK, and they hiked most of the way to Sawtooth pass, before returning to drive back to Fresno. They even carried part of my load, making my first day easier. The marmots at Mineral King are notorious for chewing on cars, and a few cars had chicken wire encircling them, and others were wrapped in plastic. Larry opened his hood so the critters wouldn't have a hiding place to hang out. I am wondering if a salt lick would solve the problem.

Here's the parking lot:


Sawtooth Peak from the pass. I took a side trip and climbed the peak. It took 2.5 hours to the peak and back, even though it is only half a mile and 500' of climbing. There are a lot of big boulders to climb over or around. Another hiker, Stephen from Bakersfield, was at the pass, so we climbed it together. He told me at the summit he had thought he would leave me behind. ;-)


My first view of Mt Whitney from Sawtooth Pass -- zoomed in.


I planned on camping somewhere by Columbine Lake, and met these guys right by the trail, a little above the lake. I was planning on moving on, but we enjoyed talking, and they encouraged me to just stay. So I did. Mike is from So Cal and Ed is from the Carmel area. They were doing the opposite of me -- carrying big packs (even fresh eggs!). They started with 65-70 lb packs. Ugh! But then they had folding chairs.



Their third friend, Oscar, caught these fish. They shared, and I had three for dinner. Nice!



On day 2, I hiked down Lost Canyon to Big Arroyo (creek). It is a peaceful and pretty walk.




In Lost Creek canyon, looking back toward Sawtooth Peak



I really enjoy the flowers on hikes. This was the best patch of Monkey Flowers, on a little island in the middle of the stream.



I think Tiger Lilies are my favorite Sierra flower.



I followed the Big Arroyo creek trail to the point where it exited the canyon and headed up and over a ridge to the next creek (Rattlesnake creek) to the south. I passed these peculiarly broken granite blocks along the way.



The trail was easy to follow, even though the Tom Harrison map identified it as "primitive". From the looks of pine needles and pine cones all over the trail, I might have been the first hiker this year to use it. I kicked lots of pine cones off the trail.

I soon came to this point where the trail crosses back to the south side of Big Arroyo.



Following Big Arroyo to the Kern River

Ed from the night before said he'd been down Big Arroyo all the way to the Kern river cross-country several times, and was sure I could do it. He urged me to do it, so I decided I would go for it. I left the trail at the above sign, and continued down the north side of Big Arroyo. About a mile down, just as the slope steepened, I came upon these falls. They are huge -- maybe 40 feet high and 20 feet across. I could have camped on that slab at the bottom.



The route became really steep, and I was not sure it would "go" through. I had to cross the stream four or five times where the canyon sides are near-vertical granite slabs. Fortunately the water level was low enough that I could cross. For reference the Upper Kern at Kernville that day (7-14-14) was running 120 cfs. link. It would be foolish to try this route in a wet year in July.

Unfortunately, I slipped into the water once. Two steps later, my wet boot slipped on a surface that normally would have held, and my shin crashed into a sharp rock. I got a bloody sock and pant leg out of that. I could have used stitches. After going through the canyon, it wasn't particularly bad. Certainly less technical than descending the Whitney Mountaineers Route "Final 400" chute. But the uncertainty and length of time it took (2 miles in 3 hours) made it a big ordeal.

I met a bear in the canyon, near the end. It was as surprised as I and took off like he'd seen the devil!
Here is looking back up the canyon, after clearing the worst parts.



I was relieved to reach the Kern. I camped near the bridge crossing Big Arroyo.
At 6600 elevation, it was warm and dry.


Days 3-7 coming later....


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#39101 - 07/28/14 03:45 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Krishna Offline


Registered: 04/15/11
Posts: 101
Loc: Woodridge, IL, USA
Seve:
Very pretty pics! I admire your cross country hike-ability which I would never try! So we missed each other by two days! Look forward to the other half!
Krishna

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#39111 - 07/28/14 08:02 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
bungo999 Offline


Registered: 05/03/14
Posts: 2
Loc: Santa Clarita, CA
Thanks for your post! Beautiful pictures. Reminded me of my 3 day backpacking trip last year in Mineral King area (Franklin Lakes-Sawtooth Pass Loop).

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#39126 - 07/28/14 09:50 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: bungo999]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
Thanks for the comments. I have another section ready...

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#39128 - 07/28/14 09:54 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
Mineral King to Whitney Portal, July 2014
Day 3, 4 & 5

Day 3 was easy. I slept in, then hiked down the Kern River trail to the Rattlesnake Creek junction. My friend Paul had asked me to take some pictures of the junction where the hump trail from Big Arroyo over to Rattlesnake creek trail joins. Since I had explored the off-trail route down the Big Arroyo to the Kern River, I missed the Rattlesnake junction. I had lots of time to spare, so I day-hiked down the Kern and up to that junction.

Beaver activity along the Kern. That tree was 15-18" in diameter!   Also, a cascade on Rattlesnake Creek.
 

Here's the trail junction. Metal sign, several cairns. I returned to the Kern River from here.


Looking down the Kern River canyon from the Rattlesnake trail.


I didn't see any rattlesnakes, but hundreds of these...


Hiking up the Kern River trail, I passed lush and woodsy Upper Funston Meadows. There was a gate, signs for riders to allow grazing a maximum of 48 hours, but no sign of horses being there. A little beyond the meadow, I joined the High Sierra Trail, and met hikers for the first time in about 30 hours. I met Mark and Mark from Sacramento at the junction, and they finished at Whitney Portal the same time I hiked off the trail, and they were nice enough to give me a ride down to Lone Pine. They had some heavy driving: 5 hours back around to Sequoia National Park to retrieve their other car, and then almost that many on to Sacramento. Fun!

Here is the bridge over the Kern just south of the Hot Springs.
                             

At long last, Kern Hot Springs! There is a little one-person concrete tub with hot water running slowly into it (it could take 30 minutes to fill), and it needed some water from the river to cool it a little. Just below the tub, there is a pool by the river that is cooler, where several people could soak for a long time.


KHS has camp sites about 50 yards upstream on the trail. There were about ten camper groups camped there, some spending two nights. I spent the night, then continued on to Whitney Creek, to find the next off-trail shortcut I wanted to try.

Whitney Creek Shortcut
It is 11-12 miles on the High Sierra Trail between the Whitney Creek crossing and the Crabtree Ranger Station. I have read several Internet discussions about rangers and others hiking down to the Kern River trail from the Crabtree area via Whitney Creek, so I wanted to give it a try. I'll put a write-up of that section in a separate thread. (Here it is: Whitney Creek - Kern River Shortcut )

It took nearly 3.5 hours, and I came upon a horse-packer camp less than a mile from the PCT trail, so I stopped and camped for the night. The camp had a table, bear box, seats and a camp fire.
The horse camp:


I caught a few small trout in the stream, and was ready for another fish dinner. Unfortunately, a rain storm had made everything so wet I was unable to light a fire, even ruining my lighter. Dumb move of this trip: No backup matches. I ate peanut butter and jelly on a flour tortilla for dinner. Had to bury the fish! I begged a new lighter off a hiker the next morning.

Next day I continued on, hitting the trail in less than an hour. Here is Crabtree Meadow, first view of Mt Russel, and a tiny piece of Mt Whitney:


A deer in the meadow.


I made my way to the Crabtree Ranger Station just to have a look, and encountered ranger Rob Pilewski. He was waiting for a helicopter, so I waited around to get a picture.

Helicopter, pilot, Rob Pilewski, backcountry crew, pack train rider.



Beautiful summer quarters! Crabtree Ranger Station.


From the ranger station, I made my way back to the south, looking for the no-longer-maintained trail to Crabtree Lakes. Ranger Rob pointed me in the general direction, and I found it. I headed up and had lunch at the first lake, caught and released a few small trout.

The first Crabtree Lake


The small lake just above the first had more active trout, but smallish. I had some fun with them. I then moved up to the largest lake at 11,300' elevation, where I spent the night on an excellent sandy beach.
Looking west toward the lower Crabtree lakes.


Here's where I spent the night.   Sunset beach.



I fished (one 13" golden) and sat around for a few hours waiting for sundown, wishing I had brought a book. In hindsight, I should have climbed to the upper lake at 12,100'. That would have made the climb to Discovery Pinnacle the next day a little easier.

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#39130 - 07/28/14 10:38 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Akichow Offline


Registered: 04/07/10
Posts: 659
Loc: SF Bay Area
Cliff hanger!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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#39131 - 07/28/14 10:51 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
NoUglyOneYet Offline


Registered: 02/09/13
Posts: 69
Loc: San Diego, California
Great trip report, and your photos are GORGEOUS! Any idea why the helicopter was at the meadow?

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#39132 - 07/28/14 11:55 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: NoUglyOneYet]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
Thanks! One more set to come...

> Any idea why the helicopter was at the meadow?

Ranger Rob indicated the helicopter visit was just a resupply / equipment exchange run. The ground crew had a pile of items that he was going to haul out -- after unloading whatever he had brought in.

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#39137 - 07/29/14 06:26 AM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 989
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Steve this was a great, great trip. Here is a quote for you:

Once a mountaineer has climbed so high, for the rest of his life he dreams of returning.
Peter Boardman, Sacred Summits page 173

In your next batch of picture, here is a custom order!... please be sure to include a few pictures around Discovery Pinnacle. Dan and I will be gimping over Crabtree Pass next week. We can eyeball from there whether to go up the Sandhill, but some pictures at the Pinnacle and connection with TrailCrest would be most helpful. Class 2 or 3? Thanks

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#39139 - 07/29/14 08:08 AM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Krishna Offline


Registered: 04/15/11
Posts: 101
Loc: Woodridge, IL, USA
Yes, those were great! So you just clambered up along the Whitney creek from Kern river canyon to all the way up to PCT and CT meadow! Wow! I crossed the creek but it looked quite formidable going up the canyon wall! How easy/ difficult it is? Hats off! I may not try it but want to see any photos if you have! Same thing for the cross country from Crab tree lakes to trail crest! I call this living the life! Thanks for sharing!

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#39140 - 07/29/14 08:39 AM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Chris B Offline


Registered: 07/18/11
Posts: 68
Loc: Denver, CO
Thanks for sharing, Steve! Looking forward to reading the last set. I saw the pics as soon as you uploaded them, but it's great to the TR with them.

I haven't had the time this summer to get out for much hiking. Taking the family up to SEKI this weekend for some day hikes and reading your TR is making me hungry for the mountains!

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#39146 - 07/29/14 09:27 AM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Chris B]
Paul Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 172
Loc: Santa Clarita, CA
Steve.....thanks for the pics of both signs (Rattlesnake and Big Arroyo). Come September, I'll head up that hump trail with confidence.

Maybe some day I'll find some fellow hikers and try that Whitney Creek route.....It's one of my bucket list to do.

Again, it was fun following you for that week while you were on the trail.

Quick question: do you have anymore trips planned? It would be sad if this was your only trip.

paul

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#39147 - 07/29/14 09:29 AM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Krishna]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
Yes, Harvey, dreaming of returning. Always.

Harvey, unfortunately I never take enough pictures. I didn't take a single one on my climb from Crabtree lakes to Discovery Pinnacle, except for some flowers and a shot of Whitney from the top of DP. (I think I was so focused on the work at hand that I just kept plodding.) There are two pics at the top that show the Trail Crest trail and the slope up to DP, coming in the next report. ...Tell you what, Harvey, YOU climb it next month and take the pictures, and I'll help with a report.

All I have is words... If you can get over Crabtree Pass, you can climb to Discovery Pinnacle! You will encounter rougher terrain circumnavigating the upper Crabtree Lake than you will climbing to Discovery Pinnacle. If I were going, I would drop to the lake, load up on water, then climb westward the 100m vertical to the bench at 3750m. Then switch back and head northeast, climbing the steepest 200m, finally curving almost north, climbing the last 200m+ to DP. It's just a slog. You might find a sandy spot or two that slides you back down, but mostly, it is just a steady grind to the top. It is only 500 m, and less than the elevation that the 99 switchbacks climb on the other side of that ridge!

Here, I created a map of what I would suggest for your route. It's Gmap4, so you can switch back and forth between "t4 Topo" and satellite. Zoom in on the lakeside with satellite, those boulders will be the worst part.

The most dicey section I found was actually the descent from DP down to the trail. It is short, but it's dirt with pebbles and small rocks on the surface, so easy to slide, difficult to find a secure spot to step. On the S side, the top third is simple and easy class 2. On the steepest, I used hiking poles, and never touched rock with my hands.


Edited by Steve C (07/29/14 09:33 AM)

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#39150 - 07/29/14 09:40 AM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Krishna]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
Krishna, the Whitney Creek shortcut was not that difficult. Only, it did take 3 1/2 hours -- I didn't hurry, since I had half a day. I almost never brushed through bushes, as there was nearly always a way to find a clear path. On the steepest granite, I hung the hiking pole straps on my forearms and used hands to help climbing, but only a few times. I will do a separate report complete with gps route and map.

Those off-trail sections were truly the most memorable part of the trip!

Chris B: Not sure how rugged your family is. I've taken kids up to Little Baldy -- about 2 hours RT. The n side of the creek at Lodgepole is a nice trail up to a cascade-like falls. And at Crescent Meadow, hike out the first half mile of the HST to "Eagle View". Oh, and climb Morro Rock! Fun!

Paul: I'm already thinking about next summer -- maybe the Sky Blue Lake route to Whitney. ...and I am cooking up a fishing overnight in Yosemite with my 9-y-o daughter. These trips take lots of planning, and lots of writing afterwards, so one trip fills my bucket for quite a while. smile
...Oh, and there is this job that keeps getting in the way. And family always seems to want to do stuff too. wink

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#39154 - 07/29/14 10:16 AM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 989
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Originally Posted By: Steve C
..Tell you what, Harvey, YOU climb it next month and take the pictures, and I'll help with a report.


Steve, I will know when I get there. As the Brits say,

Found it easier than we expected, which only goes to show the value of an oft quoted piece of mountaineering advice by Dr. Longstaff, that 'you must go and rub your nose in a place before being certain that it wont 'go.'
HW Tilman, The Ascent of Nanda Devi, in
The Seven Mountain-Travel Books, page 164

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#39158 - 07/29/14 12:28 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Harvey Lankford]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1549
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Great TR, Steve.. Its like watching Fargo: itching for the next install. Especially since we know it ends better.
_________________________
Wherever you go, there you are.
SPOTMe!

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#39162 - 07/29/14 12:55 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Chris B Offline


Registered: 07/18/11
Posts: 68
Loc: Denver, CO
Steve: My oldest just turned 5, but she'll put in a good 4-5 miles, even on tougher mountain terrain. The wife and I packing the other two on our back slows her down, I think!

I was considering Little Baldy as well as exploring the Crescent Meadows area a bit with them (Eagle Peak, Sugar Pine Trail, etc..). We've done Morro Rock in the past and I think I'll skip the StairMaster exercise with 30 pounds on my back wink The wife and I are planning to bag Alta Peak the next day sans kids (the benefit of having her parents an hour from the Park!). I love SEKI, but I go embarrassingly long stretches between trips (the last trip was probably 3 years ago for a Pear Lake day hike)!

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#39177 - 07/29/14 05:35 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
Chris B: Enjoy the family. They're even more important than the mountains. There can be long gaps between hikes with kids and jobs, etc.




Mineral King to Whitney Portal, July 2014
Day 6 - 7
Day 6 was my big climb to Discovery Pinnacle from Crabtree Lakes. Looking at the map and calculating, I knew it was a relatively short distance, only the elevation gain was considerable: starting at 11,300, climbing to 13,500 at Trail Crest.

Since I planned to stay on the summit overnight, I needed enough water to drink on the climb, and then several quarts at for the overnight. I was only carrying a quart bottle and a 20 oz Gatorade bottle. These started full, and I consumed them during the climb. But I also carried four quart and several gallon Ziploc bags. I filled the quarts, placing two in a gallon bag, then double-bagging the gallon bag. The plastic zippers may leak, so the gallon bags were essential. Two quarts went into the top of my Ursack cylinder, and two on top of that. I didn't lose a drop. On the climb, I drank only 3 pints in 6 hours of climbing. I felt fine, but it took another quart at the summit with some electrolytes and Kool-Aid before all systems were "back to normal."

Yellow Columbine along the climb. There were many of these at Sawtooth Pass, too.


I started the climb at 10:30, and went too high too soon. Along the way, I found footprints going up so I followed, only to top out at a window between Mt Hitchcock and Discovery Pinnacle. I then had to descend and traverse over bouldery terrain more than half a mile. It would have been much easier had I stayed lower to cover the eastward distance before climbing. If there is ever a next time, I'll head to the upper Crabtree Lake, then head westward to about 12,400', then switch back northeast to climb to Discovery Pinnacle.

I stopped for lunch about 2 PM at an overlook just short of Discovery Pinnacle. It was a high-altitude Sky Pilot garden, with the flowers' sweet smell in the air.


Here's a picture from Discovery Pinnacle. Mt Muir, the needles, and Mt Whitney.
Note the Mt Whitney Main Trail down in the corner.


Climbing down from DP, (which was steeper than any of my climb up from Crabtree), these are the first people I met...
Friend Tollermom (a WZ member), and her crew.


Moving on to the hut, I encountered another lady walking up (at 3:30 pm). Talking to her, she said she was ready to turn around, but her 22 y.o. daughter was up ahead gunning for the summit. I told her I'd go on (and carried a bottle of water for the gal), and she could sit at the junction and wait (and nap -- they had been on the trail since 2 AM!!) I did my best to keep up with the kid, still carrying my 25+ lb pack. We reached the summit by 5 pm, I snapped several pics for her, and she hurried off to meet mom. They would probably return to Whitney Portal about midnight. I'm wondering how they did. I think I convinced the kid to stay in a motel in Lone Pine, telling her there were at least 5. She was first talking about driving all the way to So.Cal. after the hike.

I had enough time after that, so I descended the "Final 400" section of the Mountaineers Route, and then tried the "Easy Walk-off" alternate route to the summit, from the MR Notch. That will be a separate report.

The weather was pleasant at the summit, so I set up my bed on a slab.
But the wind came up about 12:30, so I moved inside the hut then.


Sunset from Mt Whitney


I set my alarm for 5:30 so I could see the sunrise. About the same time, I heard hikers arrive. It was cold, but beautiful.


All these hikers were completing the JMT. After the fun at the summit, they "retired to the hut" to warm up.
There was only a light breeze outside, but the hut definitely provided some warmth.


I left the summit at 6:30; the trip down was uneventful. This marmot was sunning above Trailside Meadow:


This hiker had carried his Ukelele on the JMT, so I recorded his playing on the summit at dawn.



                    A fitting end to an epic hike -- both his and mine.   smile

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#39178 - 07/29/14 05:45 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Steve C]
Bulldog34 Offline


Registered: 11/12/09
Posts: 1254
Loc: Atlanta
That was really an aggressive backpack, Steve. Congrats and great job! Did you go solo because no one else was willing to put up with the schedule?

Looking forward to the Easy Walk-off report. There is ridiculously little info on that traverse on the web.

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#39179 - 07/29/14 05:54 PM Re: Mineral King to Whitney Portal [Re: Bulldog34]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7235
Loc: Fresno, CA
> That was really an aggressive backpack, Steve. Congrats and great job! Did you go solo because no one else was willing to put up with the schedule?

Well... Independence is freedom: I could make the choice to change course and go down that crazy Big Arroyo canyon. And I wasn't sure how I would feel by the time I got to Whitney Creek or to the Crabtree decision point, so the plan was very much flexible. Hard to impose that on someone else. I invited several to go; and my son wanted to go, but the logistics coming from MI would have taken more time than he was willing to be away from two of the cutest kids in the world. wink And I really didn't have a firm date until a week or two before the trip.

> Looking forward to the Easy Walk-off report. There is ridiculously little info on that traverse on the web.

The videos are uploaded, I need to create a map and do the write-up.

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