Place: Mineral King, Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers, California
Coordinates: 36.446535, -118.594293
Level: very strenuous
This is the first of a 5-post series describing my 5-days backpacking trip with my friend at the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park last August. This post, as would be the next 4, is very long with many photos. Be warned :-)
When I descended from Franklin Lake on the final day of my backpacking trip with my daughter last year I knew it won't be long before I would go again to backpack Mineral King. This summer both my chikas were to attend the week-long 4H camp and this was my opportunity. At first I thought I would go by myself but as the trip time drew near I found a partner - a friend from my family hiking group.
I dropped my chikas at the 4H Camp bus pick up placer and as the last bus went down the hill I saw my friend's car coming up. She took a few moments to say goodby to her family and to see them off, and then we were off.
Mineral King is a long drive away from the bay area, the final lag of which is a 25-miles narrow and winding road which we drove in a pitch-black darkness. We found a vacancy at the Cold Springs campground - exactly the same place I had spend the night at with my chika on the previous year. At 8:00 am we were at the rangers station to get our wilderness permits and to listen to their instructions. An hour later we were at the parking lot. Then it took us two and a half hours more to wrap the car (for fear of marmots chewing it), to eat breakfast, and to do the final packing. In short (or long), it was already near noon when we finally hit the trail.
|Cars wrapped up in fear of hungry marmots|
|Our first day lag as captured by my GPS|
Much later on. In the meanwhile, we were going slowly uphill, struggling with the weights of our packs, the heat of the day, and the thin mountain air. Thankfully the views were already spectacular and were only improving with each step.
|Cascades of Monarch Creek|
|Gallson a Manzanita shrub|
|A view of the Farewell Gap|
|Sierra False Bindweed (Calystegia malacophylla)|
|Clouded Sulphur Butterfly|
|Broad-leaved Lotus (Hockasia crassifolia)|
|Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily (Calochortus leichtlinii)|
|Bigelow's Sneezeweed (Helenium biglovii)|
Chirping in the bushes caught my attention, and with some effort I managed to spot the singer and even managed to take some photos. At Papa Quail identified the bird in my photo as a MacGillivray's warbler, a bird I that he had never seen before. Perhaps he will join me too on my next trip to the mountains :-)
|Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)|
|Arrow-leaved Ragwort (Senecio triangularis)|
|Mountain Marsh Larkspur (Delphinium polycladon)|
|View to the west|
|Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)|
|Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)|
|Pink Alum Root (Heuchera rubescens)|
|Fleabane (Erigeron sp.) with a fly|
|Sierra Juniper (Juniperus grandis)|
|Lemmon's Catchfly (Silene lemmonii)|
As we were sitting there, a small family passed us by. A man carrying a heavy pack and two young boys, 7 and 3 (I asked) the youngest carrying nothing and the oldest carrying a small pack. They were headed to Monarch Lake and they were planning to stay there for two nights. We chatted for a couple of minutes and then they wooshed by and within a minute disappeared from our sight.
| Brewer's Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce breweri)|
We struggled along. The man that had passed us with his young boys had been on that trail before and had told us that the trail goes around the curve of the mountain and then it levels off. It seemed ages until we finally reached that point. But then we were out of the woods and the view opened up.
By then I also started feeling strongly want of air. I was panting like a dog in a dog day and my pulse was rapid. I checked in my mind the symptoms of altitude sickness but didn't feel any. I was strained beyond my usual limits, but nothing more serious. I relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the view and the new wildflower species that I was seeing literally with each step.
|Wooly Groundsel (Packera cana)|
The undergrowth in that grove had a strong odor. I examined the plants closely - it was a field of Artemisia - a California relative of the sheba, a north African tea herb, and of tarragon, a french cooking herb. I wonder what the native Kaweah people used to make of it.
|Alpine Sagewort (Artemisia norvegica)|
|Foxtail Pine (Pinus balfouriana) and the mountains on the other side of the canyon|
But we didn't see the lake yet, and we still had to do more walking before calling it a day.
It was on that stretch of trail that I saw the Sierra Columbine for the first time. Many of the flowers I saw on that trip were species I saw for the first time, but it was the Sierra Columbine that truly heralded my entrance into the wonderland of the High Sierra. The first and most glorious member of the most amazing community of Alpine wildflowers I would see on this trip.
|Sierra Columbine (Aquilegia pubescens)|
From a distance these rocky slopes looked bare but upon a closer look I could see numerous little plant cushions between the stones, many of which were in bloom.
|Ledge Stonecrop (Rhodiola integrifolia)|
|Rockfringe (Epilobium obcordatum)|
|Alpine Mountain Sorrel (Oxyria digyna)|
The shadows were getting long and we were nearing the lake and nearing exhaustion as well. The pretty wildflowers kept my spirit high and I still stopped frequently for closer appreciation of them. My friend, however, was pining for the lake. At one point she turned to me and told me that she didn't think we could have gone over the pass on the same day even if we had arrived there early enough, because we would have been too worn out. I didn't argue that but the image of the little boys almost running uphill came into my mind again and teased me.
|Sierra Beardtongue (Penstemon heterodoxux var. heterodoxus)|
|Mountain Pride (Penstemon newberryi)|
|Sreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa)|
|The edge of Monarch Lake and the creek's spillway.|
|Mountain Monardella (Monardella odoratissima)|
|Foxtail Pine (Pinus balfouriana)|
There is a sort of 'established' camp site near Monarch Lake. In a higher area about a hundred yards away from the water there is a flat surface and a bear box - a large metal closet with a bear-resistant latch where campers could store their food and other smelly items. Not far from there there was a crumbling board wall behind which was a pit toilet in disrepair that smelled horrible. Although instructed by the ranger at Mineral King to camp at established places whenever available, the place didn't look (or smell) appealing at all. We did keep our food in that bear box and we did use that pit toilet, but our tent we pitched below, near the lake (keeping the minimum distance required from the water and in an area that was clearly used before for camping).
|Sunset at Monarch Lake|
|Trout Oxygen Dance|
|Black-tailed Deer, a doe|
|Sooty Grouse, female|
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!
A link to the post of the second day of this trip.