Backpacking in Mineral King

August 7th, 2008 by

Lyell, Evan, my Dad and I went backpacking in Mineral King last week. Mineral King is on the western edge of Sequoia National Park, and varies in elevation from about 8,500 feet to 11,500 feet. Back in the 1950s and 60s, Disney tried to build a ski resort there, but environmental groups held them off and Mineral King was annexed into Sequoia National Park in 1978.

We drove down there on Sunday, 7/27 and came back on Saturday, 8/2. We camped at the trailhead the first and last nights. Our route took us over Timber Gap to Pinto Lake (Day 1), over Black Rock Pass to Little Five Lakes (Day 2), a layover (Day 3), past Big Five Lakes through Lost Canyon to Columbine Lake (Day 4), and over Sawtooth Pass past Monarch Lake back down to the car (Day 5).

Here's what our trip looked like on a USGS topographical map (here's a good free source of USGS maps).

Mineral King Route

I brought my handy GPS along for the trip in order to geotag the photos I took. A nice side effect is that I recorded the distance (27.9 miles), total climbing descent (about 10,000 feet), and maximum elevation (11,679 feet). Nice. You can see the raw data and export it from here.

I've included some photos from the trip (there are many more on Picasa). Also, in writing about the trip, it was interesting to see all of the other people who have taken a similar trip.

We met up on Sunday with Tom and Doug, two co-workers of my dad, and Doug's son Chet, who works as a hunting guide in Alaska. We took off Monday morning on the trail.

The Brothers Doll

There was late snow this year, so we ran into quite a few creeks and fields of wildflowers.

Sierra Lilies
White Poofs

We stopped on Monday night when we came across a bear box and some nice looking campsites. We couldn't find Pinto Lake and were a little bit unclear on where exactly we were.

Mountain King

The next morning we started up Black Rock Pass, and could clearly see Pinto Lake now that we were above it. I came across a few marmots on the trail and made it up to the top of Black Rock Pass around noon.

First Morning Light
Snow in the Cracks
Surveying the Land from Black Rock

From Black Rock we descended into Little Five Lakes and setup camp beneath some trees. Interestingly, a married ranger couple was living out there this summer off of a few thousand pounds of supplies brought in by helicopter. They had a yurt surrounded by an electrical fence powered by solar panels to fend off the bears. Once we setup camp, we had some tasty dinner and passed out for the night.

The next day (Wednesday) we didn't move camp and mainly sat around reading. Doug and my dad did some fishing and Lyell managed to get caught on the wrong end of a fly fishing line. We also caught some nice photos of the sunset over the mountains. The mosquitoes were out in force, and there were typically 10-20 of them on you at any given time.

Pole in the Sky
Over the Hills
Three Hats

On Thursday we parted ways with Tom, Doug and Chet, who decided to stay another day at Big Five Lakes. We headed down into Lost Canyon and back up, following a creek to a nice climb to reach Columbine Lake.

Red Sprout
Rocky Cliffs
Canyon Group Shot

We played in the snow a bit, looked at Black Rock Pass from a completely different perspective, and enjoyed the relative dearth of mosquitoes. That night the stars all over the place and the Milk Way was a stripe of milk foam across the sky.

Snow Fun
Sunset over the Rocks
More Stars

We headed back to base camp the next day (Friday). On the way down we came across a few more marmots and covey. We camped back in the realm of toilets and running water that night and had a blueberry cake to celebrate Lyell's 18th birthday.

One Last Look
Marmot Contemplation
Lyell is 18!

I've been fiddling around with EveryTrail, so here's a slideshow that shows the photos overlayed with the map and more detailed view of the GPS data. It's what Flickr should have but doesn't yet.

Mineral King

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  • Robin Mahon

    Love the pictures. I must say dinner didn’t look too inviting!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Robin and Robert

  • Ann Carranza

    Nice photos, Joey! I particularly liked your furry friend, however, there are a lot of really nice photos here. Well, I’m off to check out flickr…

  • jcdoll

    Glad you liked them. Thanks for the tip!

  • Carolyn, RN

    Joey, I’m a friend of your mom’s. Your photos are very well done and professional. I am always in awe.
    Group or covey for the grouse:

    Nice to see brothers enjoying each others company.

  • Liz Martin

    Hi Joey,
    Loved the photos- my husband and I love to backpack and so appreciated your trip.
    p.s. I am Mary’ Friend,

  • andrea

    What did you think of Milbank, South Dakota, and how did you pass through there?

  • jcdoll

    That was a different trip, we drove out there from California for a wedding. Milbank was very green with a handful of lakes nearby, which was a nice change from the yellow hills around here. We were mainly on the outskirts of town near Big Stone Lake, so can't comment too much on Milbank itself except for that it's pretty small and the people are really, really friendly. I posted photos but never got around to writing about it:

  • Carl

    Nice shots!

    and yeah, dinner looks so dry.. hehe.
    what is that btw?

    For more backpacking stories, you may also visit :

  • Backpackerresources

    Truly the camera is an essential part of backpack traveling. The pictures were superb, very awesome.

  • Joel

    Great report, great pictures. But I really appreciate your handy dandy GPS measurements of distance and altitude. Thanks for the post.


  • Club Penguin Cheats

    I particularly liked your furry friend, however, there are a lot of really nice photos here. Well, I'm off to check out flickr…

  • Cheryl Strieby

    Great shots. am going to pack at mineral king in two weeks. haven't been backpacking in 12 years, your shots helped me remember it won't all be sleeping on the rocks.
    ; )

  • Cheryl Strieby

    Great shots. am going to pack at mineral king in two weeks. haven't been backpacking in 12 years, your shots helped me remember it won't all be sleeping on the rocks.
    ; )

  • Bruno

    Hi Jcdoll. Thanks for the detailed trip report.
    I have a question for you even though i am pretty sure you don't check this website anymore.
    You say that the total elevation gain was 13600 feet, but looking at your graph it seems like it could be a bit less (i calculated 9200 to 9500ft). Should i rather trust the 13600ft? The reason why i am asking you such a question is that this loop might be our first backpacking trip with our young son (who we will have to carry on our back) and we would like to have a better idea of the difficulty before to decide. Thank you again for the detailed information and sorry for the bizarre question.

  • jcdoll

    Hi Bruno –
    Nope, I'm still around :). The trip was about 10,000 feet up and 10,000 feet down. It's hard to tell from the graph on this post, but you can look at the detailed GPS data here:

    I hope this helps.