Mon, Jul 22, 2013
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I noted several cars wrapped in marmot-proofing at the TH as I started off. Though I have never taken the precaution myself, I've also never left my car for more than 24hrs here. Mineral King is unique in having the reputation of antifreeze-loving marmots to terrorize vehicles, something you'll see nowhere else in the Sierra. Just how much damage they actually do is a matter of some conjecture, backcountry legend, and Internet hearsay. But as if to offer some tangible support for these concerns, a marmot popped up on a rock as I was starting up the trail, giving me a look as if to say, "Oh, so you're leaving, are you?" I memorized his face in case there needed to be a little frontier justice in the afternoon.
As expected, most everything was wet and the sky was already heavily overcast. There would be no morning lull before the afternoon thunderstorms built up later in the day. The ones from yesterday had never dissipated and were hanging around to get the party started even earlier today. It looked more like a typical summer day in the Pacific NW than the Sierra. Though my boots kept my feet comfy and mostly dry, my pants absorbed all the water they could manage from the encroaching plants. I suppose I was doing my good turn for the day, acting as the trail sponge to make things nicer for those to come up the trail later. The creeks I encountered had healthy flows following the evening rains, in sharp contrast to the more anemic flows encountered in previous weeks. I turned right at the first two trail junctions, climbing higher on the west side of Farewell Canyon and then up to Miners Ridge. Where the trail starts to descend into the Mosquito Creek drainage, I turned north and headed cross-country over easy terrain to Miners Nose, a small outcrop on Miners Ridge. There were no views until the very end where the forest gives way to a small rock outcropping with nice views to the north looking down at Mineral King and the Kaweah River drainage. There is a fine view of the ridgeline on the north side of the drainage, stretching from Paradise Peak at the west end to Sawtooth Peak anchoring the east end. In two days' time I planned to hike several miles in the middle of this 9mi ridge, including Empire Mtn just west of Glacier Pass.
I returned to the trail and continued to Mosquito Lakes. The trail grows thin after the first lake which appears to be a popular campsite. Beyond that I had to look around for the ducks which periodically mark the trail, losing it once in a while in the process. The cross-country is almost as easy as the trail, so no big deal one way or the other. Somewhere between the second and third lake I lost it on the slabs found here, but it was time to peel off anyway to head for Peak 11,032ft. The NE Ridge looks interesting but perhaps too blocky in the lower half so instead I opted for the easier-looking slopes on the east side that I used to reach the NE Ridge about halfway up. From there it was a class 2 affair to the summit which I reached by 11a.
There were some remnants of an old survey tower scattered among the summit rocks along with a small cairn to mark the top. I was now high enough to see over Empire Mtn with a view to the much higher Kaweah Ridge in the distance behind it. To the south looms Hengst Peak, the highpoint and center of a mile-long ridge with steep cliff faces on the north side. The North Buttress of Hengst connects to Peak 11,032ft through a saddle, and it was along this route that I had planned to most directly reach Hengst. The buttress looked far from easy, but I decided to scramble down along the connecting ridgeline to get a better look at it. Its intimidating appearance did not improve upon closer inspection. There was no way I was going to get up it without a rope and a partner with better skills than I possessed. The alternative was not what I'd hoped either as there appeared to be no break in the cliff on either side of Hengst for half a mile. I ended up dropping down on the east side of the ridge, contouring below the cliffs and above the highest and largest of the Mosquito Lakes. Where I thought I might take 45 minutes to get from one summit to the other ended up taking almost two hours with the extra detouring involved.
It was nearly 1p by the time I reached Hengst's summit with the first raindrops having already started to come down. I quickly photographed more than 40 pages of a register found in an ammo box dating back to 1995. Sean O'Rourke had been here almost two years ago, the first stop of a 12-peak tour around Mineral King that was inspired by me which it turn came from a register entry I read a few years before that about a couple of Visalia locals who made the tour in 30hrs fueled only by candy bars. I think Sean managed it in about half the time. Although I was not quite in the clouds, the views by now were pretty muted and the first peal of thunder could be heard in the distance - it was time to head down. I retraced my route back along the crest to the east, aiming for the saddle between Hengst and Eagle peaks that would allow me to drop into the Eagle Creek drainage.
While I was traversing the ridge the drops turned to drizzle and threatened to make a soggy mess of me unless I got out my raingear. It wasn't particularly cold out but I knew that hypothermia is greatly aided by wet clothing. Knowing that putting on my raingear was in fact the best option, I wondered if I wouldn't actually be better without any clothes than with wet clothes on. After all, my skin is waterproof, right? What harm could a little rain do? I figured my chances of running into other hikers on a day like this were almost nil, so just below the saddle I paused to strip off all my clothes (excepting my hat and boots) and do a little naked hiking in the rain. There was a bit of scrambling too, as I first needed to get down the boulder and talus slopes leading off the north side of the saddle. Though the scrambling might seem a bit dangerous with so much exposed flesh to tear open, in reality it wasn't much different. The parts most needing protection are nicely situated to have the least chance of damage in a slip or fall. Other parts like my legs don't get much protection anyway from a thin pair of hiking pants, so that mattered little. And overall, I found myself descending a bit more cautiously "just in case" with the end result that there was not the least mishap on the descent.
As I got down to Eagle Lake and picked up the trail for the return, the rain started coming down in buckets. The lake surface looked like it was being pummeled by machine gun fire and the thunder and lightning put on a show in the surrounding mountains. My pack cover kept all the clothes and other things (including my camera) nicely dry, while my new boots did pretty good for my feet and the hat at least kept the water out of my eyes. I paid more attention to my surroundings as I was back on the trail, looking out for tents, campers, hikers and assorted folks that I might offend with my wilderness experiment. The rain turned out to be a blessing for naked hiking today as it kept the mosquitoes at bay. They had come out briefly to pester me earlier in the morning on my way to Miners Nose, but once the rain had started I saw no sign of them. The rain continued steadily for more than an hour, eventually letting up sometime before 3p. By this time I was getting within a few miles of the trailhead and had to be ever more vigilant looking around each corner on the trail for others. Less than a mile before I reached the TH I spotted two folks below me on the trail ahead. I quickly darted back up the trail for about 50yds, ducking behind a large tree and scrambling to get my clothes back on. I was in the process of putting my boots back on when they came by and we exchanged short greetings. They probably figured I was taking rocks out my shoes, I guessed.
I was back at the TH by 3:20p, which turns out to be an inconvenient time. If I was heading home it would have been great, getting me back around sunset, but I was planning to spend the night here. If it had been an hour or more earlier I might have gotten another hike in, perhaps to some unnamed peaks around Sawtooth Pass. So I spent some time playing in the creek, then taking a shower, then making dinner and watching a movie in the van. All of this kept me occupied until about 6:30p, still almost two hours before sunset. I tried to sleep for more than an hour to no great success. I should have brought some reading material or more DVDs. I eventually hit on the idea of watching the movie again with the commentary track. This at least gave me an excuse to have another drink and stay up a little later. I think I need to work more on my apre-hike entertainment skills. Or perhaps start doing longer hikes again...
This page last updated: Wed Jul 31 21:32:02 2013
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