04 July 2013

Mineral King: Black Rock Pass

Sequoia National Park

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

Day 2. The heat of sleeping at low elevations and the roar of Cliff Creek left me looking at the stars for far too long during the night. The lack of sleep didn't do anything to improve my speed as we started the day's climb from 7100 feet to 13700 feet at the top of the Great Western Divide. We had stopped just short of the crossing, which is more of a ford, but has some rocks for hopping. The junction is at the far side and came with a bear box and bigger, but slanted, campsites. We turned right and started up the canyon.

Cliff Creek in a tame area
Cliff Creek in a flatter area than we were listening to while trying to sleep.

alighted butterfly
Of course there are always a few butterflies.

Mariposa lilies
Quite a few Mariposa lilies, at least in the lower elevations.

At first, the trail is well forested and there are moist meadow areas where the growth comes in a bit, but the trail is still well established and easy to follow. The trees keep it shady and cool for the initial climb, but gradually give way as the trail leaves Cliff Creek.

looking down the canyon as the trees thin
The canyon becomes very rocky in the bottom and the trees start to thin, especially around the trail.

Cliff Creek in a long and steep cascade
Cliff Creek comes down a long and steep cascade from a section of canyon the trail avoids.

paintbrush and things
The Indian paintbrush of the area is huge, often the size of a small fist.

Finally reaching the Pinto Lake area, the trail rejoins Cliff Creek and there is a bear box. There is no sign of the small lake shown on the map as it is completely obscured by willows. A couple spurs head off for the flowing water and campsites while the main trail heads into a soggy meadow and makes a sudden left turn indicated by rocks. I had lunch out on the rocks as it started to climb again, still just a tiny bit over one third of the way up.

Pinto Lake is visible from above
Looking down on Pinto Lake from above, it is easy to find. At it's level, it is entirely hidden by willows.

Cliff Creek coming down from the lakes
The cascade of Cliff Creek as it is coming down from the high lakes above. The weather is moving in again for the afternoon.

The weather moved in again as we climbed the exposed rock up to the pass. Thunder could be heard high above, but no lighting could be seen. Again, the clouds were only nearby, sometimes bringing shade from the sun and a few drops, but mostly just causing worry. Springs dot the mountain and the trail repeatedly crosses or comes near streams just big enough to get water from. The smaller ones seem to become patches of flower while the larger ones cut a bit of a bed for themselves and don't spread out so much.

Spring Lake from above
Spring Lake, along a popular cross country route. The pass beside it is shorter, but not where we are going. Eventually Cyclomen Lake and a little bit of Columbine Lake also come into view.

A patch of high trees occupy a spot about two thirds of the way up and I sat for a second lunch there. It was far too late to still be making this climb. I started counting steps to focus on the walking and try to be more consistently moving. They were very short steps, but it was how I felt on the tail end of my cold. More lakes appeared above Cliff Creek. The trail seemed to come level with the lower Hands 'n Knees Pass and then it vanished from view. Finally, I was at the top without quite so much time passing as had during the second third of the climb. Happily, the day's rumbling dissipated shortly before I got to the top.

some of the Little Five Lakes as seen from Black Rock Pass
Far below, the tree lined lakes visible from Black Rock Pass are part of Five Little Lakes and have the ranger station nearby.

more lakes, mostly of the Little Five grouping but one of the Big Five
The upper lakes of the Five Little Lakes by the ranger station. Over the ridge is actually one of the Five Big Lakes.

I came down the other side ready to stop as soon as possible. The map shows the trail passing very near one of the upper lakes and I saw someone camping next to one of them near a bit of something that looked like trail, but as I continued on, I didn't go anywhere near the lake. Instead, I wandered up and down along big rocks and odd drainages. This side of the mountain seemed drier, but there was eventually a bit of seeping water and greenery. I hit trees and climbed down switch backs among them. Crossing a creek outflow, I was to another bear box and camp for the night. We shared the camp with a group of high school aged boy scouts who decided to go through, badly, as many patriotic songs as they could remember since it was the forth of July. Coming in just as late as I did, there was a pair who would spend the next day day hiking to Kaweah Peak. There were far too many mosquitoes and it was far too hot for 10k feet, but eventually I managed to find some reasonable sleep.

Continue reading: day 3

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 July 2013

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