|Electric Times on Mineral Peak - June 24, 2006
Well after that embarrassing wrong turn on
June 3rd which stopped my forward
progress to Mineral Peak, the thought of getting back there got
under my skin. I didn't anticipate getting there anytime soon, that
is until my friend Jeff phoned me and said he wanted to get into the
mountains for a dayhike. We planned for an early start, 3am from my
house. This has become the biggest test of willingness for me,
getting out of bed in the middle of the night is not my favorite
thing to do. Jeff arrived as scheduled and soon we were off to the
twists and turns of the Mineral King road.
The last time I was at Mineral King, a big fat
red Marmot had lunch under the hood of my car. This time I showed up
with fifty foot of chicken wire and bungee cords to keep the little
fat guys from chowing down on my Xterra. Maybe it was false hope, but
it made me feel better not having to worry about my car all day.
Marmot sandwich - super sized with chicken wire
This day was to be wrought with quirks, starting with the
fact I forgot to lock the car, only to remember when we were a quarter mile up
the trail. A brilliant move that rewarded me with an extra half mile for the
day. The weather was to be roasty-toasty even at high elevations and it was
apparent even with our seven-thirty in the morning start time. We traveled
quickly along the first dry part of the trail, reaching the stream crossing. The
water was faster than I have seen it before, which meant getting a little wet
stepping across the thing. Still it was beautiful day and we were on our way to
Mineral Peak via the Crystal Lakes trail. It wasn't long before a Marmot greeted
us, obviously fattened from a spring full of car eating.
A fat Marmot greets us on the trail
So while Jeff and I are walking along, we kept hearing the
low pitched call of some unknown animal. I said to Jeff that I have heard that
call many times before, but have never been able to identify what animal makes
that sound. Just about that time, Jeff points at a big Grouse who is obviously
generating the wail - which would otherwise seem to come from a much larger
creature. This is the first time I've seen the colorful feathers on a Grouse,
the only thing we could figure is it must be Grouse mating season?
Is it a Grouse?
After our nature hike on the lower trail we soon came to the
intersection of the Monarch Lakes trail and the Crystal Lakes trail. I commented
to Jeff that I hadn't been up the Crystal Lakes trail before but if the day allowed we
could make a loop and return via the Monarch Lakes trail. It was nice seeing a
few new views on the trail leading to Crystal Lakes, but we ran into snow
earlier than I anticipated so the going was slow. Someone should devise an index
which credits cross country snow travelers with more mileage than trail hikers
(e.g. 1 mile across snow equals 3 miles credit). The snow was wet and mushy -
making it more of a pain in the backside.
Jeff tops out a snow field to gain the notch at 10,400'
above Crystal Creek
After we came over the ridge we could view the outlet to
Crystal Lake and the terrain below. I was a little surprised to find a trail
sign (and trail) leading to the two lakes below Crystal Lakes as the trail
doesn't show up on any of my maps (hint to people that enjoy fishing). As we
followed the trail towards Crystal Lake it was apparent to me that we actually
lost some elevation. This led to an annoying set of switchbacks below the
which had the extra pleasure of being more of a creek than a trail.
The trail to Crystal Lake and the outlet of the lake
After making the grade on the switchbacks we arrived just
west of Crystal Lake among snow and rocks. Neither of us were too enthused to
wander over and look at the lake, so we took a brief break instead. We also got
our first good view of Mineral Peak.
First look at the south west face of Mineral
After our break, we elected to climb up a short
rock wall which separated us from the upper (smaller) Crystal Lake.
It was from this location, south west of the upper lake, we began
our climb of Mineral Peak. We picked a line which looked doable from
our perspective and stuck with it to the top.
Jeff signals he's ready to climb
The lower part of the climb simply involved a snow field with
a little mixed rock. It was soft enough that we didn't put our crampons on and
simply kicked steps, but near the top of the snow I had second thoughts since it
got a little steep. Jeff moved uphill like a champ, I would have thought he'd
done this dozens of time before.
Jeff starts up the snowfield on Mineral Peak
As we reached the top of the snowfield and arrived at solid
rock the views below us opened up a little. It was also becoming obvious that
our route was not the easiest route to the top of Mineral Peak, but we stuck
with it anyway. Essentially, we climbed the right hand side of the south ridge.
Looking down at upper and lower Crystal Lakes - Brrr
Climbing up further and further, we reached a couple of false
summits - simply because the summit was out of view as compared to the
verticality of our location on the rock. Our route was easily class 3, I might
argue portions class 4 - but we took our time and had fun with solid holds all
the way to the top.
Jeff mastering the rock of Mineral Peak
While our route wasn't the easiest path to the top,
we really enjoyed the views each time we came to a brief resting
spot. The combination of rock, snow, and water really adds flavor to
the high Sierra.
Climbing the south ridge
Jeff acquired the summit first and immediately
found the summit block. A few moments later I joined him when we
both noticed a very unfortunate sound - our ice axes were humming
with electricity! We had heard just one clap of thunder a bit
earlier and there were thunder clouds within view, but it was clear
overhead. Regardless, we dropped out packs, snapped a few quick
photos, put our names in the register and got the heck off the
Jeff "buzzing" on the summit block
A few summit shots
So off the summit we headed, we might have
been there five minutes maximum. Now the issue was which way
down? I wasn't fond of down climbing the same route, thankfully
we found the path of least resistance which happens to be the
south east ridge.
Leaving the summit, the "easy way"
After down climbing we arrived atop the south
ridge that divides the Crystal Lakes bowl from the Monarch Lakes.
Jeff and I talked over the virtues of going one way or the other,
ultimately we chose to make a "loop" by heading down to Monarch
Lakes and around the the trail from that point.
Yours truly on the ridge between Crystal and Monarch Lakes,
Mineral Peak in the background
unfortunately supposed that most of the snow would have already
melted away from the Monarch Lakes trail. "All we had to do was walk
around the lakes". Well, the walk down the slopes was a
challenge due to the condition of the snow and the steepness of the
terrain. We forged ahead and soon enough we were standing at the icy
edge of upper Monarch Lake.
Walking down the snowfield, Mineral Peak on the right
We proceeded around upper Monarch Lake - a real pain since we'd
occasionally post hole thru the snow, something a bit treacherous
when one is within arms reach of an ice laden lake. All of the snow
around the lakes had big sun cups, making the walk out that much
more of a pain. We went down another snow field to lower Monarch
Lake, which again was surrounded by soft and sun cupped snow. To
really build character, we soon realized that the "trail" leading
away from the lake was completely buried in snow, so all we could do
was pick a route, put our heads down and just keep walking. We took
one last look at Mineral Peak, put the camera away and forged our
way out. If you ever choose to hike to Monarch Lake during the early
season, you'd be well advised to carry an ice axe and wear crampons
as the steepness of the grade will soon turn you into a human
toboggan trying to traverse the valley wall.
One last look at Mineral Peak from Lower Monarch Lake
After the walk out, we found my car had not been consumed by any
Marmots. Whether or not the chicken wire had anything to do with it
did not matter at that point. Jeff and I donned fresh apparel and
raced to the Silver City resort for our prized cheeseburger. To our
dismay they had just closed. I did manage to effectively beg the
waitress to sell us a few cold sodas and some chips for the ride
out. We stopped at a Denny's in Visalia for some conciliatory
cheeseburgers, as Jeff would say the people there were very
"diverse". We traveled home a little beat from a long day of
adventures in the high Sierra, but happy to have accomplished an
otherwise benign Mineral Peak summit on an electrifying day.
Having fun in the mountains, what could be better
Our route and elevation profile