Mineral King, Timber Gap, Pinto Lake, Peak 10,021' (Originally Mineral Peak) WTC Experience Trip

  • Updated: July 10, 2016
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

July 9th & 10th, 2016
Ranger Point (10,021')

"Come join us for an easy two day backpack to Mineral Peak in Mineral King.  We'll hike in, camp by a lake, do a fun peak with a great view, and be out early."

Sounds great doesn't it?  It was enough to get a full permit of 15 people out with Garry McCoppin and I bright and early Saturday morning in early July.  It unfortunately would not be the trip we'd actually lead since a permit snafu left us with no option but to hike up and over Timber Gap adding an extra thousand feet and quite a few miles.

But hey, as the bumper sticker reads "Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure"  (Not tacked on the end there is "At least in hindsight")

We were in the jeep this weekend after nearly getting stranded by the Subaru in Modesto coming out of a 5 day backpack last weekend.

As usual we left after work on Friday and as usual it was a late night.  On the plus side the Mineral King road goes a lot faster in the middle of the night when I don't have to worry about opposing traffic.  My passengers seemed to appreciate this fact in between the occasional thumps and moans as they bounced off the doors and windows...

But before that we passed the time by sharing stories about trips and the various complications that can arise all the while declaring that this trip would be nothing like any of those and everything would go right...

Welcome to everything not going right.  Since there's no night drop permits in Mineral King we had to wait for the ranger station to open in the morning.  Normally this is only a minor inconvenience delaying your trail time by an hour or two and possibly (but not usually) picking up some useful tidbit about trail conditions.

First off the permit we had reserved was for the wrong trail.  We reserved it over the phone saying we wanted to camp at Crystal Lake and climb Mineral and somehow we were given Timber Gap instead of Sawtooth and didn't realize it until we got there.  Oops!  Always trust but verify.

That was a relatively minor inconvenience and we quickly had a new plan.  The bigger issue was the ranger on duty.  I've dealt with quite a few rangers and various National Park or Forest Service volunteers and in pretty much every case had a positive or at least neutral experience.  This particular day however one half of the Mineral King staff was apparently having a bad day and officially wins the prize for rudest I've run into.

The very nice ranger with an awesome beard
The ranger above was really nice.  We chatted about various areas of the Sierra, joked around, and silently bonded over mutual beardage.  Ranger number 2 came out and was somewhat less friendly.  She didn't like where some stoves were set up and instead of asking us nicely to move them or just telling us she instead loudly declared the people using them were idiots and were going to burn everything down.  After directing them to go across the road and use a park bench she was yelling at them to get back over here for the LTN talk 30 seconds later.  Everything Garry or I discussed as far as possible Plan B's was met with rude comments that didn't even fit with rules for the area.  It left a really bad taste in my mouth.  It was the only time I can remember I was tempted to complain to someone's supervisor.

But I didn't argue.  It's like arguing with the TSA no good will come of it.  We got our permit and just tried to get out of there as quickly as possible.

The Plan B we came up with was to head up and over Timber Gap which starts from the same trailhead as our intended hike to Crystal Lake.  However instead of stopping after a short climb it splits off and does a bit more uphill.  It was however our only option so off we went!

We parked across from the ranger station since we were told marmots were currently active at the trailheads.  This added about .6 miles of hiking down the road but meant we could largely avoid having to worry about the evil marmots of Mineral King.   We didn't bother with tarps or chicken wire.

The vehicles at the trailhead showed the usual mix of marmot precautions.  Some people had wrapped with a tarp, others left the hoods open so the critters wouldn't chew their way in, and a few people had chicken wire.  Then a few folks hadn't bothered (which would have been me if we parked there since I've been convinced by rangers in the past it's basically futile)  There were no marmots in evidence evil or otherwise.

Heading up the trail the view opened up beautifully.

This is where we would have turned off for our relaxing lakeside camp.  Instead we kept going up and strolled over Timber Gap.

And then dropped down 3k on the far side.

On the plus side it was incredibly lush and there were wildflowers everywhere.

On the downside we'd have to come back up this to get out.  But that was a thought for the next day!

When I heard someone had seen a pink grasshopper I was half convinced we'd pushed people too hard and they were hallucinating.  If that was the case then their camera was suffering the same hallucinations.   You learn something new every day.

After the long descent down the far side of Timber Gap we came to a really nice camp spot.  There were fire pits, a nice place you could fill water or swim, and it just felt a little too short of a day to call it home for the night.  Since the group seemed to be doing fairly well we decided to continue towards Pinto Lake to possibly do Eisen the next morning.

This meant we were climbing again.

Well, once we made it across the water that is.  There was no way to do it with boots on so everyone waded with those lacking water shoes feeling envious of my highly fashionable neon green water crossing crocks.

I thought the water felt great but everyone else seemed to think the water was freezing.

From there it was mostly a gradual gain.

Right below the last chunk of gain below Pinto there was a spectacular area with a multi tier waterfall cascading down.  Many a picture was taken.

Our group -1 person

Unfortunately, there were no good campsites down there so we hoofed it up one more hill (or two) and (eventually) reached Pinto Lake.

Unfortunately, there were already two other sizable groups in the area taking up the more suitable campsites.  Even after some extensive exploration, we had to settle for a spot that didn't quite reach my usual standards.

We had flat clear ground and easy access to water so it worked.

And the deer were very unafraid of us.  It's almost like they know people aren't allowed to hurt them back there.

Everyone was tired but we had a pleasant happy hour before turning in.

We took a hard look at the stats for the following day and decided attempting Eisen wasn't prudent.  Instead we packed up and set off early back down towards Timber Gap.

The climb back up Timber Gap was a bit harder than the crossing the previous day but it is a steady climb.  It's just a 3,000 ft steady climb.  But there are lots of pretty flowers!

When we reached the top I offered a cross country peak to anyone who felt like they had it in them.  A few people demurred on account of having already done more gain just that day then we'd intended for the entire weekend.

The rest of us formed a conga line and headed for nearby point 10,021' aka Ranger Point.  I picked it since it was reasonably close and was an interesting junction point on the ridge right above the ranger station.  The rest stretched out in the sun and looked distressingly comfortable as they settled in for a nap.

The scramble along the ridge was rough in a few spots and not everyone felt comfortable going all the way.  Fortunately the views along the way were so nice it was disgusting.

You can see our goal in the background here behind the interesting bump with the red and white rock.

Those who stuck it out took part in a brief victory summit photo shoot them we had to backtrack to the gap.

Everyone seemed greatly relieved to be going downhill the rest of the way to the cars.

Well, mostly downhill.  That last .6 miles along the road was actually a bit uphill.  But that just made us savor the last bits of the adventure a little more.

Not weeping but kind of wanting to
Back at the cars packs were gratefully flung to the ground and a celebratory beer or two was shared.

Edd, Garry, myself, and Kristen WTC staff representing all three OC groups

This was an official WTC experience trip which meant we had cards to sign before everyone took off.  This is to validate that the students have done one of the two experience trips needed to graduate.  For most of those along for this adventure it was the first.  And the others they do will probably feel a bit easier as a result.

The drive down the Mineral King Road in the daylight is far more nerve wracking than doing it in the middle of the night since you occasionally have a vehicle fly around a blind corner partially in your half of the 1.5 lane road.  Some days it pays to have a neon vehicle.  And a roll bar.

Once that ordeal was over most of us dropped by Cafe Mendoza in Three Rivers and celebrated the weekend.  They have a rather nice deck outside and the temperature was just perfect.

And they even had internet access for the cell phone addicts and photo sharers among us.

And then it was back home.  Sadly it was a little later than intended but hey, it happens.  There's always the next trip where I'm confident absolutely nothing will go wrong...

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