Hengst & White Chief Mineral King WTC Experience Trip

  • Updated: August 20, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

August 18th to 20th, 2017
Hengst Peak (11,146')
White Chief Peak (11,159')
Miners Ridge (10,823')
Miners Nose (9,423')
Day 1: 6.4 miles, 2,100'
Day 2: 7.7 miles, 2,400'
Day 3: 6.4 miles, 700'

I'd been back in town for three whole days following last weekend's trip to Red Slate so of course I was chomping at the bit when Thursday night came around and it was time to head for Mineral King!

This was a repeat of a trip I'd led back in 2011 which I'd really enjoyed despite suffering through legions of mosquitoes.  In addition to including my namesake peak it's just a really pleasant three day trip on the easier end and the Mosquito Lakes area seems to be a little less trodden than a lot of the other areas where we run comparable experience trips.  And of course it's Mineral King so the views are always spectacular.

We had a big permit but even more cancellations that usual possibly explained by the solar eclipse that had everyone driving out to Idaho to sit on the side of a road in anticipation of two minutes of darkness.

We anticipated issues getting a campsite for Thursday night so we arranged to have someone drive up early.  They're all first come first serve and since the area is at the end of a long windy road with really rough trailhead parking it's tough if you can't get anything.

To our surprise the campgrounds had plenty of room and they grabbed three sites for us.  It's useful to know that the the Silver City Resort has wifi so our folks were able to get word out to the rest of us about the campsites.  There is a password but it's easy enough to get assuming it's open.

Kristen and I arrived around 1:45 am to find the 3rd spot we paid for had been grabbed by someone else only 15 minutes before.  We were tired and they had already started setting up tents so we decided not to make an issue of it.  Unfortunately the people proceeded to repeatedly slam car doors and loudly break branches off the trees for an unpleasantly long time.

The next morning we found everyone in our group and it was at that point I realized I just wasn't going to have good luck at Mineral King this year.  Last trip someone had forgotten boots and had to run down the hill to buy a new pair in Visalia before rushing back up to meet us.  And then after the trip we had an alternator go out stranding someone for an extra day until they could get a tow truck.

This time we had a different person forget their boots which was bad enough but then it turned out they'd also misplaced their keys.  They ended up locating their keys after we left and drove down to Visalia only to find they couldn't locate a single pair of boots in their size at which point they gave up and went off to watch the eclipse.

This being Mineral King there are no after hour permit pickups.  The ranger station opens at 8 am at which point they do a group LTN talk before they start issuing permits.  I was there a little before and to my surprise the ranger recognized me from my last trip up there.  She gives a really engaging LTN talk (note to self: memorize the Wilderness Act pillars and the definition of untrammeled for bonus points and potential stickers next time) which does unfortunately slow down the whole pickup process a bit.

On the plus side while America's Least Friendly Ranger (not pictured above) was running around she seemed to be in a slightly better mood this time.

This trip was originally supposed to be led by Paul Warren and I and we'd promised Paul's trailhead breakfast burritos for everyone before we started hiking.  When Paul had to drop out and Kristen jumped in as colead I insisted we had to still do them.  We even managed to add some swank by mixing in some green chorizo provided by Victor and Lubna.

Kristen was cooking while I got the permit and at one point I saw her head across the lot towards me burrito in hand.  Then just as my mouth was watering in anticipation she disappeared.  Apparently she thought better of risking the wrath of the mean ranger and / or getting sucked into the LTN talk and not being allowed to leave.

*Eventually* I got a burrito and some coffee and we were all set to go.

According to the rangers the need for marmot precautions were over for the year so we were able to leave our vehicles at the Mosquito / Eagle trailhead instead of doing another car shuttle.  (I'm still skeptical at the effectiveness of the car wrapping and who has time for the hasse anyway)

Mosquito Lakes shares a trailhead with White Chief and Eagle Lakes.  A mile and 500 ft up it cuts to the west and keeps climbing steadily until you reach the saddle south of Miners Nose.

Right before the junction leading to Eagle and Mosquito Lakes is Eagle Sinkhole.  It's an interesting spot where a sizeable stream disappears into the ground and then reemerges further down the slope.

This is what I was expecting after being here in 2011.  Instead we found this...

There was water flowing into it at a fair rate but it was sinking into the ground faster than it was being refilled.

Kristen went down to investigate where the water was going and yelled back up that there were fish.

There were maybe 20 trout of various sizes trapped in the puddle.  It was being fed with fresh water from above but they could barely move without knocking into each other.

It was obvious they weren't getting out of there.  Either the sun or an animal was going to kill them unless the puddle just went dry and they suffocated.

So we went about saving them.  I carry a large yard trash bag as a raincover and it was thick enough I could scoop up water.  I managed to scoop two or three of the fish but the rest did an admirable job of avoiding it in a very small amount of space.  So I ended up catching them one at a time barehanded while everyone else watched, filmed, and offered helpful advice.

After I had them all I lugged the only slightly heavy bag of trout up the hill a ways and released them back into the stream.

As it turned out the puddle ran dry the following day so I ended up feeling good if a little silly about the whole puddle trout affair.

The first Mosquito Lake is where the established trail ends and you have to pick your way along less distinct use trails.  There is camping here but it's pathetically bad compared to what you find at the higher lakes.

We initially intended to camp at one of the top two lakes (aka Four or Five) since I'd been there before but we ended up falling in love with a spot at Lake Two.

Another group stayed on the northern shore Saturday night but for my money the western side of the lake is the best camping in the drainage.  There are countless large smooth slabs and established dirt spots all over the place.

We arrived in camp around 3 pm and took our time setting up while listening to thunder rumbling above us.  We had a few sprinkles of rain but nothing significant enough to make us dive for tents.

It was Victor's birthday and knowing he's a fellow beer aficionado we'd planned an alpine beer tasting for happy hour.  Everyone packed in 2-4 cans and we ended up with a decent spread.

I know what you're thinking at this point.  "That's horrible!  Who wants lukewarm beer?"  Fortunately we had a solution for that!

Victor ran up the hill to a snow patch and we made use of two BearVault bear can lids to make a chiller.

They were all surprisingly good helped no doubt by the altitude and our classy mini red cup tasters.  The only exception was the Marooned On Hog Island which was listed as an oyster stout.  Because nothing says good beer like the idea of oyster shells.  It came late enough in the sequence you'd think it would be easier to get down but sadly, no.

And of course we had food as well.

Victor & Lubna's backcountry pad thai
The ever popular stalwart bbq pizza
I'd been afraid we'd be facing mosquito hordes again after the last few weeks but while we had a few buzzing around they never got that bad.  This place is much better later in the season!

Since the peaks were so close Kristen and I decided that for once we were not going to wake everyone up at 4 am to start hiking at dawn.  Instead we left camp at a depressingly relaxed 7 am.

Lake Four is pretty also and would have worked nicely for camping.  Most of the sites are on the western side and at least on this trip it was more buggy that Lake Two.  Most of them seemed to be gnats instead of mosquitoes and the fish in the lake were going nuts jumping nonstop.

From Lake Four it's a straightforward 2nd class scramble up to the right side of the bump you can see above.  Peakbagger had it listed as Miners Ridge so I had it on our list to climb.

The nose on Hengst is also very prominent from here.  And most other places in Mineral King.

Victor looking out with Lake Four and Lake Five in the background

Miners Ridge didn't have a register but it did offer nice views of both Mosquitos Lakes and Eagle Lake.  We could see several people camped at Eagle and later saw an inflatable boat being paddled around.

Once you're up on the saddle there's not a whole lot of gain to get Hengst or any of the other peaks back there.

We had rapidly building clouds so we decided to head for Hengst Peak next since it was our headliner peak.  We hustled up it stopping only occasionally for photo ops.

The view from the summit wasn't bad...

The daily rain storms had cleared away the haze you get up there sometimes especially with fires in the area.

(As to why I'm holding my phone in a lot of the summit shots lately that's because the Olympus TG4 lets you use a phone as a remote trigger)

This was Lubna's first trip with us in a while and also her last before she was going to be laid up 6 weeks for back surgery.  Not a bad one to go out on!

Surprisingly not many people had been up to the summit or else they just didn't sign in.  There was only a single person this year and the last sign before that was my friend Jack Kieffer's trip he led in June 2016.

Looking back I found the entry left by my group back in 2011.

And there was this touching poem:

Slightly random considering this peak isn't on any of the Sierra Club peak lists but hey.  If anyone has any context for it please do let me know.

The clouds were still building and starting to get a bit dark so we decided if we wanted to do White Chief and Eagle Crest we'd better get a move on.

Two of our group decided to wait at the base of Miners Ridge leaving 4 of us racing the clouds to White Chief.

White Chief is so minor it's difficult to pick out from any distance but it gives excellent views of the White Chief drainage where several of us had been 3 or so weeks before.

While it doesn't have a lake like Eagle or Mosquito it does have an incredible set of caves that are well worth a visit.

We could also see the entirety of the northeastern ridge of Vandever which we'd also climbed during that trip.  It's supposedly 3rd class but I think you'd be hard pressed to justify calling it anything more than loose 2nd class.  Kristen and I had also tried climbing the northern ridge (the black rock to the left) and found it impassable.

I had wanted to get Eagle Crest also but we had one person struggling a bit and the weather was really starting to feel like rain.  And based on the last few days I fully expected thunder and lighting as well.

Rather than retrace our steps up and over Miners Ridge and back down to Mosquito Lakes I had a "shortcut" I'd wanted to try on the 2011 trip that was was shot down by my coleader at the time.  Fortunately *this* group was more trusting so down we went intending to cross the headwall of Eagle Lake.

I scouted the first few ramps to the left and found they either cliffed or got a little more exposed than I wanted to take the group on.  So in the end we ended we dropped down to almost 10,400 before I found something I liked.

It also started to rain just as we started across the ramp.  Not super heavy but it was enough to soak everything not covered in rain gear.

Victor was thrilled as it gave him a chance to try out his new tyvek rain skirt.

The Kaweah range

The rain let up just about as we reached the ridge separating Eagle and Mosquito.  It might not have ended up saving us any time or distance but it was a lot of fun!  And from there it was an easy stroll back into camp.

Where of course we had the other half of the beer waiting for us.

And wine.  And also whiskey.  It was a rough trip...

Tortellini, tomatoes, pesto, and basil.  The perfect accompaniment to red wine.

The next morning we packed up and left camp around 8:30 am.

I didn't find the exact use trail we had taken on the way up but we followed ducks and at least one person had been down this way based on the tracks through the vegetation.

We left the trail at the saddle south of Miners Nose and dropped our packs behind some trees.  Just as we were getting ready to leave we ran into a ranger.  As it turned out it was the same one that issued me the permit the day before.  The topic of the sinkhole came up and she couldn't believe there'd been fish in there.  Apparently it was bone dry as of the day before.

Victor demonstrates how deep to dig a proper LNT cathole

Miners Nose is a really minor bump on the map but I love visiting it for the views.  It hangs out over the road and gives you an upclose view across at Timber Gap, Glacier, Sawtooth, Mineral, and more.

You can even see Hengst off to the south.

The post trip mexican food anticipation effect was in full swing by now and we made good time down the hill stopping only briefly to examine the now dry Eagle Sinkhole.  I either got all the fish or something had eaten any small stragglers I'd missed.

We made the cars a little after noon which was before the afternoon showers started up.  We were happy to find our missing person had apparently made it out of there though it was a bummer she missed out on the trip after driving all that way.

Since we came out via Three Rivers our post trip mexican feast was at our usual standby Casa Mendoza.

In addition to the awesome deck and cold beer we got to enjoy sugar snorting squirrels running amok on the table next to us.

And we even made it home before midnight.  Damn I love three day trips.

You Might Also Like