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2004: Mineral King — Hamilton Lake Loop

August 12, 2004

Trip Report for Mineral King – Hamilton Lake Loop (46 miles)

July 10–15  2004

Solo trip

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Day 1: Mineral King trail head to Cliff Creek (5 1/2 miles)

Day 2: Timber Creek to Hamilton Lake (13 1/2 miles)

Day 3: Hamilton Lake to Nine lakes Basin (4 1/2 miles)

Day 4: Nine Lakes to Little Five Lakes (6 1/2 miles)

Day 5: Little Five Lakes to Cliff Creek (10 miles)

Day 6: Cliff Creek to Mineral King trail head (5 1/2 miles)

I left Santa Cruz at 8:30am Left Santa Cruz and arrived at the ranger station at Mineral Kings at 2pm.

Day 1: Mineral King Trail head to Cliff Creek: 5 1/2 miles

Profile day 1

7,800′ – 9,500′ – 7,100′

At the parking lot I noticed that all the cars were backed in with their hoods open. An elderly woman there told me it was because marmots liked to get inside the hoods and chew on hoses and stuff.

At Mineral King

Nick ready to go

3:00 pm I left for the trail.

The hike up to the pass was long and hard for my start, and much of it exposed.

4:30 arrive at Timber Gap (summit) 10 minute break there

6:15 Cliff Creek campground. Originally I had thought to make it to Pinto Lake, but It was obviously too late. There was nice camping by the stream. There are about 3 real spots, 2 on one side of the creek and one on the other.

Campiste at Cliff Creek

Campsite at Cliff Creek

The upper one across the creek is where I am staying. There was one other single woman staying there. She was doing the same loop as I was, but the in the opposite direction than I had planned, and had started from Cedar Grove rather than Mineral King (didn’t have to climb Timber Gap that way). I decided to go the same way as she was. Pinto Lake was only 3 miles, and didn’t seem a place to spend a whole day, and Little 5 Lakes seemed too far, especially with a 2,500 foot climb at the end. So going clockwise instead appeared to make sense. This site has a bear box.

Day 2: Timber Creek to Hamilton Lake (14 1/2 miles)

Profile day 2

7,100′ – 5,500′ – 8,300′

7:15 Arose

8:30 Left camp, and quickly left the other woman behind as she went at a very slow pace.

10:40 I came to a bridge – took dip in swimming hole downstream from bridge. 20 minute break

Bearclaw Campsite

Bearclaw Campsite

1:00 I arrived at Bearclaw camp – awful. Very developed. Stacked logs all over. No streams or lakes. Water is from faucet that then has to be filtered. Did not see any place to camp at lower Bearclaw which the Sierra South book recommended. There are private cabins just beyond, where they trail heads east. Took half hour break.

Hiking to Hamilton

Hiking to Hamilton

From Cliff Creek to Bearclaw the terrain and Flora was woodsy with redwoods and firs. The part after Bearclaw got into the high country, and along cliff faces with views.

Hamilton Lake

Hamilton Lake

4:30 Arrived at Hamilton Lake. Hamilton Lake was very nice, but a very busy campground. It even has a pit toilet, as well as bear boxes at several of the campsites. I got a nice spot above the lake. The swimming was good. Cold, but not freezing.

Day 3: Hamilton Lake to Nine lakes Basin (4 1/2 miles)

Profile day 3

8,200′ – 10,600′

6:00 arose

7:30 left camp

Hamilton Lake

Hamilton Lake

There is a quick ascent to rise above Hamilton Lake to begin the day.

10:00 Arrived at Precipice Lake—this little lake had ice floating in it! I took a dip there. Just in and out and my legs were numb! Took an hour break.

Cliff Trail

Cliff Trail

The hike was arduous—steep, and along cliffs with great views. Even a short tunnel through the rock, but not terrible, as it wasn’t that long.

12:00 Arrived at Nine Lakes

The mosquitoes at Nine Lakes were horrible, even with the breeze.

Nine Lakes was barren, with only one tree for shade, which was a few hundred yards from my campsite. I took a hike for about 3 hours around the various lakes, with  a nice dip in the second lake. But he mosquitoes were annoying the whole time.  I had thought of spending an extra day here but abandoned that idea.

Day 4: Nine Lakes to Little Five Lakes (6 1/2 miles)

Profile day 4

10,500′ – 9,500 – 10,500

6:00 Arose

7:30 Left camp

Pack trail down the Big Aroyo

Pack trail down the Big Arroyo

The hike itself was nothing special. Long gradual down in beginning though valley. Then steep up for awhile to the lakes.

12:00 Arrive Little Five Lakes

Little Five Lakes Campsite

Little Five Lakes Campsite

I set up camp and took a swim until two. Met the ranger (there is a ranger station here). There is a fresh spring of very cold water near the ranger station. This water does not need to be filtered! The mosquitoes were annoying. Not terrible with the breeze, but in the evening and next morning when the breeze died, they were terrible. From 2:00 to 4:30 I hiked to the second Big Five Lake.

One of the Lakes

One of the Lakes

Took a dip in this wonderful lake, but the mosquitoes were horrendous! Didn’t go on to the main lake. Hiked around the lake where I camped in the evening—some boulder hopping. Had to do something with the mosquitoes so bad! Probably would have been a nice place to hang out if it were not for the mosquitoes.

Day 5: Little Five Lakes to Cliff Creek (10 miles)

Profile day 5

10,500′ – 11,700′ – 7,200′

6:00 Arose

7:50 Left camp

The climb was spectacular, but the mosquitoes were bad most of the way up.

Up to the summit

Up to the summit

9:20 Arrived at Black Rock Pass (20 minute break)

The summit had a nice 360º panorama. I considered climbing along the crest a bit, but didn’t have the oomph. The climb down was long and exposed! Also the trail was full of loose rock (maintained for mule trains?)

12:00 Arrived at Pinto Lake

Pinto Lake was wonderful! Finding the lake itself was a bit tricky – a little trail just below the cut off to the campsites. Can’t see lake easily—wouldn’t know it was there if coming from below. It is swimmable –cold but not icy. The campsites are very nice, and there is a perfect stream. Great for sitting by, with a nice swimming hole (this is quite cold). Almost no mosquitoes on this side of the divide.



4:50 after a swim in the stream I headed down to Cliff Creek. The trail was even worse in terms of loose rock maintenance

6:15 Arrive back at Cliff Creek, and used the same campsite as on my way in.

Day 6: Cliff Creek to Mineral King trail head (5 1/2 miles)

Reverse of Day 1

6:00 Arose

7:50 left camp

I tried to rock hop across not taking off my boots, but slipped and got all wet. Ended up putting on my Teva’s so as not to hike in wet boots for most of the way up. Again a long trudge up, though some nice fields of flowers at times.

Wild Flowers

Wild Flowers

10:30 Timber Gap (30 minute break)

12:00 I arrive back at the car for my drive home. (and no marmots had gotten at it!)

To see the full set of pictures from this hike you can link here to my Flickr album

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