Having grown up just below the Sierra, Backpacking and hiking has always been something that I loved. Recently my love for the two-day Backpacking trip has been reignited having met two new friends who feel the same; Nathan who I met slack lining at the park just came home from three years in the back of his truck making maps for the Bureau of Land Management. And Tyson, at our local coffee shop who also just moved back to town from years of living in bishop climbing every rock in sight. So naturally I invited the two on a Backpacking trip into Mineral King Valley, a place both of them grew up hiking. The valley is technically inside Sequoia National Park once a silver mining town in the late 1800’s boasting a population of 2,000. It is now a much smaller and less trafficked park, the 25 mile unmaintained narrow and windy road helps to keep the traffic and tourists away leaving plenty of room for anyone to come on a moments notice.
There's something different about Mineral King Valley tucked away inside the borders of Sequoia National Park, the final long winding turn which spits you out revealing the valley drops you in at 7,400 feet into a shocking change of scenery. The valley feels like a different world full of a separate variety of life from the rest of the surrounding forests. Mineral King is full of aspen groves, corn lilies, waterfalls, and loads and loads of chunky little marmots ready to steal all your food if not too careful.
We began our steep journey uphill with a pep in our step and the anticipation of something new. Though the valley was familiar, we had an idea coming three days following season opening we would be some of the the first people this season if not the first to reach White Chief Peak at 11,150 feet; and traverse the ridge line between Eagle and Mosquito Lakes covered in snow. All together Just a mountain and a hop over should be easy, right? Nothing grows a friendship faster or stronger than trusting someone's judgement with 40 pound packs on your back in less than desirable conditions: icy, snow covered steep ridge lines, and high altitude farts. Despite the conditions the three of us quickly began cracking jokes and naming the Marmots we chased away from camp together. While crossing the most exposed parts of the ridge line in what should have been the most uncomfortable sections, we found ourselves at home on the steep sections of slate and granite taking in the unbelievable views of Eagle Lake and ice covered Mosquito lake around the corner.
The solitude offered in the Back country of this park is surreal, It can give way to conversation and thought which take a group of people from acquaintances, to friends for a lifetime in a matter of hours. The experiences throughout the trip whether it be the first day lounging around camp chasing Marmots away from our food, or the second day making a dash for the White Chief peak scrambling up rocks surrounded by four feet of snow. The traverse of the icy exposed ridge line above Eagle lake, scrambling down to the lake for dinner; and the late night hike out to our car praying that no Marmot had made a home in the engine compartment of my trusty Hybrid. So many memories were made the trip proved challenging both physically and mentally. In sections where it would have been easy to look down say “nope”, and turn around, we remained motivated. In the end we pulled into the parking lot late around 10pm just over 48 hours after our start on the trail, we were back in the car and Marmot free flying down the mountain towards home and a warm shower.
Come say hi and share your Back country stories over at @connorrrayb_