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Mineral King Loop: Timber Gap, Five Lakes Basin, Sawtooth Pass

by calipidder  
with a Garmin Oregon 450T
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This is a classic backpacking loop out of Mineral King.  Although it is under 30 miles long, this loop is typically done in four days or so since the elevation gain is so extreme (nearly 10k of vertical up and down). 

No matter which way you do this loop you will have a lot of climbing, but I strongly recommend going counter-clockwise as we did. Otherwise, you'll be climbing Sawtooth Pass on Day 1 and this is possibly the sloggiest slog on the west side of the Sierra. It is much easier to come down the steep and sandy slope.

On Day 1, we drove out to Mineral King from San Jose and had lunch at the Silver City resort (YUM) before picking up our permits. Our hike that day was approximately 7 miles with well over 3000 ft of gain. Over Timber Gap, down to Cliff Creek, and then up to the not-so-great-but-easiest-option campsites near Pinto Lake. 

On Day 2 we climbed the next 3000 ft to Black Rock Pass. This is a long and exposed climb but the views are great. I really enjoyed this pass, though I know many people don't. After cruising down to Little Five Lakes and enjoying a lunch of fresh-caught trout we headed over to Big Five Lakes to camp.

Day 3, we headed over to Lost Canyon and then up to Columbine Lake. This is one of the most beautiful on-trail places I've seen in the Sierra! Columbine Lake is great for fishing and we really enjoyed a leisurely afternoon there. 

On Day 4, we finished the short climb to Sawtooth Pass (marked pretty clearly with cairns) and then had the long and sloggy descent back to Mineral King. Getting from Sawtooth Pass to Monarch Lakes was nice and quick - a lot of scree skiing and falling on my butt, but it was a lot of fun. 

  • Permit is needed - reserve ahead of time! Pick up the permit at the Mineral King Ranger Station.
  • The road into Mineral King is, nicely put, a nightmare. 25 miles of narrow, steep, twisty road. Not for those who get carsick easily or have unreliable cars! It takes between 60-90 minutes to drive the road.
  • Marmots like to eat radiator hoses in the first half of the summer - take precautions so your car is in working order when you get back to the trailhead.
  • Don't miss the pie and food at Silver City Resort - it's one of my favorite little mountain stops.
mineral king, Backpacking, sawtooth pass, black rock pass, columbine lake, Lost Canyon, fishing, Sierra Nevada, Silver City
Photos: See all pictures and videos from Mineral King Loop: Timber Gap, Five Lakes Basin, Sawtooth Pass
Comments (6)
BTW...this was well done. A useful trip report. Thanks
by TakeAHike8 on Aug 26, 2015
I think you meant it's best to go clockwise, not counter-clockwise, right?
by TakeAHike8 on Aug 26, 2015
I didn't see any marmots on this hike. I would assume there would be more of a chipmunk problem than anything. I always carry my food in a bear canister so that eliminates any problems with critters munching on my food.
by Gonnadiehiking on May 15, 2013
SO what did you do for the marmot issue?
by ilya_ktsn on May 14, 2013
do it
by GravityH on Jul 12, 2012
Did this loop last year in October, absolutely loved it...and all of its brutal uphill climbs. :)
by Gonnadiehiking on Jun 07, 2011
Trip Info
August 13, 2010
Length: 29 miles
Duration: 3 days
Activity: Backpacking
Trip viewed 17,809 times
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