Over the Labor Day holiday, a group of friends got together for a restful trip into the Sequoia NP backcountry. Our goal was Mosquito Lake #5 near the Mineral King Ranger Station. The plan was for this to be a relaxing weekend of lounging, fly fishing, and storytelling.
-This is the trip report
I awoke at 2:34am on Saturday morning to my alarm playing a calm piano sonnet instead of my typical "Africa" by Toto. The switch wasn't welcome, it's funny how even a delightful sounding melody can sting in the early morning. Instead of leaving the night before, we decided on an alpine start. I walked out to the living room, Ali was crashed on my couch. He woke up to the sound of my footsteps, and groans as if we were working on a mere 3.5 hours of sleep.
We rendezvous with the rest of the crew and begin our journey out of LA, loaded up in Ali's 4Runner, we stop for gas in Burbank. It's hot outside and the air smells of ash. The La Tuna wildfire raging in the Verdugo hills is an eerie view in the 3am night. Standing in the thick, stuffy air makes the thought of a mountain lake a welcome relief from the heatwave that has punished Southern California for the past week.
But wildfires can be mesmerizing.
The rest of the journey north is relatively uneventful. We stop for a quick breakfast at a McDonald's in Bakersfield. Ugh, Bakersfield. Naturally, I tell my canned story about how the Alamo Drafthouse basically got its start by fleeing Bakersfield. Everyone quietly nods and says "huh." As expected, nobody is interested in Bakersfield.
We arrive at the ranger station to the visual of a line out the door and spilling into the parking lot. Despite having 6 permits reserved, the ranger office was inundated by others hoping to snag walk-up permits. The poor rangers were probably exhausted of giving their same LNT spiel by this point. As a result of the crowd, we didn't set off on our hike until around 11am.
The CalTopo map to the left details all 6 miles and 3000ft of elevation gain on our route. As you can tell, shortly after Mosquito Lake #1, the trail ends, and hikers will need to continue off-trail in accordance with LNT principles. This makes the hike more strenuous, but it makes the endpoint that much more rewarding.
At this point you might be wondering, what exactly did I pack? Well, here's the list. Add to it a heavy BV500 bear canister and you'll see my base pack weight was a touch over 10lbs. Not too bad, the pack carries the bear can well and doesn't cause much fuss.
The hike was a strenuous one. A late 11am start handed us lots of sun exposure and too much heat, with a high at a warm 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently we hadn't escaped the heat wave quite yet. Hiking slow and steady, it took approximately 4.5 hours to complete the 6 mile journey to the top of Lake 5. Granted, we spent well over an hour at Lake 1 for lunch. Considering the heat, the elevation, the scrambling involved, and the fact the trail was mostly nonexistent after Lake 1, I consider this to be a fair pace.
We reached camp at around 3:45pm - it was empty, pristine and totally worth the fire we were all feeling in our quads. Mosquito Lake 5 is a large bowl formed from long expired glacier. What's left is an alpine lake surrounded on three sides by mountainous ridges, with a view of the sawtooths to the North. The plants are lush, the water is clear, and the alpenglow is painted.
We set up camp, and Nick began fly fishing.
I awoke the next morning around 6:30am to watch the sunrise through my tent netting, but promptly nodded back to sleep. I woke again around 8am, by this time the sun was out in its full glory and things were already getting toasty. I was the last one up, and we all began moving around camp groggily preparing breakfast. I pulled out my cook kit to prep a cup of decaffeinated coffee. You see, I accidentally bought the wrong type of instant coffee. Luckily, I realized this before I left my house, so I brought some caffeine pills with me. Yep... decaffeinated coffee and a caffeine pill... I know.
Sitting in our granite 'kitchen area', I watched as Nick and Harry began fly fishing that morning. "The fish are out and they are biting everything," Nick commented, "they are so dumb, they must never get fished." It was a trip chock full of catch and release.
I went for a quick swim. A 30 second swim. This water is snow-melt, and considering the past Sierra winter and the remaining snow, the water is ice cold. I got out immediately and barely had enough time to dry off before the weather moved in.
You always hear the saying, "weather changes rapidly in the mountains," and sometimes it's hard to give it much credence - but it's true. You see, when I got out of the water it was blue bird, sunny and 75. A mere thirty minutes later, the weather shifts and we are hit with rain and gusty winds. This became a general theme of the trip - one minute you have blue skies and the next you are battening down your tent and holing up to ride out the winds and rain. This wasn't going to work, we weren't about to spend the entirety of our trip in our tents. Instead, we decided we'd hike around and as soon as weather hits, we'd take shelter under a rock or in a cave to ride it out.
The wind screamed and howled all night, blasting us with rain in 30 minute intervals.
I woke the next morning to high gusts and some rain, they weren't happy conditions. I made my way around camp waking everybody so that we could pack up and get out during the next break in the storm... but since I was already wet, I began packing immediately. Luckily, things let up a few moments later. We left camp to make the descent back to our car. The descent was much less exhausting than the ascent for two reasons. First, it was cloudy and much cooler. Second, it was a descent.
Since we already had a reasonable understanding of the terrain from the way up, it was fairly straightforward to pick our path down. I took point and descended in a manner that favored traverses, in order preserve our knees. Throughout the descent we came across several other parties that were majorly overburdened, but not in distress, and we promptly passed them, maintaining a 3 mph pace. Occaisionally we'd come across pockets of sun showers, but by the time we reached mosquito lake 1 the sun was back out and beaming proudly.
As if to wink our way.
Major takeaways are as follows:
- The LaSportiva GTX high top trail shoes weren't great for hot and strenuous the hike up, but were exactly what I needed for the gnarly wind and rain up at the lake. I've been saying this for a long time, but GTX simply doesn't breathe like they say it does, and those trail shoes would serve much better in the 4th season or in the colder conditions I was expecting. I think in the future I will take a pair of LaSportiva Wildcat trail runners that I've been eyeing instead, but that wasn't a major fault.
- The BRS 3000T is a finicky stove. It doesn't play nicely with my windscreen, though I think I've figured out why. I will need to rework my windscreen design to better accommodate this stove.
- Karl brought the Monoprice Carbon Trekking poles and I was able to compare them to my Cascade poles. The Monoprice are stiffer, more stable, and slightly lighter. When my cascade poles break I'll switch to monoprice.
- Buy a new camera strap.
- Consider picking up fly fishing. Probably don't need another hobby, but consider it.
Lastly, here are some additional photos from the trip, these didn't make it into the slideshows above.