Hiking both sides of the Minaret Mountains

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanAugust 23, 2012 

I've always wondered what the terrain was like surrounding the Minaret Mountains. I was introduced to those hidden passages within the Sierra Nevada Mountains After reading Steve Ropers book " High Sierra Route." There are many established trails throughout the mountains but they limit one from the choice, less-traveled areas Roper describes in his book.

After a few years of research by my hiking buddies Clem Bingham and Fred Cochran, we decided to attempt a 10-day, 47 mile adventure tackling elevations from 6,300 feet to 13,143 feet.

We would start on the west side of the Minarets and continue toward the east side and once again back over the top to the west side. On Aug. 4, we put on our hiking boots and set out to experience this new adventure into the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Our early morning departure was from the Mammoth Trailhead (7,495 feet) located beyond Clover Meadow to start our descent to Sheep Crossing (6,300 feet). This crossing was made famous long before the sheep herders entered these mountains during the 1800s. The American Indians used this route for centuries trading with their eastern Indian brothers.

After passing Snake Meadow we had difficulty locating a flat area close to water to set up our first campsite. Finally at Cargyle Creek an old abandoned campsite was located. It rained that evening but by 1 a.m. the rain stopped and the following morning we continued our adventure.

About 50 trees blocked the trail

One major topic of interest was the warning from the friendly Forest Ranger at Clover Meadow Ranger Station. He told us trail crews have been working overtime clearing downed timber from the trails. He estimated 50 trees still remain blocking these mountain trails. I quit counting after climbing over and around 35 downed trees.

The downed trees was the aftermath from that catastrophic storm of Nov. and Dec. 1, 2011. To date the forestry has cut over 500 fallen trees clearing these mountain trails.

Our second campsite was at Fern Lake (8,774 feet) snuggled into a forested canyon. From above the lake I could see the shallow shelves just a few feet below the lakes surface offering a reflective color change in the water. Three fishermen we met at the lake can testified the fishing is great.

The following morning we switched to a new trail leading to Beck's Cabin. After all these decades all that remains of his cabin is the rock fireplace and a few logs from the lower foundation. John Beck was a miner and named two 9,000 feet lakes after himself around 1882. He had a prospecting hole at the outlet of the lower lake. He was also one of the early owners of the Minaret Mines located on the south slope of Iron Mountain.

After following a somewhat used trail leading above Superior Lake (9,220 feet), it opened up a beautiful valley surrounded by trees extending to the San Joaquin River.

No trail on Nancy's Pass

Next we'll be faced with climbing over Nancy's Pass (10,200 feet) with no trail and with a slope covered with scree (small gravel) and talus (large boulders).

This pass was named after Nancy Scanlon who climbed this slope in 1967 at the age of eight and sadly died of cancer two years later.

After a brutal five hours of climbing and descending, just below Dead Horse Creek we managed to arrive at Dead Horse Tarn (9,280 feet) which is just larger than a pond for our next campsite. We set up our site within a cluster of Tamarac Pines overlooking the tarn that is overshadowed by the irregular sloping surface of Nancy's Pass.

The following morning, again without trails, we climbed over Dead Horse Pass and four hours later we arrived at Minaret Lake (9,793 feet). Camp was set up on the east shore overlooking the lake. Looking east was Nancy's Pass, but if one follows the ridge line, it drops almost 3,000 feet into the valley below.

To the west towering above us are the 17 jagged peaks of the Minarets including (unofficial names) Negelhut, Davis, Lenard and the tallest peak, Clyde -- Named after Norman Clyde.

Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series recounting Krizan's nine day trek following the footsteps and experiencing the same adventures of early day pioneers.

The Sierra Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service