Exploring old mines in the Minarets

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanSeptember 6, 2012 

Rising with the sun gave us the extra three hours to explore the area around the Minaret Mines. This exciting secondary adventure will be discussed in part three of this three part story.

Referring back to yesterday evening, we met two mountain climbers, Mark from Chicago and Richard from Washington DC. Their goal was to climb a few Minaret peaks and complete their Sierra adventure at Tuolumne Meadows. We wished them luck ... maybe we'll cross paths in the next few days.

Around 12:30 p.m. we broke camp at Minaret Lake (9,793 feet) and continued our adventure back to the west side of the Minarets. Our next mountain pass is located on the opposite side of this huge lake. This 500-foot climb can be classified as class 3 just before reaching the saddle. Once again to boulder hop 500 feet down and along the north side of Cecile Lake (10,239 feet).

Today is one of our difficult days, boulder hopping on both sides of the pass. The stress of this adventure is forgotten when looking at the north face of these jagged mountains. The face and canyons are still covered with large patches of snow and the steep, larger canyons still display the glaciers that extend down to the lake surface.

Once we arrived at the outlet of Cecile Lake, looking down another 500 feet is Iceberg Lake (9,774 feet). We'll now drop to this pristine mountain lake along its north side in route to its outlet before setting up our next campsite.

This morning we'll be climbing over White Bark Pass (10,500 feet). Our objective today is to set up camp at Thousand Island Lake (9,840 feet). Hiking into the first of two valleys, we'll pass White Bark Lake and Idiza Lake, then climb another few hundred feet over the next ridge and drop to Garnett Lake. We'll start climbing again until we overlook the valley at the east end of Thousand Island Lake.

This huge lake is over two miles in length with many small islands. The name describes our view hiking over the pass. That evening penetrating the darkened shore is the lights of many campsites along the north shore line.

This morning we'll climb over the highest pass which is Glacier Lake Pass (11,158 feet). Next we'll pass Lake Catherine (11,070 feet) a typical high elevation lake without trees and just rocks surrounding its surface. Now to follow the lake, Mount Ritter and Mount Banner runoff streams, descending through the steep and narrow canyons.

Remember when we met the mountain climbers Mark and Richard at Minaret Lake? As we were descending following the major run-off stream, someone yelled, "Hello! Remember us?" It was Mark and Richard camped out on the only flat spot on the canyon wall. They had just climbed Mount Davis, so the five of us took a short break to catch up on our previous three days.

I must confess this is the roughest afternoon descending through and around this canyon stream. At two separate areas we had to use ropes to lower our packs through a class 3 steep area. Finally at 10,000 feet we arrived at a tree covered area next to the stream. Soon we realized this was an old abandoned silver or gold mining area. Tailings were visible on the canyon walls above us.

Hiking partner Fred found a souvenir in the stream bed just below the water fall -- a rock with royal blue specks within its surface.

We found a trail that must have been used for hauling out ore, but time and land-slides kept us alert following this used path that dropped 500 feet in one quarter of a mile down into the tree line. At one point we had to wade across the creek. Needless to say, we got wet crossing this rapid stream. Even the waterfalls grew in size as each tributary entered this main stream. After checking with my map, this stream is the start of the San Joaquin River.

Our final night was spent at Hemlock Crossing (7,560 feet). A 20-foot waterfall greeted us as we entered the camping area.

We'll have 10 miles, 450 feet of elevation gain and a descent of almost 500 feet before reaching the trailhead at Isberg Pass. After nine days, hundreds of feet of elevation gain and equal amount of descending, we completed our 45 mile adventure, following the words and wisdom put to pen in Steve Ropers book, "Sierra High Route."

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