Loop around the Minarets

2 Aug 1999 - by Ron Hudson (view roster page)

Foerster Pk (12,057'), Electra Pk (12,442'), Rodgers Pk (12,978'), Mt Davis (12,311')

For a long time I had wanted to visit the remote area west of the Minarets and Ritter Range; the Twin Island Lakes had always looked appealing to me. So we planned this trip to go in a clockwise loop starting at Devil's Postpile (DP) up the N Fork San Joaquin River via Summit Mdw, Granite Stairway, Cargyle Mdw., and finishing via 1000 Island Lake and Agnew Meadows. It was the peak of the wildflower season; they were found everywhere, and the displays were spectacular. After cancellations and a no-show, four of us started on the pumice-covered trails from DP. We had planned to reach Hemlock Crossing and Twin Island (TI) Lakes, via the pumice-covered Fern Lk/King Ck trail, for base camp to climb the peaks. The first day involved some route finding on the seldom used trails and lot of steering over and around fallen trees. Most of the trail had not been maintained in many years. Lots of mature Red Fir forest, with a few very large single jeffrey and lodgepole pines. After 10 hours we camped at Iron Ck - good water and campsite. The rock was multicolored in the area and on most of the remainder of the trip - metamorphic rather than typical Sierra granite. Heavy iron-containing rocks we also found along the trail.

Then on the next morning to Hemlock Crossing and then TI Lks. Our camp spot was a very nice spot in a little hanging valley, protected from wind, with meadows, flowers, good water, and a few lingering snow patches above N TI Lk. Hung our food from a cliff. We rested the afternoon after the approx. 24 mile hike in. We would do two or three peaks the next day.

Starting at 5 AM it was still dark as we wondered how best to cross the outlet of of N TI Lk. The creek was fairly swift and cold. But we got through the 2-3 foot deep water in shoes or by removing pants in an effort to keep our clothes dry that cold morning. There was a faint use trail proceeding to the W side of S TI Lk. We went up the gully-slope NW from the midpoint of the W shore of the lake. The slope was mostly meadowed with flowers, class 1 and 2. We crossed the ridge at the slope top and went W past a lake, and across the ridge forming the north boundary of Bench Cyn, at the 10,600 foot level. Still class 1 and 2.

A beautiful isolated valley (upper Bench Cyn) there ... fish, flowers, forest patches, meadows, no trace of humans. On to Blue Lk SE of Foerster and up the class 2 SE slope. After signing the summit register, we went down the peak's NW slope (just W of the N ridge) to a saddle N of the peak; then NE to the outlet of the hanging valley directly W of Mt Ansel Adams. Continued NE to the lakes below and took a long stop that included swimming in a shallow pond-lake to cool and wash off sweaty bodies. We then went on to Electra and climbed it via its NW slope and N ridge, class 2. Steve Eckert's description in a previous article helped us on the route. We basked in the warmth and great view on the summit and then went down its class 1 SE slope. Crossed back over the ridge to the S TI Lk gully and down on the route we used in the morning. The ridge crossing point has an obvious small grove of standing lodgepole pines as a landmark. The N TI Lk outlet had even more water with the afternoon snowmelt, but we could see the rocks underwater this time and crossed without difficulty. At camp at 7 PM, we had a good meal and rest after the 14 hour day which covered about 11 x-c miles and 6000' of gain.

Some tired bodies and a desire for late sleep resulted in a lower level of enthusiasm for the next day. One of us did Rodgers in the morning of that 4th day. A ramp through Rodgers' cliffs on its SE face makes the climb class 2. We packed up and then in the afternoon headed upward to camp at Lk Catherine, which is at the base of Mts Ritter and Banner (impressive sight!). We started from the small saddle at 3000+ meters (m) which is 400m E of the N end of N TI Lk. The route follows the least steep contours in a ENE direction, goes over a small saddle that is about 600 m E of the first saddle, and continues mostly ENE to another lake, and then Lk Catherine. There was a faint use-trail on the mostly class 1 (some class 2) route, over grassy slopes and hanging meadows. Somebody had put a few ducks on the route, also. We found a good camp spot about 100' above the water level on the NW side of the large deep blue lake. We set up our tents there at Lk Catherine and then left for Mt Davis. The peak is only about 3 mi round trip and 1300' higher than the lake, so we were able to do it (class 1, a little class 2) in a couple of hours and be back at camp before dark.

The fifth day we went out to our cars. It was a matter of first hiking on large talus blocks on the sides of N Glacier Pass. A large icy snowfield presented a potential obstacle on the N side in the early morning, but it was low angle and we were not able to slide on it even when we tried. Then down flowery meadows to 1000 Is Lake, crossing the Muir Trail and onward to Agnew Meadows via the High Trail/PCT and its primo flower gardens and spectacular views of the Ritter Range. We wished we had some extra food for the two parties camped on the shore of 1000 Is Lk who hungrily related their bear stories to us as we passed them by.

I'll remember this trip for the solitude (we saw only two other parties in four days in the remote areas), the beauty of the peaks and vegetation, the exploratory feeling of some non-standard routes, and the good exercise and companionship. Total for the trip (including the three peaks done by all four of us) was about 48 mi and 13,000' gain. Participants were co-leader Sue Holloway, Judi Richardson, Susan Loftus, and myself.


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