Kern Kaweah Circumnavigation ~ August 7-13

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way.”
~ Dr. Seuss

The annual August backpack with Arrow and I ventured into new territory that we both had not even set one foot on – way cool and new. Our 7 day backpack started at Mineral King in Sequoia National Park on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Right from the get go the trip proved to be an unforgettable adventure. Just to get to Mineral King included 25 miles of driving on a long (90 minutes worth) and narrow road that sported 698 curves, yep 698 curves. Mineral King Valley is an open glacial canyon surrounded by peaks of the Great Western Divide. Because of the difficult access road and the fact that the majority of trails go straight up to quickly access the high Sierra, makes this an isolated part of the park. On our first day after picking up our permit from the ranger station, we climbed 4000 feet up to Sawtooth Pass. The countryside was exquisite. It had every bit of the feel of the Swiss Alps or even the most remote areas of the High Sierra.

Sawtooth Pass

From the top of Sawtooth Pass the expansive views extend north and east of scores of peaks, Monarch Lake, Columbine Lake, Lost Canyon, Mineral Peak, Mount Whitney, and the San Joaquin Valley. We then descended to Columbine Lake and then traveled through magnificent Lost Canyon following its creek.

Lost Canyon

After camping along Lost Creek in beautiful Lost Creek Canyon, we headed up to Big Five Lakes and Little Five Lakes. One of the unnamed Upper Little Five Lakes provided a perfect rest and snack stop that cradled a striking foreground for the Kaweah Mountains.

Upper Little Five Lake
Kaweah Mountains and Upper Little Five Lake

After we descended into Big Arroyo Canyon that follows the High Sierra Trail, I had the surprise of seeing one of my co-workers and her sister out backpacking. How cool is that? They were on a 6 day loop trip and were having a great time.

Big Arroyo Canyon

Soon after, we experienced a significant lightning and hailstorm. We took cover under my tent ground cloth (no trees or rock overhangs to be found) and was protected from the pounding hail, rain, and wind. Violent quick-moving storms are typical in the Sierras during August.

Looking toward Kaweah Gap
Incoming Storm ~ Kaweah Gap

We left the trail for the cross-country part of the trip and camped at the heart-shaped lake above Kaweah Gap. The next morning we woke up to a perfect sunny day that was great for climbing the upcoming Pants Pass, one of the more challenging routes into the remote Kaweah Basin.

Pants Pass in middle the destination
Pants Pass ~ Notch in the Top Middle
Steep Descent of Pants Pass
Steep Descent of Pants Pass

The route we chose led through numerous unnamed lakes with views of the Kern-Kaweah River, Colby Pass, and Milestone Peak, We then headed up to Picket Guard Lake at the base of Picket Guard Peak and to the unnamed pass that was the gateway to Kaweah Basin.

Unnamed lake above the Kern-Kaweah River
Unnamed lake above the Kern-Kaweah River


Picket Pass
Picket Pass

Our next day we climbed up the pass and followed Picket Creek to a low saddle that overlooked the famous and scenic Island Lake, upper Kaweah Basin, and the east side of the Kaweahs.

Top of Picket Pass looking at Pira-Queen Pass
Top of Picket Pass with Pira-Queen Pass in Background


View of Island Lake in Kaweah Basin


Island Lake
View from Island Lake of Kaweah Basin


After enjoying this famous lake in Kaweah Basin we retraced our steps to the Picket Creek drainage and camped at the lowest Picket Lake. This lake was amazing, every detail from the waterfall at the inlet, to the framing of Mount Whitney, and even the placement of trees, flowers, and plants had the appearance of being hand placed.

Unnamed Lower Picket Creek Lake
Stellar Unnamed Lower Picket Creek Lake

The next morning we headed diagonally down to the Kern-Kaweah River that led to the High Sierra Trail paralleling the Kern River. It was fun to see just where the mighty Kern River begins. Heading south on the trail to Kern Hot Springs, we visited from afar this favorite hot spot that was occupied by a big Boy Scout Troop!

Headwaters of the Kern River
Headwaters of the Kern River


Kern Hot Springs
Kern Hot Springs


After a great night along the Kern River, we headed up Rattlesnake Canyon to Franklin Pass. Franklin Pass is steep and the trail enters the pass in a very interesting way, traversing the ridge then entering the pass from above.

Franklin Pass ~ Sequoia National Park


Franklin Lakes
Franklin Lakes


Our last night we enjoyed golden Alpen glow at an abandoned mine along side Franklin Creek. We celebrated end of the trip with a black bear sighting and  a fantastic breakfast complete with french pressed coffee at the Silver City Resort just a few miles from the trail head on Mineral King Road.

Sunset below Franklin Lakes
Sunset below Franklin Lakes


Sunset over San Joaquin Valley

Gear and Food Favs:
Tarptent Rainbow II Tent – This baby weights just 2 1/2 pounds, is easy to set up, great in the wind, and has plenty of leg and head room for two.
fresh apples, flatbread from Trader Joes, fresh carrots, Thai Noodle lemon grass and Ginger packets, butter flavored Idahoan potatoes

To view the complete trip photo album and/or a topographical map with interactive photos click the links below:


  1. That is an amazingly beautiful place. It was so fun to run into you! And of course, it is okay for you to post the picture 🙂

  2. So beautiful! Great job with the pictures.

  3. Great pictures.!!!!! I will put together the Picasa album for you for this trip and the June one (hopefully this week end)……Am so grateful to have you for a hiking pal!!!

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