Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Mitchell Peak

Great Western Divide from Mitchell Peak
6 miles round trip, 2100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Rough and narrow dirt road to trailhead, Kings Canyon National Park entrance fee required

Mitchell Peak is an oft-overlooked destination in between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks where a relatively easy hike to its summit unlocks a sweeping panorama of the High Sierra peaks. The primary reason for the peak’s lack of crowds is that it technically lies within Sequoia National Forest and not within the park proper of either Sequoia or Kings Canyon; furthermore, the access road to this trailhead requires an hour’s drive detour from Generals Highway and ends with a bumpy dirt road. The trail itself is pleasant if not spectacular, sticking to the forest for its length until arriving at this 10365-foot high summit that sticks out just enough above the forest to deliver memorable views. While there are better day hikes for High Sierra scenery in Sequoia and Kings Canyon- Alta Peak near Wolverton and any of the hikes around Mineral King come to mind- Mitchell Peak is a way to access this lovely scenery with a less intense physical effort and is certainly a worthy place to explore for frequent visitors looking to branch out from the better-loved hikes in the main parks.

Although this hike is on Sequoia National Forest land and does not technically enter Kings Canyon National Park until reaching the summit of Mitchell Peak, the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park entrance fee is required as you must take Generals Highway through Kings Canyon National Park to reach the trailhead.

From Fresno, I followed Highway 180 east up through the foothills into the park, passing the Grant Grove entrance kiosk. Two miles after passing the entrance kiosk, I came to the junction between the road to Cedar Grove and the Generals Highway; here, I turned right and followed Generals Highway, which continued climbing over the next 8 miles to a saddle on Big Baldy Ridge. Immediately after the trail started descending after passing the Big Baldy Trailhead, I turned left onto Forest Road 14S11 heading towards the Big Meadow Horse Corral. I followed this road for the next 10 miles, first passing numerous campgrounds on the way to Big Meadow and then dropping into and climbing out of a dramatic canyon before coming to a junction with Forest Road 13S12 for Marvin Pass. The road past the Big Meadow Horse Corral was paved but undivided; there were steep drop-offs when the road traveled through the canyon and there were a few potholes along the way.

Turning right onto Road 13S12, I followed this bumpy, rocky, and often-rutted dirt road for the last 3 miles uphill to a large dirt parking lot, the Marvin Pass Trailhead. I negotiated the road in my lower clearance sedan and was okay, although I did feel uncomfortable with some of the ruts in the road at times; most cars should be able to manage it but drive slowly and use caution.

Leaving the trailhead at 8400 feet, the Marvin Pass Trail immediately embarked on a steady uphill climb through forest, ascending along a low ridge for 0.3 miles. As the trail leveled out and headed south, it passed by a few small meadows.

At a half mile into the hike, the trail began switchbacking up a forested slope. This was the most extended ascent of the hike, ending at a mile into the hike when the trail arrived atop forested, 9100-foot high Marvin Pass. Here, the trail entered the Jennie Lakes Wilderness and came to a junction of trails. While the trail heading across the pass led towards Weaver Lake and Jennie Lake, I chose to the take the left fork, which headed for Mitchell Peak.

Entering the Jennie Lakes Wilderness at Marvin Pass
Leaving the pass, the trail stuck to the forested south side of the ridge for the next three-quarters mile, taking a much more gradual ascent up the mountainside. A few snow plants provided intense pops of color from the dirt of the forest floor. There were few views to speak of, although the forest along the trail was occasionally punctuated by small, pretty meadows dotted with wildflowers. At times, these meadows provided tiny glimpses of the farther forests and small rocky peaks that dot the Jennie Lakes Wilderness.
Snow plant
At 1.8 miles into the hike, I came to a small wooden sign marking the turnoff to the left for the Mitchell Peak Trail. This trail turned from the main trail and immediately embarked on an aggressive and direct uphill climb through brush that ascended 400 feet and brought me to a forested saddle on the west ridge of Mitchell Peak at 2.2 miles. The trail remained in the forest here as it began to wrap around the northern side of Mitchell Peak, leveling out for a stretch before beginning another aggressive final ascent along the north ridge towards the summit.

The trail petered out at the base of the talus-covered summit. From here, I scrambled up through the talus towards the clear high point of this pile of rocks and before I knew it, I was standing atop Mitchell Peak, 10365 feet above sea level. 

Rocky summit of Mitchell Peak
The view atop Mitchell Peak was sweeping, encompassing much of the Kings Canyon High Sierra. Highlights included seeing the towering peaks above Kings Canyon grow ever higher, from Spanish Mountain to the Monarch Divide to Mount Clarence King. North Palisade rose above all to the north, the dominating peak of this area that, at 14250 feet tall, is the third-highest peak of the Sierra Nevada. Kearsarge Pass was blocked from view by lower peaks but both Mount Gould and University Peak, which flank that pass over the Sierra crest, were visible. 

Spanish Mountain and the Obelisk rise over Kings Canyon
Monarch Divide, with North Palisade in the distance
Mount Clarence King and the Kings Canyon backcountry
Most impressive was the soaring rocky ridgeline connecting North Guard Peak, Mount Brewer, South Guard Peak, and Table Mountain, which made up the northernmost stretch of the Great Western Divide. The Sequoia National Park stretch of the Great Western Divide was partially visible, with the sharp summits of the Kaweah Peaks notably sticking out here. Alta Peak poked out from behind Mount Silliman, which was particularly attractive with its granite cliffs when viewed from this northern angle. Forested hills that terminated in abruptly steep granite cliffs characterized the terrain of the nearby Jennie Lakes Wilderness and to the west and northwest I spotted landmarks such as the Buck Rock Lookout, Panoramic Point near Grant Grove, and Kaiser Peak up near Huntington Lake. What an utterly spectacular 360-degree panorama- and it was a view that I had all to myself for an entire hour!

Alta Peak and Mount Silliman
Great Western Divide
On my return to the trailhead, I began passing a trickle of incoming hikers; still, when I returned to the parking lot, there were no more than 8 cars parked here. This is a reasonably quiet and easy hike to see the high country beauty of Sequoia-Kings Canyon, where most hikes to such scenery are either hard, crowded, or both. I’d still recommend one-time visitors to the parks to stick to the main visitor areas and Mineral King, but locals or frequent visitors should certainly check out Mitchell Peak.

No comments:

Post a Comment