August 17, 2011

A rewarding view atop Mitchell Peak

On a map, Mitchell Peak doesn't look all that significant. Just a 10,365-foot tall pile of rocks in the lightly tread Jennie Lakes Wilderness between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

But don't let that (or the 1,950-foot climb) stop you. From its summit, Mitchell Peak offers one of the finest unobstructed 360-degree views in the Sierra.

Leave your car at the Marvin Pass Trailhead and begin climbing through a shaded forest dense with fir and pine trees, passing tiny meadows and a spur trail that leads to the Sequoia High Sierra Camp, before tackling dusty switchbacks to the pass. Once there, go left at the trail junction and traverse more forests and meadows dotted with lupine, paintbrush and cow parsnip.

The next junction is marked with a dead tree limb stuck in the ground and duct tape affixed to branches. (Hard to miss since they've been spray-painted florescent orange.) Turn left and ascend the mountain's shoulder before the trail skirts around to its northwest slope. This final section is the steepest. A little scrambling is required to reach the summit.

And what a view. Gaze east, and you'll see Mount Brewer and almost the entire Great Western Divide as if laid out on a map. The Kaweahs, Mount Silliman and the Silliman Crest stand proudly to the south. To the west, it's miles and miles of forested ridges and the hazy San Joaquin Valley. Kings Canyon is obvious to the north, backed by the Monarch Divide and solitary Mount Goddard. And to the northeast, along the Sierra crest, sits the jagged Palisades.

Take a while to soak it in before signing the summit register, which can be found next to a cement slab that once supported a fire lookout. To get back, make sure to retrace your steps to the trail instead of trying a shorter route. That's how folks get lost out here.

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