Tucked away between two national parks, Kings Canyon and Sequoia, the Jennie Lakes Wilderness is an easily overlooked slice of Sierra splendor, filled with near-pristine lakes, meadows, forests and streams.
Mitchell Peak (elev. 10,365 feet) is the highest point of the 10,500-acre federally designated wilderness area with an unobstructed360-degree view from its rocky summit. Getting there requires a 2,000-foot climb over 3.1 miles, but the trail is so well graded that it doesn't feel steep until the final section.
Leaving your car at the Marvin Pass Trailhead, sign in at the trail register and begin climbing through a shaded forest dense with fir and pine trees, passing tiny meadows and a streamlet, before ascending dusty switchbacks to the pass. At the top, go left at the trail junction and watch the scenery change back and forth from forest to meadows, which last week bloomed with lupine, paintbrush and cow parsnip.
Veering left at the next junction, Mitchell Peak can be seen looming above while the trail ascends a shoulder of the mountain before skirting around its backside. Climbing steadily now, the trail exits the forest and reaches the exposed summit slabs. The final push requires a little scrambling.
At the top you'll find lots of buzzing insects, the cement foundation of an abandoned fire lookout and — unfortunately — some trash and graffiti. However, none of this detracts from the view:Mount Silliman and the Silliman Crest to the southwest; forested ridges and the hazy San Joaquin Valley to the west; the Monarch Divide to the north with solitary Mount Goddard looming behind; the unmistakable Palisade Crest to the northeast; and Mount Clarence King, Mount Brewer and most of the Great Western Divide, which last week was shrouded by a forest fire, to the east and southeast.
So encompassing are the surroundings, you won't want to leave. Besides, the way down is a breeze.
Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on August 23, 2006.