The trail to Franklin Lakes wanders through meadows and over streams, up the slopes of impressive peaks and into an alpine bowl. It is easily achieved in a day and most travel beyond Franklin Pass as a portal, but the lake itself makes a nice place to camp.
Franklin Lakes at EveryTrail
Mineral King Valley in early spring is an inspiring place, yet the season makes it fantastically unpredictable. We drove there late on a Friday night, a 30% chance of snow showers forecasted. When our headlights washed over the base of Mineral King Road, well past midnight, the skies were clear and the stars were twinkling brightly. An hour later, we encountered heavy snow when we pulled into Atwell Mill and made camp in the cold night. By dawn, the tent lay under a heavy blanket of snow. Higher up, the ranger station was seeing more snow, with reports of hikers turning back. The weather curtailed our plans, and we stayed closer to Atwell Mill for the first day. By late evening, the storm had dissipated and the skies were clear.
Stopping in at the rangers station, we advised them of our change of plans for our permit and planned for one overnight at the lakes. The snow melt was well underway, gorging the rivers with fresh water, although crossings were still easily negotiated under these conditions. Having the night and subsequent day to acclimate had done us a favor for our push to the lakes. We felt good and the wind was at our backs. From the bottom of Mineral King Valley, meadows ramp up the sides of Vandever Mountain, Farewell Gap and beyond.
After several switchbacks and one fork to the left away from Farewell Gap, our group started to feel the burn, but the alpine air proved easy to breathe. The Lower Franklin Lake is situated roughly at 10,000 feet elevation and is dammed at the south end. There is a bear box before the base of the dam, near the stream. Beyond that, the rocks table out above the lake to reveal a spectacle of peaks in a beautiful alpine bowl. This is where we made camp.
The scouting report turned up an enormous boulder to use as a wind break, in case there was a drop in pressure that evening. We set up the tent on a flat spot near its base, and erected our tarp for further protection. The weather seemed to be holding well, as the sun drifted slowly down, excitement grew for the alpine show yet to unfold. As we had our dehydrated dinners on the sandy shores of Lower Franklin, the bowl started to glow. But, as soon as it had started, whispy forms began to grow from the base of the lake, like a ghostly vine growing into the sky. The cloud slowly swelled over the dam and crawled up Florence Peak, until the entire bowl was awash in white. In minutes the scene had vastly changed.
My immediate reaction was to begin preparations for the night. Everyone turned on their headlamps because visibility was severely limited to 10-15 feet. I navigated the hill to a proper distance above the lake and away from our settlement to hang the bear canisters together. We opted to do this instead of the bear box which was too far away. I managed to launch the line over a good branch to hang them. Not long after I had found my way back to camp, the whiteout began to fade.
Slowly, the sun reclaimed the alpine bowl, and it was glorious. The warmth returned with beautiful orange and purple colors, spectrums only seen at upper altitudes. It became obvious that a cloud had flown through the bowl, rather than widespread fog. We enjoyed another half hour or so, and then all over again, the whispy white tails crawled over the dam, like a slow motion swell. Another cloud would rise over the dam and fill the bowl, only to be reclaimed by the alpine sunset. These events happened several times and each was spectacular to witness.
When darkness fell, the clouds ceased to fill the bowl and the night was clear. We made use of the Star Gazer app to gaze on planets and constellations. The night was fairly warm, in the 40′s.