If you’re ever planning to climb Sawtooth, or even stand up on Sawtooth Pass and think about it, this summer is the time. Sawtooth at 12,343 feet towers over the Mineral King Valley. The trek to the peak is challenging yet accessible in a dayhike.
Caution: before you go check in at the Mineral King Ranger Station for latest trail conditions. For the next few weeks it might be prudent to carry snow traction devices for boots and an ice axe just in case.
Park in the Sawtooth Trailhead parking lot in the Mineral King Valley and begin your hike at 7,800 feet. There is still patchy intermittent snow on the Monarch Trail that only heightens the hiking adventure.The key reason to go asap are the clear, cobalt blue skies for views that go on forever.
As the calendar turns toward August there are typically late-afternoon build-ups of clouds with some furious energy. Atop of a pile of rocks like Sawtooth is no place to be during a thunder boomer.
After the 4.25 miles via the Monarch Trail to lower Monarch Lake, continue climbing on the Sawtooth Pass trail, not maintained but plenty of boot prints, up to the ridge a mile farther up to the ridge adjacent the Peak. From here it’s only another mile or mile and a half to the peak — more like an upward scramble than mountain climbing. No ropes needed just some rock hopping and a careful steady pace.
When you decide to summit Sawtooth, be sure to go with someone who has been there. If you pick your own route, stay close to the spine of large rocks closest to the Sawtooth Pass side of Sawtooth Peak. If you encounter a snowfield look for the prints of previous hikers.
Once on the smallish flat spot on top, look to the northeast for a sublime view of Mount Whitney. It’s not easy to pick out because it does not appear to be the tallest peak in its group. But the iconic Whitney escarpment is easy to spot.
A map is needed to identify all the alpine lakes that are visible. The miniature vehicles you see parked in the trailhead parking lot reveal an interesting perspective of the Mineral King Valley — from a mile higher in elevation.
When you descend you’ll be tempted to go straight down to upper Monarch Lake clearly visible below. But don’t — go down from the peak the same way that got you there.
Make that trip to Mineral King while late-spring lingers. There is water everywhere and lots of wildflowers… and as of Wednesday, July 10, Cold Springs Campground will be open. Cold Springs with it’s minimalist riverfront camping when the East Fork is swollen with melting snow, like right now, is as good as it gets.