My favorite person joined me on this planned 3 night trip which seems now like a lake tour of the area. It was a nice change from going solo. He’s just so easy to be around, effortlessly helpful, always encouraging, up for most anything, of course makes me laugh, and a partner in all decisions. He loved the trip, but isn’t going to go every 2-3 weeks like I do. (-;
I was < 16lb and carried the tent + water + first day food so probably max was still under 18lb. He was about 23lb with all the food in the larger bear can + water so probably 21 on exit since we had another day’s worth we didn’t eat. Don’t at me on the pack weight difference, his old pack is heavy and my new bag is very light and he turned down my other lighter pack.
We were dropped off at Agnew Meadow out of Mammoth and started hiking at noon on Wednesday along the mellow River Trail. Stopped for lunch where the drainage from Garnet Lake was tumbling steeply into the rushing Middle Fork San Joaquin River. The paths near here went in and out of pine tree shade and the ground was sprinkled with white, green, grey and very purple rocks – some steps were solid lavender. Neat.
After a warm, tiring, but mild climb we were making the final approach to our home for the night, Thousand Island Lake (9800′), and the headwaters of Middle Fork San Joaquin River which was really flowing! Water was abundant and pleasantly loud in the otherwise near silence, save a few birds and, infrequently until this point, a few other hikers. Last year, this area was so unbelievably dry.
After walking around the lake for a bit, Banner Peak dominating the view over the lake, we found a durable place to set up the tent, though infrequent gusts were rather annoying and we added rocks inside the tent for stability. Many chipmunks ran about the rocky hillside being very adorable with wee hands and fast scratches and effortless jumps.
Late at night a helicopter came in and we thought it was a rescue but then it was circling loudly for an hour with a search light. Coupled with a full moon shining in our faces it was a bit of a tough sleep.
~8.5 miles depending on which part of Garmin’s info you believe. 1500′ gain, plus some 400 loss and regain for 1900 overall.
We broke camp slowly, snacking and enjoying views of Thousand Island Lake and omnipresent Banner Peak. After walking back out to trail, we headed up Island Pass and down the other side, admiring changing views and nice, full lakes atop the wide pass.
After what seemed like a long decent (it wasn’t, it was just a bit of a slog) we were at 3 miles and dropped our packs for a side trip up to Davis Lakes. The lower one was lovely: opaque teal-green from sediment content and in a sheltered valley with mountains all around. Some tadpoles swam by in the expansive waters while we rested at its grassy shores. Its drainage was also a nice tumble at the end of the meadow and many flowers were about.
We descended and got our packs on our backs and continued on for a bit. There is a network of drainages before Rush Creek and the one from Davis Lake was very nice and we almost camped there, where the trail crossed on two logs to head to Rush Creek Trail and off the PCT, but instead wandered a bit more over two more very sweet creeks, filtering water and enjoying a cooling face wash, before finding a nice, durable spot above the trail with a quick walk for water through a pine forest and small meadow.
After setting up camp, we filled some day packs with snacks and kept heading north. We got to Rush Creek proper and it lived up to its name: tumbling, falling, rushing past. Those last two weeks of heavy rains really filled the area and it felt wet and lush and green and full of life. We left the PCT again and climbed the Rush Creek drainage to Marie Meadows where the water forms big, gentle pools in a large valley.
We headed up to Marie Lake and it was very steep and nearly a use-trail being so thin and rocky. We took frequent breaks to catch our breaths as we made it over a small pass at 10,900′ and then down to the big, teal lower Marie Lake which was very dramatic, if also sometimes windy. It felt remote and the peaks around were very steep – the falling water from the upper lake roaring nearly straight down across the way. The only clouds of the trip were here, and it was minimal and just added more drama. When the sun shown the lake was so brightly colored. We ate lunch then climbed a small rocky bit to get a view of the full lake before making the decent.
We stopped in Marie Meadows and took our shoes off to treat our pained feet to the cool water. It was a lovely break where time didn’t matter. The ripples made mesmerizing patterns, the fish darted about, it was green all around, we felt sheltered by the surrounding mountains, the views were astounding. There were more people here (too many, in my estimation) but everyone was in a good mood, lounging in the sun or taking a swim, it was impossible to be irritated. Reluctantly, we left and returned to our camp.
We were alone and it was silent outside of a nice rumble of falling water. A deer walked by with a collar (?). Ate a better dinner, slept a bit more. The weather was outstanding, though no night sky due to bright full moon – no Perseids for us. It was a great day with lots seen and done. ~11 miles (Garmin seems to think it was either 10.5 or 11.5, stupid GPS) overall, just over 5 with our packs on, gain and loss of 2000′ at various places, though the overall climb was 1300 from lowest to highest.
We had sun early and felt a bit refreshed after a better night’s sleep. I guess the ground is wet from all the prior rains because both nights the tent ground was wet so we packed up most things but left pads and tent to dry in the sun as we brushed our teeth and snacked. We headed back the way we came, heading up Island Pass in reverse and E kept us moving at a good clip with nearly no breather breaks! It was a lovely morning on top and the views were clear as ever – amazing weather! We stopped to venture to the shores of one of the lakes and generally enjoyed everything as we chatted.
The decent to Thousand Island Lake was still a slog to me, despite lovely views. This time I noticed you could see Emerald Lake and thought it was best to stop there, not near the junction where we only paused for a drink. It was a small climb, but the break at the lakes shores was very nice. It was a peaceful, quiet place with ducks diving and fuzz off some plant floating by.
Another small climb and down and we were at Ruby Lake (btw, on-trail I got the names of the two mixed up, weird considering I had a map). This lake was very dramatic: a bit more jewel colored, its western shore went right up to steep mountains, nearly sheer, so no hiking around this body of water. We took another break in a shady spot and E filtered water.
The climb was more than I expected to get to Garnet Lake, and the decent was long, too, but I still thought it was far to early and in the day and too low mileage to stop here for the night. Instead, we continued to walk the north shore eastward, enjoying the great views, until we got to the outlet footbridge. There we stopped a long while, removed our shoes to enjoy a cooling foot bath, filtered water, and took in the sights. Banner Peak is still prominent west and E was a bit confused as to what lake we were looking at at first, being so alike to Thousand Island.
The hike out of Garnet Lake was way more than I expected, again, and I reminded myself I wanted the 24k map as the 100k just wasn’t helping. It was short, though, so I’m just complaining. It was the way down the other side that really was taxing: it was so dry, where the rest of the trip had been wet, and in the sun, and it felt like ages to get down. The upper trail was rocky and unstable, the rest dusty, and not many views through a pine forest. Finally, we made it down and to the junction and the most excellent Shadow Creek which is a turquoise opaque color and tumbles and falls in a really beautiful place. We ate a snack by the shores of the creek and discussed if we should stay or leave.
E agreed with what I usually also decide: sure, the mileage would be long, but we had all day and it would be nicer to eat hydrated food and sleep somewhere comfortable than stay the night. We headed out with the goal of existing Agnew Meadow in time to catch the bus. Shadow Creek provided joy for the next mile, as did stunning Shadow Lake. I needed a foot break at the waterfall outlet, then we pushed downhill in the sun, noticing more lavender rocks.
At the bottom, back at Middle Fork San Joaquin River, I was really feeling the heat. Another small break for me and this would continue all the way out. We thought it wouldn’t be so much further, but it was three more miles and it goes to show we were so innocent and happy at the start. I wasn’t amused for views anymore on an exposed trail that went up at the end – I was overheated and rather grumpy on that 400′ gain trek. More small breaks for drinks and foot rest here and there, and finally the meadow was in view – just a bit more to exit, walk up the road, and wait for the bus.
The birds were meeping in the pine trees, the road and meadow lined with yellow and purple flowers, I sat in the street and we waited to board a bus to Mammoth. We walked a long way to our car then drove to Bishop and stayed the night at a Motel 6. We had a big pasta dinner with soda and it tasted great. We slept better. We had a nice breakfast. We drove home with breaks for junk food. I thoroughly enjoyed having company on this adventure!
Garmin says it was either 14.27 or 13 miles, I don’t know why the map and elevation chart conflict and I’m getting rather annoyed with it, but I’m inclined to believe the latter despite that meaning I was slower. 1700′ ascent and 3000′ decent for just 2200′ difference in highest to lowest – a lot of ups and downs!