After a ten-year hiatus from backpacking, we chose to get back into the High Sierra, but with updated gear. With our new ultralight purchases, we enjoyed six nights traveling cross-country in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, with each of our packs weighing in at under 30 pounds, including fly fishing gear. For the whole story, go back to the oldest post and read forward.
We had considered adjusting our itinerary so that we did spend the night at Thousand Island Lake – the original destination for our first night – but the weather was holding, our energy was good, and the bears (so it seemed) were plentiful. By moving on, we would avoid the crowds, as we were now moving from an established trail to a cross country route.
We headed west to the end of the lake at the base of Banner Peak, and then turned south towards a low pass the would lead us to Garnet Lake.
I knew that once we reached the summit and the lake that we would have a great view of Banner Peak. Coming around the last turn, the view was breathtaking in the morning light, reflecting on the lake. The grandeur of the landscape is always humbling, making me grateful to be able to spend bits of my life in such beautiful places.
Reaching Thousand Island Lake, we are now hovering around 10,000 feet in elevation. While walking on the level is not a problem, any uphill exertion comes with heavy breathing. We adjust our pace accordingly.
There are areas on the eastern end of the lake closed to camping. Once we get past the closure, we see a number of camps, including a sizable group, packed in and dropped off for the week by a pack team. We stop to chat with three young women at the camp. They excitedly tell us about the bear who waited patiently for them to go to sleep, resting his chin on his forepaws, and unconcerned by the commotion and flashlights. During the night, he had raided one of their food containers. Apparently, bears like lettuce, but not tomatoes.
We had heard about bears from other campers in the area, and it confirmed our wisdom to stay away from the crowds, where the bears know that the pickings are plentiful.
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Many trails junction at Agnew Meadows, including both the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and John Muir Trail (JMT). There is also a pack station there, so there are hikers, backpackers, cars, horses and mules. The campground is closed for clean-up from a windstorm earlier in the year, otherwise there would be even more “traffic.”
Our route was based on a trip posted by a Tahoe area photographer: http://tahoelight.com/blog/2009/08/minaret-lake-thousand-island-lake-backpacking-loop-and-landscape-photography/ While their trip took four nights, we stretched ours out into five nights. We knew that weather and adjustments to altitude could affect the trip, and we didn’t want to be “in hurry,” as that’s how many accidents happen.
We found our way to the lower “river trail,” which follows the San Joaquin River to its source: Thousand Island Lake. This is a maintained trail, so we are grateful to not have to skirt or climb over all of the fallen trees from an earlier wind storm. We encounter plenty of hikers coming down the trail, and several on their way in.
But, we are keeping our eyes on the weather as we climb towards the pass. The clouds are gathering and the temperature is dropping. If we are going to get rain like yesterday, we need to find a stopping place that could also function as an overnight camp. We know we are less than two miles from the lake, but it doesn’t appear that we would be near water until up on top.
We stop at a spot near the trail and near the river. It’s clearly a camp: there are several “hearths” and there are even two large tin cans with wire handles at one of the hearths. Steve rigs the fly, and we pull out our sleeping bags to wait out the rain.
We wait. We nap. We wait some more. Near nightfall, we decide that we need to eat, even though we really aren’t hungry. Looks like we are here for the night, and not at the lake.
We’re still in the pines, so we know that there is a good chance for bears, especially because we are at an established camp. We put the two bear-resistant canisters of food far from us, and in a location where they won’t roll down into the river if discovered by bears. Steve puts rocks into the two tin cans and places them at the head and the foot of the fly. The rattle should wake us up and startle any nocturnal visitors. We brought a can of “bear spray” but it would better if we don’t have to use it.
It continued to rain into the night. Steve had to become his own engineer as the water started to pool on the ground near his head. Sometime in the night, I woke up to see stars. Maybe tomorrow will be a less rainy day.