Thousand Island Lake
Thousand Island Lake Backpacking (10000')
Date: Oct 4-5, 2014
Distance: 7.2 miles + 9miles
Elevation: ~5000 feet over two days (Altitude: 8000 - 10000 feet)
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate (River trail is comparatively easier)
Location: Ansel Adams Wilderness (Madera county)
Trailhead: Agnew meadow trailhead. (Access – River trail, High Sierra, JMT, PCT)
Trail: River trail -> Thousand Island lakes -> PCT/High trail
Entry: $10 for a car. No shuttle this time of the year.
Another fun filled backpacking trip with some interesting events along the way. This trip was planned quite some time ago but I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to be joining. This weekend was pretty much an unknown for me and only a couple of days before it, I decided on going backpacking which indeed turned to be awesome. This time around we were a big group - Jugal, My, Mirza, Wen, Marek, Nileema, Jai, Andrew, Kelvin, Kevin, Meghna, Ujwal, Ravinder, Lunar the husky shepherd and I. It was a first for me to be backpacking with more than 10 people and I was pretty excited to be a part of this trip. The plan was to start Friday evening and return Sunday night and as always, the start time that was decided was off by more than 3 hours. We started out from the bay area only by 8pm.
The journey towards Mammoth Lakes wasn’t very eventful unless of course considering Mirza battling out with traffic and Marek giving us insights into Shasta and Mt. Rainier – Shasta being his favorite outing place. We finally were on Hw 120 way past midnight. I’m sure it must have been quite hard for Mirza to be driving all the way from San Francisco. Thanks to Marek, we found a place off the highway a little way past Lee Vining where we just set up camp. I was pretty quick to get into the tent and get napping. By 2:45am I was in my “so-thought-cozy” sleeping bag. As the night swung towards morning, the temperature dipped fast. I hadn’t expected it to get that cold and my 30-degree sleeping bag just did not cut it. It was shivering temperatures and I was in t-shirt and half pants (beat that). By 7:30am, we were up, packed and were on our way towards Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center/Town center to grab some coffee before heading into the wilderness.
I had company of a good number of people who did not want to drink coffee. So we goofed around a bit – met the LA group and then finally drove to the trailhead. The other Bay area group also arrived. We packed and were ready to start our backpacking hike only by 11:00am. Lunar the super awesome, friendly and sporty dog was also going to be accompanying us on this trip – how cool is that : - ) The initial few miles was totally fun with random talks, jokes and pictures. The landscape itself was quite beautiful. We were walking through the valley nestled with trees whose leaves looked as thought they were painted with intent. There were small creeks completing the other part of the experience – the soundscape. It was a very calm and relaxing hike. Lunar also crisscrossed around people running up quickly and then realizing Meghna & Ujwal were a little way behind and then running back to find them.
By 1pm we were steadily trudging along the trail towards our destination – thousand-island lake. I was looking forward to spending time at the lake and maybe even a dip in it, although the water would have been extremely cold. This time around, I was hiking at a very slow pace capturing pictures along the way. The trail was very well marked and extremely shaded. Slowly we gained altitude and the flora also mimicked it. We were leaving the tree line. By 4pm, the trail started opening up. Banner peak was in sight without warnings whatsoever. It was an amazing sight. The mountain stood majestically far away from where I was but it was as if the mountain was bickering me towards it. The small water body just next to the trail reflected the mountain and the trail ahead making the sight just mesmerizing.
I continued walking towards the open meadow and what seemed to be – a huge water body. Reaching the camping area – thousand island lake, what was awaiting for us was the magical view of the mountains lining the lake. Banner and Ritter stood out from the range and their reflection cast in the gigantic lake. It was as if someone had placed a mirror at the specific angles. The 5pm sunlight was just golden making it look as if the whole area was a stage with focus lights switched on at the mountains. We spent quite some time contemplating where to pitch the tents and Kelvin even scouted ahead to find a good spot. Jai, Kelvin, My and I went to check out the place. We would have walked atleast a mile to find some super huge open area with a beach in front of it but after heading back, the group decided to stick to the ridge and the original spot. I found a nice spot atop a ridge overlooking the lake but it was exposed. Knowing it was cold; I anyways decided to pitch there. Dinner turned out to be so much fun with all of us feeding each other (partly because we had only 2 spoons amongst 8 of us :P). Some Indian curries and rice, fruits and a good amount of snacks made it to my dinner menu. Ujwal, Meghna and Kevin had walked further ahead with Lunar so they decided to camp there. I wanted to get good sleep that night and wanted to be up early the next day to catch sunrise. So I hit the bed by 9:00pm. That night I had all my layers with me. I had no desire to freeze through the night. I went into my sleeping bag wearing my down jacket and cap. I slept like a baby for most of the night. It got very cold close to dawn but that was also because of dew in the tent. I was up at 6:15am and the sky began to lighten. I could scrape out ice from the tent. There wasn’t any wind and the water was extremely still. It felt as if it was crystal clear ice. As the sun rose, the first few rays hit the peak of Banner. The reflection in the lake also copied the landscape. If you turn the picture or looked it upside down, you’d never know the difference! It was so amazing!
What followed was a lot of photography and breakfast. I had packed cold breakfast for the morning so wasn’t very excited about it but the chocolate dip was just amazing. It was literally finger licking tasty. Meghna, Ujwal and Kevin joined up by 8:45am. After discussing the agenda was for the day, it was decided to break the group into two – one group were to try to head up Banner and the other relax at the lake for a while before heading back to the trailhead along the high sierra trail. I had no desire to summit attempt this late in the day. A good start according to me would be 7am or so – after sunrise and breakfast which I’d like to do on another trip. I just hung back at the lake, slowly packed up my tent. At 11pm we started our return hike. The High Sierra trail is part of the PCT. The two routes alternatives to the river trail are the JMT & Shadow Creek or the PCT/High Sierra. We took the PCT. The trail climbed quite a lot to get up the ridge. The view from the top of the ridge was however very beautiful.
The trail meandered along the ridge mostly climbing higher and higher to maintain the relative location to the valley. It was not as easy as expected but it wasn’t very bad either. Switchbacks helped gaining height without burning too much energy. The trail had amazing views and the leaves of trees were yellow. It just looked like it was brought into existence from the imagination of an artist. It was very gorgeous. The trail was exposed the entire length but not a surprise since it was the High Sierra trail after all.
We reached the trailhead at 4:00pm. Since we anyway had to wait for the other group to come back down to the trailhead, Jai and her amazing idea to leave a note and a car behind at the trailhead was put in effect. We drove to grab something to eat. On the way, we stopped at the Devil’s postpile. The rock formations are just amazing. Its 3-7 sided geometric stone pipes naturally formed by volcanic cooling. (As explained by Ravinder). After that we headed out to the Mexican place – Roberto’s Café for stomach filling Mexican food. How can I forget the missing key and LA folks having to drive back, me being dragged by Jugal that morning in the name of push ups, shivering cold the previous to previous night, surprising sudden videography by Marek and all the fun that we had.
It was 2:30am by the time I reached home. Totally an amazing trip and two days of time well spent.