Otherwise known as “The first ‘Best Day of Hiking, Ever’ while on the JMT”. The first of many.
A slow morning breaking down camp as I had to check out for any residual impact of spilling the food the night before (none) and address the blisters that were starting due to the squishy nature of the unexpected, soft and sandy surface of the trails. I didn’t get on the trail until after 8am.
I knew the 2,000′ initial incline up to the 11,000′ Donohue Pass was going to be interesting due to the loaded pack and first time going over 10,000′ on the trip, so I was going to be patient and take it slow. This wasn’t difficult after the first 1,000′ once the views started to become amazing.
Once I reached this level, the trail goes through a few high meadows with the creek meandering through with plenty of fish activity. Several spots that looked perfect to hang out an fish for a day or so.
The further up you went the more amazing the scenery became, whether it be the ridge that contained Mt. Lyell, the meadows below it or the view back down Lyell Canyon from where I started in the morning.
I met several people coming down from over the pass and were experienced JMT/Sierra Nevada hikers. When I mentioned how awesome this day and the views were, just about everyone’s response was “just wait, it gets much better!”. It took a bit to get up to the pass, for the trail was steep and my pack was heavy! However, I didn’t mind resting and taking in the views! Once on the pass, the views to the South now opened up and the tops of the Ritter Range started to appear. I was able to make a quick call to Ann and Matthew. Two French guys from SF reached the pass and indicated that they were on a 12-day JMT schedule, with the hopes of actually completing it in 10 days! Insane!
After hiking down from Donohue Pass and having lunch, the trail made you go up another 600′ over Island Pass! After resting at a scenic lake just after the pass, I started the hike down to Thousand Island Lake. The trail was fairly easy, with the ever changing views of the Ritter Range mesmerizing me the entire way.
Eventually, Thousand Island Lake came into view, and it is very easy to see why this is one of the most popular destinations on this portion of the trail. A whole bunch of islands with the Ritter Range in the background. The lighting wasn’t the greatest at this time of day, but it would be an amazing site in the morning. There were a bunch of people camping, with plenty of excellent spots to choose.
The day was getting long at this point, and I knew I should make it to Garnet before dark. At this point in the JMT, all the lakes seem to reside in bowls, so you have to hike up and then down into them, and then hike up again to the next lake. Along the way, I came across Ruby Lake, which seems to be surrounded halfway around by steep cliffs making a really neat setting. I talked to a few fishermen that had the lake to themselves and they were having a great time. One more up and down into Garnet Lake, and once again, it’s reputation did not disappoint. Not as many islands as Thousand Island Lake, but a wonderful backdrop of the Ritter Range and surrounded by cliffs. I have seen this lake several times in Backpacker Magazine, so it was neat seeing it first hand.
The big challenge was the popularity of the lake! I wanted to camp on the south side so I didn’t have to walk around the lake in the morning to continue south on the trail, but there were few sites on that side. Mark and Jason arrived a lot earlier and they had a difficult time. Many people were camping within a few feet of the water, which I wouldn’t do. After filling up on water, I explored for any area I could plop my tent, and fortunately discovered a small ridge just above the trail just before a couple that was coming northbound up the trail. It ended up being a great spot.