John Muir Trail – Shadow Lake to Thousand Island Lake

6.20.16 (Mon) JMT
We take a long time to pack up camp and head out at 10am, reluctantly leaving our gorgeous views of Banner and Ritter and Shadow Lake. I think we were more leisurely since we proved to ourselves the first day that we could do lots of hard mileage, and we had plenty of time. We take time to wash up and sit in quiet contemplation as we absorb our surroundings. I feel much better than expected, even with a fitful sleep. My medication regime of Mobic in the morning and Tylenol in the evening seems to keep my plantar fasciitis in check. But, within minutes of starting our hike for the day, I’m in excruciating pain, and within 45 minutes I have to stop. My pack is killing my shoulders, especially my right where I have a separated shoulder from a previous bike injury and have a big bump as a result. The pressure from my strap is tortuous. My upper back feels like it is being pulled apart. Chris helps me do a pack adjustment and places my buff under my strap as some padding for my shoulder, which gives me some sweet relief, allowing me to continue with the uphill climb. I must have screwed up the adjustments on my pack in my limbo move from yesterday. Up, up, up, stopping every 50-100 paces taking in some extra breaths, allowing my heart to slow, and being mindful of the beauty around me. I so want these sights, and sounds, and sensations, and smells to be with me forever, as I know it is unlikely I will ever be here again. I feel a constant tension between stopping and savoring the moment and a compulsion to keep moving. It’s hard to imagine, but the majesty of this place just intensifies. Our goal for today is to get somewhere near Thousand Island Lake. This is the land of mountain lakes where the water is crystal clear, icy cold, and the feeder streams run fast with all of the snow melt at this time of year. The constant sound of babbling water as we hike is calming and refreshing.

Our journey takes us up a long rocky climb and the land of Marmots. Beautiful mountain views all around us, with Shadow in the distance, and tributaries laced through the valley floor. This place also brings back distant memories for Chris as he shows me the rock where the Marmot was perched and he regretfully used it for target practice. As we summit this rock felled mountain, we pause and take in the views all around us and see where we’ve been and where we’re heading.

After 2.5 miles from our start this morning, we reach Garnet lake (9,678 feet) the first of the three gem lakes. It is huge and has many tiny islands with gorgeous views of Banner and Ritter Peaks. We take a break and meet Milkman, a PCTer, taking a detour and heading north on the JMT. He’s a tall, lanky, bearded young man from N.C. with all of the southern charm you can imagine. He’s an avid hiker and has done the AT, and is now doing the PCT with some detours along the way. He takes time to enjoy his journey. It’s the summer solstice and he needs to get naked as is his tradition, which involved hiking naked on the AT during the last Equinox. He agrees that Garnet is a great place to get naked and take a dip. He charms both Chris and I. He talks of his mom and clearly loves and respects her. He also clearly loves this lifestyle, taking his time to enjoy the trails. Milkman continues on with his journey. We linger for just a bit longer as we chat with an older couple, probably younger than us, heading south. They did Donahue Pass. The woman tells me it was hard, and cold, and now she’s hot and should change her clothing. She says her husband lost his sunglasses and hat, so he borrowed hers, which she had extra. I carry nothing extra. I’m amazed. Chris tells me later that the husband said he fell through the snow, and it took him 15 minutes to get out. He thinks it’s because he was a big heavy guy. I’m not so sure it matters. We part ways and continue north and they south. We walk the beautiful path around Garnet’s shore. In just a few minutes, we see Milkman again, and sure enough, he’s buck naked, his long lean body glistening in the sun, as he jumps into Garnet’s glacier water. Ohh, how I wish I could be such a free spirit.

As we continue onward and upward, we meet Ruby. Beautiful Ruby Lake, enticing us with all of her charm. She’s small and surrounded by sheer granite walls and glacier ice that meets the water. We soak up her beauty while I soak my feet in her icy cold water. My heel thanks me. A gull entertains us as we watch her swoon, and dip, and dive, and fly circles around Ruby up above her granite walls. I wonder if Gull has any kind of awareness of the majesty of her flight or of this place. I’d like to think she does. We debate of whether to stay here and set up camp or go on. While on break, a couple of young women (they’re all young to me) come from the north and give us a status report on trail conditions. Unstable snow banks up ahead. She post holed up to her thigh. She was not big. Hmmm. The sun is melting the snow fast, causing it to be slushy and unstable, and creating lots of water crossings with rapid water flow. Conditions around Thousand Island Lake pretty bad. I’m getting the picture, but also getting that people are making it through unscathed with stories to tell of their challenges and adventure. We decide to go on.

We have a nice reprieve from climbing as we hike down some snow covered switchbacks towards Emerald. We actually lose the trail for a bit. I notice that much of the snow is red tinged and I’m curious why. We look up and see a hiker way up on a snow banked cliff above us. She also lost the trail, and got really off course. Her sighting of us helps her get her bearings. We continue our descent towards Emerald.We cross several snow fields on her steep banks and we hit her unstable snow. I have my first wonderful experience of going through the snow, slipping, falling and starting my slide towards her shore. My heavy pack throws me off balance and I slip and fall a couple of more times before I finally get my footing and make my way to Chris. He’s not happy. He’s worried. I’m ok, and kind of find myself laughing at myself. I’m disappointed that he seems mad at me. I am breathing harder. Not sure if from exertion, or nervousness. It gives me a taste of what we can expect at Donahue Pass, but I don’t linger there. We meet some young hikers taking a break and batting rocks into the lake. Kind of loud and obnoxious but after chatting with them, found then to be very nice. From the East. I realize I had lost my buff, probably when I fell. We told them if they found it, it was theirs. My colorful buff would match their purple and yellow socks. They had just learned about Buffs and liked them a lot. We keep going and get close to Emerald’s shore line and it’s pretty boggy. We trudge on to Thousand Island Lake and leave the gems behind.

We descend to Thousand Island Lake (9833 feet) and I’m amazed how big and flat it is, dotted with lots of tiny islands. It sits at the base of Banner Peak in the Ritter Range. It is where the San Joaquin River begins and feeds the San Joaquin Valley. There’s limited camping on this lake as is the case with all of the lakes and it is where the PCT and JMT again join, so we anticipate that for the rest of our journey we will meet many more PCTers. We again run into Milkman and assure him he’s back on the PCT. In my mind, I think we’ve reached our destination and we’re looking for a place to camp. But Chris has a different thought in mind and after talking with a couple of hikers about a campsite above the lake, we start hiking up, up, up. I barely have it in me to walk one more step, and after awhile of looking and not finding a suitable place, we turn around and go back down. I’m getting crankier by the minute. We run into a girl sitting on a rock who tells us of some campsites ahead. We plod on, and find a beautiful spot on a peninsula to camp for the night. My mood improves. We again have gorgeous views of Banner and Ritter Peaks, though Ritter is a it more obscured. We watch fish jump, deer wade from the mainland to a little island right in front of us. Weather perfect. Private. Protected with boulders. Moon bright. Talk about a room with a view. We did about 6 miles today, it feels like 100. Good night.

2 thoughts on “John Muir Trail – Shadow Lake to Thousand Island Lake

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