John Muir Trail – Thousand Island to Southern Base of Donahue Pass

6.21.16 (Tues) JMT
We wake at 6:30 am to a bright clear sky. We take 3 hours to break camp. Very hard to leave such a beautiful site. We hike out and back up the same trail we descended last night. Up, up, up. I’m short of breath. I stop every 50-100 paces and breathe. We’re high. We are heading to Island Pass. As we climb we are serenaded by frogs. Their sound is riveting and echoes through the mountains. Oh my! What a great way to start the morning with such beautiful music. I can’t help but feel they are doing it just for our entertainment.

Along the way, we meet an asian looking guy with long hair and a shirt that says Semper Fi. Of course, Chris chats with him. He served in the USMC for 9 years, and did several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His back was severely injured when his truck was hit by an IED, and he was not permitted to reenlist due to his physical health from his injury. And here he is doing this hike. He says he’s doing it for wounded vets through the Semper Fi foundation. He’s regaining his strength and keeps his core strong. Chris can relate. The guy looks fit, and says he plans to do the Marine corps marathon in D.C. for same cause. Inspiring young man. After hiking for 1.8 miles we come to Island Pass (10,205 feet). A young couple doing the PCT is taking a break at the pass, eating potato chips. How do you pack chips on a trip like this without them getting crushed into little crumbs? She says welcome to Island Pass. Of course it’s covered in snow, and beautiful. It’s kind of hard to tell it’s a pass. We talk with the couple for awhile, though I mainly listen. Chris is much more social and chatty than I. She’s French Canadian, and had quit her job so she could do the PCT. I can relate. He’s from France. They’ve enjoyed their journey and meet lots of people on the way. We asked if they’ve met Milkman, they hadn’t. We go on and leave them to their break. Our goal is to get close to Donahue Pass so we can summit it in the early morning.

Shortly after summiting Island Pass, Milkman passes us. We asked him if he met the couple at the pass, he did, but did not exchange names. Later, that same couple passes us, and we let them know they had met Milkman. We hike through lots of snow, and several water crossings, some with footbridges that are uneven log crossings. I manage to get across all of them without falling into the drink, though I’ve not managed to be any less awkward. There’s one crossing, before the junction to Marie Lake, where I simply do not have the confidence to cross the water on the single log footbridge. Again, Chris crosses with his usual finesse. I instead decide to wade through the icy water, so off came the boots, and on come the Teva’s. I wade across without incident, though Chris worries I’m going to fall, shouting out to me to use my sticks. He also manages to get some pictures of me with my shoes swinging around my neck. What a site I am. Ha! The water is icy cold, but so refreshing. Blood sucking mosquitos and biting black ants are everywhere, and I take up lots of time getting my shoes back on and securing my Teva’s back to my pack. Chris gets mad at me for slowing us down, but is actually really frustrated at how hard it is to secure my Teva’s and I think is worried about if I can do the rest of this hike. We snap at each other, but quickly get over it. We move on and up.

We come to a small lake and a beautiful plateau that seems the ideal place to set up camp, but we don’t think we’re yet close enough to the pass, so we plod on. I take a minute to savor the beauty of this place. My senses are overwhelmed, but I still try to absorb all that I can. We meet more PCTers along the way. Chris chats with this one man who tells him about the very difficult water crossings at the base about 2 miles before Donahue. He recommends that we go off trail, stay to our left, and cross snow banks instead of the water. We come to the water crossing, it was fast and high. A young couple is preparing to cross. We keep going per that man’s advice. The snow is unstable and difficult to cross. I go through up to my thigh. It’s doable and we make it across. It’s 3:30 and we think this is a good time to stop and a great place to camp. The couple crossing the stream still has not arrived. Chris made the right call. A group descends from Donahue and a woman in the group is eager to tell us about trail conditions. By this time the other couple has arrived and plan to summit Donahue today even though the eager woman almost begs her not to. She reports they summited this morning, and ate lunch and watched the snow get more and more unstable. It took them 4 hours to get over the pass. Extremely difficult. The other couple does not heed their warning and goes on.

We set up camp and made the decision to break camp by 7am so we could do Donahue early while the snow was hard. We watch as others come to this juncture and struggle with the water crossings. We watch one couple take over 45 minutes to try to navigate how to get across. The man had no problem, the woman could not do it. We’re not sure where they went, and they are too far away for us to be helpful. I wonder how many couples split up after doing a hike like this. We enjoy the beauty of a lone duck on the stream that is flooding the actual trail. Chris takes lots of pictures of Duck. I talk to the Marmots as they surround our camp and keep them away from our packs.

Tomorrow’s a big day! I’m prepared to climb through lots of snow. I’m prepared to get to a point that will look like the summit, but it will go even higher. Will I be able to deal with the altitude? I have some worry thoughts, but I’m at peace. Chris is a tad worried about his sore knees, but also seems content. We enjoy our evening. Again, we have the most spectacular views, surrounded by mountains, and snow, and water, and alpine forests. I look at the snow covered cliff near us, and wonder if we’re in avalanche territory. Chris says not to worry. He’s more worried about flooding with the snow melt, and it is why we moved our campsite to higher ground. We sleep with the the Marmots close by, a perfectly clear sky and another bright moon. Tomorrow, just a bar for breakfast and cold coffee that we prep tonight. I sleep well enough.

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