This weekend I joined a few hiking buddies (Hikerduane, Songbyrd (Theresa) and Tom) on a 4 day/3 night trip along the PCT and JMT near Mammoth, CA. My family lived in Mammoth for a short time when I was very young and after we moved away we would still come back now and then to go camping in the area. Once we even did a long dayhike up to Agnew Lake from Silver Lake which is about 4.5 miles round trip and 1,000' elevation gain... which was a big undertaking for my family way back when. And four years ago my sister and brother-in-law dayhiked to Devil's Postpile and Rainbow Falls. But this was my first backpack trip in this area and it was long overdue... what a magnificent area! It's a true backpackers' paradise
I'd hiked with Hikerduane on many occasions and with Songbyrd once. It was nice to meet Tom who proved to be a nice and funny guy. On Friday after packing up my stuff I left Rancho Cucamonga for the drive up I-15 then Hwy 395. It was a pleasant drive and it took me about 5 hours to get to Mammoth - not too bad! It would've taken me longer leaving from my old house in Springville! And I even had time to stop for lunch in Lone Pine and to buy a map at the visitor center there.
When I arrived in Mammoth I called Theresa on her cell phone and found out her and Tom were there but had taken a wrong turn. In the meantime I found out the last shuttle had already left from Mammoth so we drove up to Minaret Summit. Theresa had gotten bad information from the ranger who issued her the wilderness permit. He had said that we could drive down to Red's Meadow and then take the shuttle to Agnew. Turns out you can't drive down to the Devils Postpile area at all between the hours of 7:00 am and 7:30 pm - you have to take the shuttle. And since we'd missed the last shuttle we had to wait until 7:30 pm. But it turned out okay. In the meantime Hikerduane showed up and we all watched the sunset from Minaret Summit. At 7:30 we drove down to Agnew and then started hiking by headlamp north on the PCT up a series of switchbacks. It was actually nice hiking in the cool evening air. A little ways up the trail Theresa was startled to see a pair of glowing eyes looking up at her from below the trail and we hoped it was just a deer. About a mile up we found a flat place to camp near a creek. The moon rose shortly afterwards and lit the Ritter Range to the west ever so slightly and we knew we'd have a great view when we woke up in the morning.
On day two we hiked about 8.5 miles which was a long day for me considering I hadn't been backpacking for over a year. But I did pretty well! I've been dayhiking as much as possible and walking on the treadmill at night so that helped me. The views along this section of the PCT are outstanding! Looking west across the canyon you get phenomenal views of the Ritter Range and the lakes that lay at their base. The next day we would be hiking around those lakes so it was nice to get a preview of the terrain. The PCT itself was mostly level in this section with just a little bit of up and down. I enjoyed traversing the wide sagebrush, aspen, and pine covered slopes and we crossed many small bubbling creeks. Hikerduane and I ate lunch beside one then shortly afterwards caught up to Theresa and Tom who had hiked faster than us. Then we descended slightly into the canyon and then started up to Thousand Island Lake. I'd seen many beautiful photos of this lake and was anxious to see it!
Once we got to Thousand Island we took a break near its shoreline. It was windy and here where the PCT and JMT intersect there were lots of hikers. After our break we then took the JMT south passing Emerald Lake and finally arriving at Ruby Lake which would be our campsite that night. Once we set up camp we all went for a swim in the cold refreshing water then made dinner. Theresa, Tom, and Duane then climbed a big rock near our campsite and then we talked until it was dark and turned in.
On day three we hiked about 8 miles. We first climbed out of the Ruby Lake Basin then it was down to Garnet Lake, which was I think the most beautiful of the lakes we saw on this trip. Then we hiked up and out of Garnet Lake and then made our way down to Shadow Lake. This was the lake we had seen the day before from across the canyon. We caught up to Theresa and Tom right before the lake and ate lunch next to a roaring waterfall. At the lake we met three fishermen, Steve, Bob, and Wayne, who gave us three trout that they had caught. Duane carried one in a ziplock bag in his pocket up the steep switchbacks out of Shadow Lake all the way to Rosalie Lake where we made camp that night. I was not looking forward to those switchbacks at the end of the day, all 800 feet of them, but I did okay. We made it to Rosalie Lake where Tom and Theresa had already arrived and found us a great campsite with a wonderful lake view. We once again went for a swim, then I watched as Tom, Theresa, and Duane cleaned the trout and cooked them with a cup of noodle soup packet. I'm not much of a fish person but I tried a bite (Theresa said it was actually just a nibble) of the fish. It was okay, I probably could get used to the flavor. But it was very cool to eat my first wild-caught Sierra trout! I was then greatly amused by the others cooking dinner. They took turns cooking over the stove and Tom accidentally spilled his dinner on the ground... Thank goodness he'd brought an extra dinner! I then thought for sure we'd have a bear visit us that night, fish and spilled food and all, but it was a quiet night. Until morning when an obnoxious crow woke us up at sunrise! I was glad, though, because the sunrise light on the lake was glorious.
On Day 4 we hiked about 8 miles out to Devils Postpile. On the way we passed Gladys Lake, Trinity Lakes, and Johnson Lake. We made good time as it was mostly downhill. Once we got to Devils Postpile we took the shuttle to Red's Meadow where we ate at the cafe - cheeseburgers, yum! At the cafe were also 4 hikers whom we'd met back at 1000 Island Lake. They were all related and were hiking the JMT. The mother, about 70 years old, had once section hiked the entire PCT. After lunch we took the shuttle back up to Agnew and retrieved our vehicles. Theresa was a little worried about making it out as her low fuel light had come on driving down to Agnew. So Duane and I followed them out and thank goodness we arrived to a gas station in Mammoth just fine. We said our goodbyes there and I drove home making it just before it got dark.
It was a great trip! It was very good to get out and backpacking again. The weather was pleasant, the company good, the scenery breathtaking - and no mosquitos!
Many more photos are here http://www.tarol.com/ritter.html
The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir ~ www.tarol.com