July 29, 2015
11 miles today, 45 miles total
Lyell Canyon to Garnet Lake
It wasn’t too cold last night, so Courtney and I woke up refreshed. We packed up camp at 7, which we discovered was much earlier than any of our camp-mates, but we wanted to tackle the rest of the climb to Donohue Pass in the early morning breeze. The climb was steep, but the air was cool and the views were beautiful, so I barely noticed the climb. My body was slowly becoming adjusted to wearing a pack again; it felt as though it had melded to my body and we were becoming one unit, working together. The altitude still stung my lungs, though, and my nose had started bleeding in the dry, high air.
At the base of Donohue Pass we paused beside the river to gaze down over Lyell Canyon and take photos of the snow-tipped mountain peaks. We took a long break to enjoy the views and I was again having flashbacks: Rotisserie, Sansei, Papa Bear, Honey Bunny and I wading through this very stream, laughing as Sansei stacked rocks to walk across and Papa Bear slipped and fell into the freezing water. It was as though I was watching a home video slowly in reverse, winding my memories backwards in time. It felt like just yesterday, and here I was again.
After our break, Courtney and I crested the top of the pass and then slowly descended the south side. We ran into a band of teenagers doing a weekend loop through the area. I was jealous imagining living close enough to this area that weekend backpacks through the Sierras were a normal occurrence. They looked exhausted under their heavy packs, though, and told us stories about the bears they had seen last night at their campsite.
Courtney and I continued on through wandering valleys and over rivers. We came to Island Pass later in the afternoon, which looked like barely a blip on the elevation map, but it proved worse than it looked. It was hot and without shade, and the trail was littered with horse and mule droppings that were roasting in the sun. The smell of it hung stagnant in the air, and the elevation of the climb made me suck in air with every breath; I felt like I was suffocating. The view from the top, however, was worth the effort. It looked down upon Thousand Island Lake, which was dominated by the Banner Peak. The lake itself was dotted with thousands of tiny islands, and looked too inviting not to stop for a visit. We hurried down to the shoreline and had a long lunch after going swimming. The glacial water was obviously very cold, but it was refreshing after such a hot morning.
At 2:00pm we continued on from that beautiful spot and passed Ruby Lake, then Garnet Lake. Both were stunning, but we could hardly keep going when we reached Garnet. It was only 4:00pm so we considered moving on, but both of us were tired and knew the next stretch of trail might be devoid of water sources. While we tried to decide, Cole showed up and pitched his tent near the lake, so we opted to stay. Unfortunately, the campsite we chose was very rocky and we had a difficult time pitching our tent. I borrowed some extra rope from Cole and we somehow managed to rig the tent around some rocks to keep it – sort of – standing. The sky was darkening with clouds, and I hoped it wouldn’t rain tonight because I didn’t think our lopsided tent would stand up to a harsh wind.
We cooked dinner while watching the sunset, and by dusk Sean and Cassidy caught up with us. Heather and Jennifer were not far behind, but they decided to hike to the other side of the lake before camping.
The evening beside the lake was beautiful; the clouds rolled over and we were rewarded with some beautiful colors before bedtime.