Of all the sojourns I do, none is as fulfilling as my backpacking trips in the Eastern Sierras. It takes me to a place where very few in the world can or will ever see and I feel so lucky to have such a thing in my proverbial backyard.
I reserved a permit for the Ediza & Minaret Lakes Loop with my friend Ken to enjoy the strikingly picturesque middle fork of the San Joaquin River Valley which lies just west of the Ritter Range in the Ansel Adams wilderness. There are three trails in the Middle Fork Valley that converge near Thousand Island Lake, creating several loops.
This hike follows the River Trail with exceptional views of the Banner Peak and the Ritter Range north to Thousand Island Lake and then turns south along the base of the Ritter Range via the John Muir trail and then towards Ediza Lake.
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We arrived at the ranger station late to pick up our permits. We used the rest of the evening to acclimate for the hike at the Innsbruck Lodge at Mammoth – The trail starts at about 8,000ft with strenuous elevation gains so acclimation is recommended.
The next morning we ate breakfast at the Breakfast Club restaurant, aptly named after the popular 80s John Hughes film, ‘because you know, “Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.” There is a mandatory Shuttle Bus requirement to get to the trailhead in the Agnew Meadows and Reds Meadows area unless you camped there and have a reservation.
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We started our trek at the Agnew Meadows trail, rising approximately 8,300 feet above sea level, our destination? Thousand Island Lake which offers roughly 7.8 miles of steep switchbacks through trees and strenuous steady climb on the River Trail as it steadily drops to a low of 8,040 feet and then gradually climbs back up to 9,840 feet to the lake. The first half of the trail was deceptively easy, even with our heavy packs and gear; we were barely breaking a sweat.
It meandered slowly, gaining 920 feet before hitting a more subtle climb of another 900 feet to Thousand Island Lake. Undemanding as it was, the hike seemed to last an eternity as we were swarmed and harassed by an evil hoard of mosquitoes from hell. It was like a Zombie Apocalypse, constantly being attacked while designing with every sort of machination for the defense that proved ineffective. I’d swat a few here and there, but the fucking bastards just keep on coming.
The bloody bastards have learned to stick their needles through pants/hats/and t-shirts. It’s as if they were manufactured by a mad scientist, how do they know they can do that? Spray a few with insect repellent? Thousands come back for more!
Fortunately, there was a respite for me amidst all the chaos…The incorrigible bastards seem to have a preference for my friend Kenny. I moaned out a slight giggle as walk past Ken to unload some of my “issues” with him. Meh, he must taste better, no skin off my back 🙂
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We were battered and beat about a mile to the campground. The high altitude took its toll, but we pushed on that last mile, urged on by the breathtaking panorama of Banner Peak. John Muir once said the alpine beauty of this place to be unsurpassed and I’m in agreement…When I can see beyond the swarm of mosquitoes that engulfed my vision.
We made it to camp, set up our tents and Kenny began his quest to catch fish in the lake and engage in tactical battles with mosquitoes.
We broke camp the next morning and trudged our way towards the second destination, Garnett Lake. We scrambled our way on the John Muir Trail climbing up to 10,000 feet before dropping abruptly to Garnet Lake at 9,680 feet. The pristine alpine lake looked inviting and refreshing so we swam in its icy waters and take a respite from the long and grueling journey.
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We continued to plod our way through various switchbacks over the pass leading towards a tremendous view of Mount Ritter with the Minarets in the backdrop igniting an already awesome sight. We scrambled southwest along the trail towards next campground on Ediza Lake all the while subject, again, to a swarm of mosquitoes.
There was probably a half pint of blood drained from my weary body.
At camp, we pitched tents and prepared dinner, all the while battling the never-ending hordes of mosquitoes.
What’s for dinner? Braised backpackers with pressed blood drained by mosquitoes. There were so many mosquitoes that 10 or 20 fell into the pot where I was boiling my freeze-dried Lasagna. I couldn’t take it anymore, the world suddenly turned pitch black and scenes from the movie Fight Club came as a vision…
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I am Jack’s raging bile duct. I am Jack’s unrelenting vengeance. I am Jack’s retribution. How dare they take my blood against my will! Well, tonight is not your night you despicable things. No, tonight I shall dine!
I scooped a large part of that lasagna, mosquitoes on top, and chewed it all the way to the tummy.
Dinner never tasted so good.