My sojourns in the Eastern Sierras are radiantly fulfilling. Few can compare to its varied landscape of Alpine Lakes and soaring mountaintops. I wanted to hike a section of it near Mammoth Lakes in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and my friend Kenny wanted to tag along.
A permit is required to traverse the strikingly picturesque middle fork of the San Joaquin River Valley, which lies just west of the Ritter Range in the Ansel Adams wilderness. Three trails in the Middle Fork Valley converge near Thousand Island Lake, making several loops.
This increase follows the River Trail with exceptional views of Banner Peak and the Ritter Range north towards the Thousand Island Lake and then turns south along the base of mount Ritter through the John Muir trail and then towards Ediza Lake.
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We arrived at the ranger station a little late but was able to pick up our permits. It was too late to start the hike, so we decided to use the rest of the day to acclimate for the hike at the Innsbruck Lodge in Mammoth – The trail begins at about 8,000 feet with moderate elevation gains, so acclimation is highly advised.
The next morning we ate breakfast at the Breakfast Club Restaurant, aptly named after the popular 80s film. We got our fill of good old-fashioned high-calorie and big portion American breakfast for extra energy for the hike. We then took the free shuttle bus towards the trailhead on Agnew Meadows and Reds Meadows area – parking your car near the trailhead requires another permit so taking the shuttle is the best bet.
We began our first leg of the trek at the Agnew Meadows Trailhead, which sits approximately 8,300 feet above sea level. The destination – Thousand Island Lake is a 7.8 kilometers trek of steep switchbacks through trees and strenuous steady climb on the River Trail as it steadily drops to a low of 8,040 ft. And then slowly climbs up to 9,840 feet towards Thousand Island Lakes.
The first half of the trail was easy, even with our heavy packs and equipment; we were barely breaking a sweat. Further up the path meandered slowly, gaining about 920 feet before adding another subtle rise of 900 feet towards the lake.
As easy as the trail was, it did throw an interesting twist on our little adventure. Midway through the trail, a swarm of mosquitoes started following and harassing us. First, there were just two little annoying ones that buzzed around in my ears. I was able to swat them away. Then slowly more and more came, and it looked like they got the memo for the feast, a feast that served us on the menu.
Soon, a cloud of them was descending upon us. That leisurely stroll through a magical landscape turned apocalyptic. I would swat a few here and there, but the fucking bastards were relentless. They would dive bomb every bare skin they saw.
We took a little break to spray some insect repellent on our skin. We even sprayed on our clothes. However, it did not have any effect! It is as if they were immune to the chemicals. To make matters worse, they learned how to stab their little gnarly needles into the fabric of our clothes in the right into our skin!
The only respite I had was that they seem to prefer my friend Kenny. He was attracting the bulk of the horde. He must have tasted better.
Well, good for him!
And…Good for me ;)
We endured being battered while walking a mile towards our camp location. The famous John Muir once said the “alpine beauty of the Agnew Meadows is unsurpassed” and I would agree – If only I can see past the swarm of mosquitoes that blocked my view!
We made it to camp and set up our tents. Kenny made his way to the lake to try to capture fish while participating in guerrilla warfare with mosquitoes. We were too tired to cook anything that night, so we just ate some snacks and relegated ourselves to our tents. Some of the mosquitoes would get inside the tent, but I smashed the ones that got in.
Score: Mosquitoes 2, Backpackers 0
We broke camp the next morning and trudged our way towards the second destination called Garnett Lake. We chased our way on the John Muir Trail climbing up to 10,000 feet before falling abruptly to Garnet Lake in 9,680 feet. The pristine alpine lake seemed inviting and refreshing, so we drifted in its icy waters and had a respite from the long and grueling journey.
We chose 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 road towards next campground on Ediza Lake all the while attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. There was probably a half pint of blood drained from my weary body at that point.
Score: Mosquitoes 4, Backpackers 0
Battling the endless hordes of mosquitoes, we made to Ediza Lake and was able to set up our tents before sunset. We decided to have at least a warm meal after such a grueling ordeal.
What’s for dinner?
Braised backpackers with pressed blood drained by mosquitoes. There were so many mosquitoes that some 10 or 20 fell into the pot where I was boiling my freeze-dried Lasagna. After seeing what happened the annoyance that I was feeling turned into rage. The rage took over me; I saw the world suddenly became black and a scene from the movie Fight Club played in my head.
I am Jack’s raging bile duct.
I am Jack’s unrelenting vengeance.
I am Jack’s retribution.
How dare they suck my blood against my will! How dare they attack my person? Well, screw it. I was not going to let them ruin my fucking meal too!
At that point, I made a conscious decision to take matters into my own hands. I scooped a significant portion of that lasagna with a big heap of mosquitoes on top and chewed it as if it was my last meal on earth – all the way to my tummy.
Revenge is sweet, and that was one of the most satisfying meals in my life.
Score: Mosquitoes 4, Backpackers 20