Laura and I enjoyed a fun overnighter in the Mammoth Lakes/Ansel Adams Wilderness backcountry this week; we hiked from Agnew Meadows to Shadow Lake via the River Trail, then up the JMT to Garnet Lake, and back down via the River Connector and River Trail. Rather than bore you with lots of text, I’ll provide the step by step description of this trip below with pictures 🙂
We were fortunate to get a walk-in pass right when the ranger station opened at 8am. We caught the mandatory shuttle bus at the Village Center around 1030 a.m. Parking is easy and shuttle tickets cost $7 r/t. Shuttles run every 20 minutes or so and it’s all pretty simple.
The shuttle’s first stop is Agnew Meadows, our trail head. Everything is fairly well signed. It also smells like horse poo… so just follow the poo smell if you get lost.
After following the dirt road up a couple blocks, we reached this intersection. The PCT/High Trail (right) is really pretty and fun…but today we were going to enjoy the lower trail, the River Trail.
Laura rocking her brand new Osprey Kyte pack. Worked like a charm. Great new pack.
We took off uncharacteristically fast, right out of the gate. I think we averaged 3.5-4 mph. Granted – it was flat – but hey, little victories ought to be celebrated. This caused us to go around several parties. Lots of people out there.
After a couple miles, we passed Olaine Lake. It’s a nice looking one but there were better ones ahead.
We reached this Y intersection. We elected to turn left and to head up to Shadow Lake. Going right goes towards 1000 Island Lake and is more gradual in incline.
There’s an awesome bridge that crosses the Middle Fork/San Joaquin River. Well done, whoever built this.
The trail becomes considerably steeper heading towards Shadow Lake. It ends up switching back quite a bit, along a set of waterfalls, and providing great views of the valley below. Well worth the trip.
Finally we reached Shadow Lake. Some light rain was beginning to fall and ominous thunder was resounding throughout the Wilderness. However, it was all bark and no bite…for now…
We had consumed about a liter of water each at this point. Shadow provided a great refill station and would be the last real prominent water fill-up station for the next few miles (until Garnet Lake). We also had some electrolytes and took the packs off for a few minutes, enjoying the beautiful view around us.
Crystal clear water.
As we continued down the trail and around Shadow, we met up with the JMT. Laura was especially enthused to see a section of the JMT for the first time.
This section gets steeper and steeper.
We did not do this – and we hate seeing any wilderness marked up. However, it was cool to see our letters at least.
We began an ascent up towards a pass and around a meadow. The trail was composed of some sort of shale or broken rock like that. We began to realize that we had not been eating as much as we ought to have and fatigue began to hit us both. Further complicating the situation was another threatening storm building up.
We reached the pass highpoint of 10,2′ and it began to rain. We tossed on ponchos shortly afterward and didn’t sweat it too much, since we knew our home for the night was less than half a mile away and pretty much downhill. We were really freaking hungry though.
Garnet Lake came into view. This felt good to see.
We set up home sweet home right as the showers ended. I think I consumed 2-3 bottles of cytomax and a Mountain House Mac N Cheese meal. Laura ate a Kind Bar and some Kettle Chili from Mary Janes Farms. We felt instantly better.
We were flirting with the idea of staying out an extra night or two. I had no extra clothing so I washed my shirts and socks in the lake and then hung them up on a makeshift clothesline, created from the tent guyline. It seemed like a bright idea at the time, especially considering we had another hour of daylight remaining and few clouds in the sky. However things were about to change.
As the sun set, we both entered into our tent and sleeping bags, eager to warm up a bit from the earlier cold rain. However, I left the tent to use the facilities while there was a small bit of light remaining and noticed a black cloud moving in from the east. I let Laura know that I had a feeling we were in for some type of squall and that we should pull everything into our vestibules, make sure the tent is tied down right, and take down my clothesline so my clothes don’t blow away 🙂 We organized our site and, literally, maybe 3 minutes after we got back into the tent, we saw a flash of lightning, heard thunder, and the winds kicked up. I took a video from the tent on my phone:
We only saw a small bit of lightning, but the winds were absolutely crazy. The next day, we met several hikers who stayed at 1000 Island Lake, just 3 miles away, and they said the lightning there was scary but with little wind. Weird weather.
We awoke the next morning around 7am. It had rained through the night and had continued into the morning. We made the decision to not flirt with ideas of sticking around longer but instead to head back. I tried to dry my washed clothes, but was unable to really get my socks perfectly dry. However, the two options were – 1. Hike in wet socks or 2. Hike in no socks. Clearly option 1 made more sense. More on this at the end.
The big obstacle for our descent home was going to be some sections of wet granite on the trail we were going to head down, including a pretty steep .5 mile class 2 chute that would bring us back to the River Trail… but we were up for the challenge.
This is below the class 2 chute/connector trail. It was a little sketchy but really quite a bit of fun. Laura did a great job leading our path down and we relied heavily on our trekking poles and finding good handholds.
Finally reaching the bottom of the chute.
We continued down some steep dirt switchbacks along the unmaintained trail and actually took a couple of wrong turns that added to our journey. However, my Garmin ETrex 20 got us back on trail and helped us figure out where the hidden trail was supposed to be… until we finally reached the comfortable, easy River Trail, and began heading back to Agnew.
Laura told me that – with 2 miles remaining before Agnew Meadows – she had a blister that was killing her. We glacier-gelled that up and took it easy on that final descent. We made a few new friends who were injured on the JMT on the final mile. It felt nice to meet some other good people on the trail and to share the bond that only the trail can facilitate.
…and this is why a person with sensitive skin should not hike in wet socks. Ouch!
Overall, this was a great loop that would work well as a dayhike or overnighter alike. Most people who dayhike it go counter-clockwise, whereas we went clockwise. Either way, Garnet Lake is an amazingly beautiful and less visited lake than its neighbors Ediza and 1000 Island.
And now the stats…
Distance traveled – day 1 – 8.75 miles – day 2 – 7.8 miles
Elevation gain – day 1 – 2200′ – day 2 – 600′
Calories burned by me (est) – day 1 – 3000 – day 2 – 1700
Calories consumed by me (est) day 1 – 800 – day 2 – 200
In hindsight… ponchos suck for backpacking. I thought I’d give it a shot but no bueno. Next time, I’ll suck up the extra pound and bring rainpants and a rainjacket. Also a second pair of socks would have been amazing.