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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Lyell Canyon to Thousand Island Lake

Island Pass and the Minarets Panorama

Day Five on the John Muir Trail…

Yesterday’s hike up Lyell Canyon was relatively easy. Today, we would hit several big milestones. First, we would hike over our first serious pass. At 11,056 ft, Donohue Pass was still covered with snow, and the altitude was as high as we had been on the JMT so far. We would also pass the 50 mile mark. And we would bid adieu to Yosemite… and hello to the Ansel Adams Wilderness in Inyo National Forest.

John Muir Trail Day 5
Distance: 9.7 miles
Cumulative Distance: 50.5 miles
Total Ascent: 2,200 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 14,770 ft
Harrison Map Sheets 12 and 11
It got pretty cold last night camping near 10,000 feet. We used the tent fly for the added warmth. We boiled water for our Starbucks Via and our oatmeal, then pumped and filtered water and broke camp. When it’s cold, it helps to get moving.

One of the great things about hiking the John Muir Trail is that you are never very far from a water source. There are only a few stretches where we really needed to carry more than a liter of water with us. If we needed more water, we would stop and filter more.

We crossed the bridge over Lyell Fork and headed out.

Some of the creek crossings were a little sketchy. You either hiked through the icy cold water, or carefully stepped one foot in front of the other, placing them on the slippery stones and doing your best not to fall in. We were glad we had our trekking poles. We made a point to always have three points of contact with the ground. 

At some of the lakes, there are feint trails that run around the perimeter. It’s easy to mistake these for “the” trail, but we knew we would be climbing and stuck to our uphill trajectory.

There were numerous rivulets that crossed the trail, as well as a wide range of wildflowers.

Rivulets crossing the Trail

More Wildflowers on the JMT

Soon we were high above the canyon, and ready to ascend the final incline to the pass. We stopped to look back on the canyon we just climbed out of.

Looking where we cam from

We passed one last lake and started up a granite trail that was fully exposed. Well above the tree line, we were nearing the crest of Donohue Pass.

Traversing the Snow

We reached the pass and took an early (and well deserved lunch break). Our trail mascot Yoda was proud.

Pics 051 924

From Donohue Pass, we split in two groups. Joan and I hiked on to our camp for the night at Thousand Island Lake. Jeffrey and Hari decided to tackle rocky Donohue Peak. There is no trail up Donohue Peak; it’s mainly boulder scrambling (no technical climbing required). Even so, it’s a slog up and back down. They were rewarded for their efforts with some amazing views.

Donohue Peak Panorama

From Donohue Pass, there is a long downhill trudge. The sun was warm and our spirits were high. And we still had about six miles to go. The scenery changed as we once again descended below the tree line and crossed Rush Creek.

Crossing Rush Creek

Watch the trail signs carefully. Several trails converge in this area, and you don’t want to take the wrong trail. From the creek, we climbed towards Island Pass. This pass is easy to miss, because it’s really a wide, broad saddle dotted with little ponds. The distinctive feature? Jaw-dropping views of the majestic Minarets, their jagged peaks rising dramatically above you to the west.

Finally, we came into view of Thousand Island Lake.

This is a huge lake. No, it doesn’t really have a thousand islands. Yes, it does have a LOT of islands–more than I care to count. And it sits directly below the spectacular Banner Peak.

Cairn over Thousand Island Lake

The trail winds down to the outlet of Thousand Island Lake. There is no camping around the outlet, so we had to follow the northern shore for about half a mile before we found a suitable campsite. We settled in, refilled our water bottles and pitched our tent. Jeffrey and Hari strolled in just in time for dinner — tired but proud to have bagged Donohue Peak.

Repelling Mosquitos: A Natural Approach
JMT-JeffreyThe mosquitos were pretty bad at Thousand Island Lake. I chose not to use repellent. My approach? Long pants and long sleeves. When I needed, I wore a mosquito net over my head. Once at camp, I could get into my tent until sundown. Most of the mosquitos disappear when the sun sets and the temperature dips, so I could cook and eat my dinner in peace.

Thousand Island Lake is one of my favorite places. It’s beauty always inspires me. And it’s a popular destination that many people hike to out of Mammoth Lakes. For these reasons, it’s crowded and attracts bears. We were all using bear canisters and didn’t have any problems, but we did hear some noise from other campsites that had to chase off bears.

The map below shows the general route we took, and the gallery below includes additional photos in chronological order.

Upper Lyell Canyon to Donohue Pass, Island Pass and Thousand Island Lake

Download file: JMT-Day-5.gpx

JMT Day 5 Photo Gallery

Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.

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Tomorrow, we hike to Red’s Meadow.

Originally hiked on July 31, 2010.

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