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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Thousand Island Lake to Reds Meadow

Devil's Postpile

Day 6 on the John Muir Trail…

I woke up before sunrise to take  photos. Thousand Island Lake was still, reflecting Banner Peak like a mirror. The sun cast a brilliant yellow glow as it struck the mountains, and we welcomed the warm rays.

Thousand Island Lake Panorama

At 9,850 feet, Thousand Island Lake is just below the tree line. It got downright cold overnight, although we were comfortable in our sleeping bags and tent. “Tent-less” Hari awoke to a dust of frost on his pad and sleeping bag, but even he was warm inside. The hard part is getting up and out.

John Muir Trail Day 6
Distance: 13.3 miles
Cumulative Distance: 63.8 miles
Total Ascent: 2,619 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 17,389 ft
Harrison Map Sheets 11 & 10
Today was going to be a long day, but with a lot of downhill. We would be descending to Red’s Meadow (7,580 ft) near the iconic Devil’s Postpile National Monument. In Red’s Meadow there is a store and a cafe. There is a road into the area from Mammoth Lakes, although access is limited. We were looking forward to replenishing our caloric deficit with a big meal at the cafe, and picking up our second food resupply from the store.

When you look at the elevation profile, it looks like it’s “mostly” downhill. Beware! Elevation profiles can be deceiving. The scale of the profile might lead you to think that there’s a few little hills, but a largely downhill hike. While there is more down than up on this segment, those “little hills” amounted to nearly 2000 feet of elevation gain. At over 13 miles, this was also one of our longest days so far.

So we struck out early and began the hiking the “roller coaster” trail that strings together the lakes named for precious gems: Emerald, Ruby and Garnet Lakes.

Emerald and Ruby Lakes are small, but stunning. The aquamarine waters run very deep, and we could see the trout swimming about.

Ruby Lake

Garnet Lake looks similar to Thousand Island Lake, and offers views of both Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak (left and right, respectively). I had summited Banner Peak 34 years earlier, and the area brings back fond memories.

Garnet Lake

Soon we descended towards Shadow Creek. The JMT follows the creek along a series of beautiful rapids and falls. A perfect spot for our lunch.

Shadow Creek lunch stop

The creek empties into Shadow Lake, another beauty, but off-limits for camping due to over use.

Shadow Lake

The JMT skirts the west and southern edge of Shadow Lake, then heads up over another “little hill.” Finally we were on the descent to Red’s Meadow. This section was seemed longer than it was. Being at a lower elevation, the forest was thicker and shaded us from the afternoon sun. But the trail never seemed to end.

Finally we heard the roar of Minaret Falls. We were on the last steep descent to the valley and Red’s Meadow.

When we reached the junction with the trail to Devil’s Postpile, we strayed from the JMT. The Devil’s Postpile is a National Landmark and one of the finest examples of columnar basalt in the world.

Devil's Postpile

The hexagonal columns rise over sixty feet up. Take time to take the trail to the top, where the tops of the columns have been sheared smooth by glaciers many years ago. The result looks a lot like a tile floor.

Pics 052 105

Jeffrey, Joan and I finally located the Red’s Meadow campground. Hari arrived ahead of us, and after determining that all the campsites were already taken, struck up a friendship with Chris Ryerson, who shared his site with us. We paid the campsite fee, setup camp, and headed to the Red’s Meadow Bath House.

Red's Meadow Bath House
JMT-JeffThe Red’s Meadow Bath House is free to use (expect a line). The water is fed from natural hot springs. The “baths” are a little “rustic” and there are no controls on the heat, but it was HOT! It felt really good to wash away the dust and grime. Even though some of us had gone for a dip in a nearby lake, this was the cleanest we felt in a week. We were refreshed and recharged, and thankfully done with hiking for the day. 

UPDATE: Sadly, the Bath House is closed. You can hike over to Reds Meadow Resort and get a shower for $7, but the free, hot spring fed bath house pictured below is closed. Hopefully they’ll reopen it someday.

Hot spring baths

Thousand Island Lake to Red’s Meadow

Download file: JMT-Day-6.gpx

John Muir Trail Day Six Photo Gallery

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

Got a question about the JMT? Something you’d like more info on? Post a question in the JMT forum!

Tomorrow morning, we would pick-up our resupply package and have breakfast at the cafe before hitting the JMT and continuing our journey south to Deer Creek

Originally hiked on August 1, 2010.

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