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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The creek empties into Shadow Lake, another beauty, but off-limits for camping due to over use.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thousand Island Lake to Red’s Meadow
John Muir Trail Day Six Photo Gallery
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