Mini 3-day Backpacking Trip to Thousand Island Lake

Rate this Adventure 23 miles 4496 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Logan Wenzler

Starting at Agnew Meadows, this portion of the PCT/High Trail leading to Thousand Island Lake is just might be what it takes get you back into backpacking after some time off.  

After driving from San Francisco much of the night, we arrived in Lee Vining after midnight.  We basically slept in the car and in the morning got our permits from the info center right by Mono Lake.  (a wildfire was also burning up a small ridge from the highway).  We drove to Mammoth mountain ski area, parked, and took the shuttle (fee) to Agnew Meadows, or "Mosquito Alley".  

At about 8,400', this trailhead is where you have the option of accessing PCT/High Trail, Shadow Creek Trail, River Trail, or John Muir Trail.  We decided to take the PCT North, and up we went for 8.5 miles.  We will admit, we made our packs heavier than needed by carrying with us all of our water (around 4 gallons each) and some other fun items, but to us we like fitnessing, and everything can be made into a great workout opportunity.  We started off going up switchbacks, gaining elevation in the sun until the switchbacks ended and some tree cover provided some much needed shade.  From here we started seeing creeks cross the trail every now and then.  Soon the ridge to on our western side gave off spectacular views of the terrain across the valley where the river ran.  Waterfalls could be seen flowing from the rock and from higher elevation lakes.  After the initial climb, we were in more open grassy meadows, and caught a glimpse of  a deer.  By a creek we changed our sweaty socks, and were back on our way.  After the meadows on the ridge, elevation started to increase again and the tree line was thinning. We stopped at a rocky overlook for a break and some snacks, and continued again.  

We started from Agnew Meadows around 11am, and got to Thousand Island Lake around 3:30pm. The closer you get to Thousand Island Lake, the more water you will see, and eventually you'll walk along the river that drains it.  When you get to the lake reward yourself by basking in the sun on the warm rocks.  

The first night on the trail we walked up the JMT/PCT until we saw an overlook. We created a wind break, put down our tarp and sleeping system, and went to our cooking spot about 50 meters away.  We both had headaches not from dehydration, but from altitude.  After dinner we strung up our bear bag on a rocky cliff face and went down to the lake for some swigs of whiskey and to watch the fish jump out of the water to eat mosquitos.  The mosquitos were out in full force at this point. A cheap mosquito net to cover your face does wonders out here, especially when you're not moving and it's night.  

Back up at our camp we layered up and prepared to go to sleep, enjoying the last bit of sunlight over the mountains. It was chilly, but nothing too bad...yet.  We both woke up around 2am shivering and tossed and turned the rest of the night.  I put on all of my layers and was still cold. We work up with frost and I cursed myself for not bringing my heavier sleeping bag.  However, an hour after the sun rose, I was once again in shorts.  

After some coffee and food, we decided to check out around the lake, brining some water other small items but leaving our big packs up stashed behind a bush closer to camp.  The hike around the lake was my favorite part of the trip.  With Mt. Davis staring down at us, we saw animals, walked through some snow, drank out of the rivers leading into the lake with a lifestraw, bouldered around the banks of the lake, and took epic pictures.  Eventually we rejoined the JMT and got to our packs.  The trek around took longer than expected, but we were still back before our planned 2pm departure back down the PCT/High Trail.  

Our plan was to hike the majority of the way back, and find a camping spot that overlooked the valley that we saw on our way up a day prior.  After finding an area, we explored a bit, made coffee, ate dinner, tied up the bear bag, enjoyed the views.  It was early, but we decided to try and go to sleep early since the mosquitos were pretty bad.  So with the sound of the raging river below, and buzz of mosquitos in our ears we dozed off.  I tossed and turned most of the the night, but once the coffee hit in the morning I was good. We packed up, (our packs significantly lighter due to us drinking all of our water and eating most of our food), and headed down.  We got to Agnew Meadows mid morning, grabbed the shuttle back to Mammoth, and cracked a beer we had in the car.

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