The strikingly picturesque Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River Valley lies west of the Ritter Range in the Ansel Adams wilderness which includes dark metavolcanic glaciated mountains such as Banner Peak and The Minarets. There are three trails up the Middle Fork Valley that converge near Thousand Island Lake, creating several loops. Our hike follows the River Trail, with its exceptional views of the Banner Peak and the Ritter Range north to Thousand Island Lake, then turns south along the base of the Ritter Range via the John Muir and towards Ediza Lake.
Kenny and I arrived late at the Mammoth Ranger station on Thursday, July 29, 2010, making my permit reservation useless. The reservation permit I acquired was for the Agnew Meadows to Lake Ediza along the Shadow Lake Trail and then through the Highpoint Trail to Thousand Island Lake. Our lateness cost us the our permit. However, we managed to obtain another permit but it was for a different itenerary on the opposite side of the loop, along the River Trail towards Thousand Island Lakes instead. We stayed at the Innsbruck Lodge at Mammoth for the night - the lodge offered comfortable accommodations for a reasonable price as compared with others in the area. The next morning we ate breakfast at the Breakfast Club restaurant, aptly named after the popular 80s John Hughes film. There is a mandatory Shuttle Bus requirement to the Agnew Meadows and Reds Meadows area unless you have campground reservation. We parked at the Ski lodge, purchased round trip tickets and took the bus. We arrived at Agnew meadows stop around 12pm, later than I would have liked and began our hike.
Our destination on the first day was Thousand Island Lake, roughly 7.8 miles of steep switchbacks through trees and steady climb on the River Trail. The other option is the High Trail which offers a steeper grade than the lower River Trail. We started our trek at Agnew Meadows approximately 8,300 feet above sea level which steadily drops to a low of 8,040 feet and then gradually climbing back up to 9,840 feet to the lake. The beginning half of the hike is deceptively easy, even with our heavy packs and gear. It slowly rises 920 feet before hitting a more subtle climb of another 900 feet to Thousand Island Lake. The hike seemed to last an eternity and we got an early taste of what was to be an epic battle with hoards of evil mosquitoes.Ken and I were beat, being lowlanders, the high altitude takes its toll regardless of the fit physique we’re in but pushed on that last mile, drawn by the breathtaking panorama of Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake. John Muir considered the alpine beauty in this area to be unsurpassed and I’m in agreement. We set camp and Kenny began his quest to catch a fish in the beautiful lake, seizing the in the magnificent views of the Eastern Sierras, breathing the cool fresh air and engaging in a tactical skirmish with the mosquitoes. We broke camp the next morning and began to trudge our way towards Garnett Lake. We made our way on the John Muir Trail, up to 10,000 feet before dropping abruptly to Garnet Lake at 9,680 feet. We took a break at the Lake to bath ourselves in its icy waters and take respite from the long and grueling journey – grueling because I haven’t slept the night before and simply did not have the full energy tackle the trail. We continued to plod our way through various switchbacks over the pass leading towards Shadow Lake. A tremendous view of Mount Ritter welcomed us along the pass and The Minarets compounded the already astounding sight.
We met a ranger at the mouth of Ediza Lake, she asked for our permit and told us two ways to reach our campsite, scramble North East along the lake or take the South west portion of the trail to loop around the lake. We took the south west trail and it seemed to add another exhausting feature to our journey. We set camp but we were beat, getting there was half the battle, mosquitoes made dinner out of our weary bodies and none of our chemical repellent worked. We ate dinner while being harassed by infuriating mosquitoes. One managed to land itself, the dumb thing, on my sizzling freeze dried Lasagna to its death. I suddenly felt compelled to take up retribution for all those times I was harassed and being bitten. There it was, a hapless victim of its own greed, floating in my Lasagna. With an evil grin I scooped up the portion and into the mouth it goes, what goes around comes around. Kenny had seen what I have done and when one fell on his plate. He had more hatred of these things than I did as evidenced by his forearms, which now resembled a pepperoni pizza…chomp, ahh, revenge is sweet.