Thousand Island Lake

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Here's a shot of some trailside flowers as we approached Mt. Ritter. Much of the main Sierra crest is granite, yet Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Minarets are dark volcanic rock, which makes for a cool contrast. This area is truly incredible to hike through. Truly, I tell you.


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This is nearing Island Pass, with Bleu Cheese Lake on the other side of the ridge, or is that Light Ranch Lake? Wait, Thousand Island Lake, ya, that's it. I knew it was something like that. This entire area was covered in huge ice-sheets during the last ice-age, but global warming has shrunk the ice-sheets down to a few big snow patches clinging to the mountains.


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We had cranked out Donahue Pass earlier in the day, and now we were topping out on a smaller pass called Island Pass, which isn't really much of a pass as far as the grueling Sierras go. The clouds were getting grouchier, we were getting hungry, and our destination for the night, Thousand Island Lake, was just down the other side. But there were gorgeous high meadows filled with wildflowers, and I had to spend some time getting to know them before they were gone for the season. I introduced myself and told them to act natural, because I was gonna take their picture. I tried to get as much depth of field as my camera would give me, but the foreground flowers are literally right on my 17mm lens. I pretty much put the camera on the ground. I had to ask a yellow-bellied marmot to actually look through the viewfinder and make sure the horizon was straight and to snap the shot. It only cost me three almonds and 5 peanuts. Well, it didn't take long (within 15 minutes or so) until the rain came down on us pretty hard as we descended to Thousand Island Lake. Unable to find a good campsite in the increasingly hard rain, Jim and I snagged our tarps from our packs and tossed them overhead and we just sat there in the cold rain with tarps over us. We didn't know if we were gonna be sitting under the blanket of tarps for 5 minutes, 2 hours, or all freakin' night! It was pretty exciting, but after about 20 minutes the rain let up enough for us to scurry around the steep-sided lake to find a semi-flat spot to set up our tarps. The bears at the lake were laughing at us and just waiting for sundown. Being cold, wet, and hungry seemed fairly miserable at the time, but I even look back at those times fondly now. Jim hates camping in the rain. You can give him snow, sleet, hail, wind, lightning, thunder, whatever, but please, no rain. Not only is rain wet, but it revives the skeeters. It's a double yuck thing for Jim.

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The rain had stopped, but the clouds were definitely still major grump pots ready to cut loose again. But I took the opportunity in the break to jam down to the shore of Thousand Island Lake and hope for some great color in the sunset, since it was already late evening. I hung around on the shore for a few minutes, admiring Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter, wishing the choppy lake water would magically turn glass, but it didn't. But it was still pretty. I waited long enough to where I thought the sun had pretty much departed and the horizon was just too cloudy and was probably blocking any hopes of the sun from painting the clouds. Just as I was about to head back to camp, the bottom of the clouds turned a fantastic fiery red. It was just the bottom of the clouds that turned color, nothing else. I whipped out my 70-200m zoom lens and snapped a few shots. These are not Photoshop enhanced colors, this is straight-up off the scan. It's not some amazing sunset or anything, but still, I thought it was pretty cool. Neato. Far-out, man. Boss. Sick. Okay, I liked it. Ah lawked it alawt.  We hadn't met Dave and Brian yet (we would the following night), but this same storm was the one where they really did almost get hit by lightning at their camp up towards Donahue Pass. That's what gave Dave his lightning phobia.

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A bear had gone through our camp the night before (I'll get to that one, but it wasn't too epic or anything!), so I had interrupted sleep, but I was still up before the sun to snag a few shots of the glassy lake. After raining hard the evening before, and threatening much of the night, it was a relief to wake up to a nicer looking sky. But it didn't last long. By the time we broke camp and hit the trail, it was trying to rain again. We cranked out another near 18-miler that day and ended up cold and stumbling in pouring HARD rain into a cafe in Red's Meadow. One of our tougher days to be sure, oh ya it was. The JMT is MUCH harder than the PCT through this section, you better believe it.

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Here's a shot I took while cooking breakfast while laying in my Marmot® Pinnacle sleeping bag. Of course, I'm boiling water for some deeelicious Quaker® Instant Oatmeal, Maple Brown Sugar. You can see from my cup, I hadn't washed it out from the previous morning. I don't do dishes. It had been raining and threatening to rain, plus it was dern cold out, hence cooking under the tarp. That's Banner Peak in the distance, and you can baaarely see part of Thousand Island Lake on the far left of the photo.

This was the night a bear came through our camp. We had to set up our tarps rather hastily the evening before due to rain. There were few flat spots to choose from at the lake, and no trees in the immeditate vicinity to tie off my Ursack bear bag. So, willing to defend my Ursack food bag at any cost, I used it as a pillow. It's virtually bearproof (made of Kevlar®), but I didn't want a bear running off with it nonetheless. The rest of our food was safely secured in a hard-shell bear canister.

Sometime around midnight, I hear a hard "slap" on my tarp. Then I heard it immediately again. I thought it was Jim fartin' around. Then I see the big dark paws under the side of my tarp. Before I knew it, I'm yelling, "HEY BEAR... THERE'S A BEAR... GET OUT OF HERE... GET OUT OF HERE BEAR!!!"... I think that's pretty much what I said, I'm not sure. It only took Jim about 1.4 seconds to also start screaming things about wishing the bear to immediately vacate the premises. The bear was inches from me. But luckily it didn't want to fight, so it slowly lumbered off, not even startled or acknowledging our screams. I saw this big black mass make its way between our tarps and off into the distance. Jim never even saw the thing, it was over with withing a few seconds. The bear wasn't acting aggressive, it was more like we were in his path and he/she was just slowly passing through but wanted to do a quick investigation of my tarp for any quick morsels. Black bears don't scare me a bit, not one iota, so I'm willing to defend my food face-to-face. Obviously I wouldn't do anything close to this in grizzly country. My theory is that this bear wanders through camps and doesn't want to fight for food, but often people are so afraid of bears that they'll run off screaming into the night, while the bear smirks and goes through their things and hopes there's unprotected food to scarf down. If you stand your ground, it moves on to easier pickin's. This was a big black bear though, and the dark body against the dark night probably made it look even bigger. That was our only bear encounter on the whole JMT. Bear canisters are a good thing and I'm glad the NPS and rangers are requiring them. Of course, this encounter would not have happened if I had my dogs with me, which I usually do at 1000 Island Lake.


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We woke up to a beautiful morning on Thousand Island Lake. Sure, the skies were gray and it was cold, and our gear was still wet from the hard rain the evening before, and a bear had woken us up in the middle of the night which required some screaming sessions to encourage it away, but it was a great morning because we were at Thousand Island Lake. I love this place. Everytime I hike through here, I feel like I'm walking through a calendar. A really really big calendar. Since this place is like hiking through a calendar, it's a great place to take a date. (eye roll).