Backpacking 1000 Island Lake !

Years ago, I heard about 1000 island lake. I believe it as was a TV “motion” episode which was mostly memorable for spectacular scenery, and the hazards of altitude sickness. Couple that with the recommendations of master-hiker Kate, this was I place I needed to see. Glacier fed lakes, Alpine exploring, and the self-reliance and suffering of backpacking were the goals.



In the flight to San Francisco, I usually look for Mono Lake. When I did not see it, I started thinking we were south of it (I was on the left southern looking side of the plane). And sure enough, there was my destination! Agnew meadow is in the valley to the left, below Garnet.

After a few days of acclimation hikes (Devils pilepost, Duck Lake pass), we left on a bright Friday morning from Agnew Meadow with our packs, headed for 1000 Island lake. The River trail took us around 5 miles on a very gradual incline, until the end of the valley and the final push up to the lake. We made good time and were done in around 4.5 hours or so, with a fair amount of sweat and toil.

After the usual waiting for Brodie to find the perfect campsite, we set up camp. I took a swim to get the stink off me. And we did a few short hikes to explore. And then it was time to eat. And sleep – yes – as the sun went down at 8pm.

From some research on the lake (I found this amusing): “I think the ascent to Thousand Island will be an eye-opener …. it’s a beautiful climb. Add two miles to the point where you reach the end of the lake and you’ll be happy– you can’t camp within 1/3 mile of the tip of the lake and the further west you go, the further you get from Bear Central, which is the zone with all the cool campsites and clustered groups of campers starting right at the 1/3 mile mark. Follow the coast west until you reach the fleur-de-lis shaped cove (check it on the map) and you’ll have camping and fishing to yourselves. In the morning, you can giggle over the terrified screams of those campers who were savagely mauled by Yogi Bear and…well, you can chuckle when you leave and campers near trail tell you they had a visit in the dark.”


The next day was dedicated to a long exploration of the shoulder of Mr Ritter, with the beautiful Lake Catherine on the other side. We explored snow fields, drank pristine water, and spent the entire day exploring. Just magical.



On the way back to camp, we decided to traverse the scree fields of Mt Banner, thinking it looked like a nice gentle and interesting way back to camp. That was not the best plan, as it was far longer and harder than we thought. As we then trudged into camp after a 10 hour day, only to hear thunder and see rain in the nearby valley. After some prep (as best we can) we waited to see if we would get rained on (we had no rain fly). We lucked out, and had a peaceful night.

The next day (Sunday) we broke camp and traversed from 1000 Island lake, past 2 great smaller lakes , and then camped for the last night at Garnet lake, but not before huddling under a tree as what we thought was rain came thru, but turned out to be hail… (seriously?) ….

Finally, Monday came (my birthday), as it was time to go. We packed up and left Garnet Lake, and somehow got on the wrong trail down, headed for the River trail and back to Agnew meadow. After traversing down a wall with our packs, we came upon three unmarked trailheads. We took the one in the middle which was delightful, until we had gone down for 45 minutes or so, only to have the trail end… yeah. Just ended. Not great. With the last battery from Brodies cellphone and his trail map, we went cross country for a bit, until we heard a guy yell “hey there”. He was standing 30 feet above us. I told him “do you know where the river trail is?”. He said “I’m standing on it”. Ahhh…. A small miracle.


After that it was time to trudge out , separately, rockin out to mostly Green Day. An end to an awesome trip (thanks Brodie).. and “damn you Brodie” !


About dmahler99

not all who wander are lost...
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