Back in 2007, Julie, Galen and I went down to Big Sur for our first backpacking trip together – and one of my first backpacking trips since moving to California. We’ve been on several trips as a trio since then, but none over the past couple of years as Galen has spent a lot of time sailing instead. So when I was looking into a long weekend trip for this summer and noticed there were 3 permits available for the Shadow Creek trail out of Agnew Meadows, we decided to convince Galen it was time for him to join us once again. It didn’t take much convincing though – I just sent him a few pictures of the area and he was sold.
After a long drive from the Bay Area on Thursday night, we spent the night in Mammoth Lakes, stopping for far too much pizza at Mia’s on Hwy 108 along the way. The next morning we took full advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel and then headed to the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge to catch the shuttle to Agnew Meadows. We were on the shuttle at 9am and on the trail by around 9:30am.
We quickly walked passed Agnew Meadows and began the gentle descent down to the Middle Fork San Joaquin River. Shortly after passing Olaine Lake, we made a left at the trail junction, heading up about 600 feet towards Shadow Lake. We took short break near the outlet of the lake and got a glimpse of what the next few days had in store for us.
View from Shadow Lake
At the west end of the lake, we briefly connected with the John Muir Trail before splitting off onto the trail up to Ediza Lake. I was hoping to make it to the lake before stopping for lunch, but we eventually decided not to wait any longer and stopped along the creek on the way up to the lake. The hummus wraps we planned on eating got left behind in Mammoth Lakes. Instead we feasted on our leftover pizza from the night before. Ordering an entire extra pizza at Mia’s turned out to be a brilliant error of judgment.
Shortly after lunch, we arrived at the lake and made our way around to the other end. We found a relatively secluded spot to set up camp above the southwestern shore of the lake. There was a group of 5+ people not too far away, but they were out of earshot and out of sight, blocked by both granite and trees.
Arriving at Ediza Lake
There was plenty of daylight left, so I headed up to check out Iceberg Lake. The maintained trail was on the other side of the stream connecting Iceberg Lake to Ediza Lake, so I made my way up more directly via a series of use trails instead of crossing the stream. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that there was only one group of people around and they were heading up to Cecile Lake. I sat there for a little while, enjoying the solitude and gazing at the Minarets rising up out of the lake.
Trail to Cecile Lake from Iceberg Lake
After I got back, Julie and Galen were taking naps, so I wandered around a bit and scouted out a place for us to eat dinner. There was a perfect spot just a short walk from camp on a granite bench overlooking Ediza Lake.
Ediza Lake view near camp
The sun was getting pretty low at this point, so I went back to camp and made a little bit of noise. "Oh, sorry....did I wake you guys? My bad. Anyway, the sun is going down, you guys want to eat dinner?" My plan worked. We grabbed all of our dinner supplies and headed back to the granite bench where we cooked up some tacos, sipped on some bourbon and enjoyed the sunset. Shortly after that we were all sound asleep.
The next morning I was awake pretty early, so I wandered around and took a few more photos while waiting for the others to rise.
Camp from above
The Minarets, Mt Ritter and Banner Peak
The destination for the day was Thousand Island Lake. As we were getting ready to head out, someone that was camping close by approached us to see if we had seen his son’s pair of boots that had disappeared. I’m not sure if they ended up finding the boots, but fortunately they were on the final day of their 8 day trip and his son did have camp shoes he could hike out in. Not too long after he left, I was reorganizing the bear canister and noticed there were 3 thumbtacks that somehow ended up in our bag of dehydrated pasta sauce. We couldn’t make any sense of it. The only explanation that we could think of was that some punk(s) were going around and messing with people’s stuff. Hopefully that’s not the case, but I still can’t think of any other explanation.
After breakfast we finally hit the trail. We considered taking the cross country route via Whitebark Pass, but the decision to do so wasn’t unanimous, so we backtracked to the JMT. On the way out went back up to Iceberg Lake so Julie and Galen could check it out. Once again, there was nobody else there so we spent a little time relaxing there before continuing on.
Heading up to Iceberg Lake
Group Shot at Iceberg Lake
Wildflowers at Iceberg Lake
Not surprisingly, once we got back to the JMT the trail was pretty busy. We stopped at the junction to refill our water bottles and there was one large group and a few smaller groups also taking a break in the vicinity. Heading north, we passed many more people on the way to Garnet Lake. Once we got to the lake we stopped for lunch just north of the foot bridge on the eastern end. As we were sitting there, a couple of strange looking fellows approached that seemed very familiar – it was Andrew F. and Manfred K. hiking the JMT. It was about 1:30pm and they were about 16 miles into their day, while we had only hiked about 6 miles so far. We chatted with them for a bit and then they were off to Reds Meadow with cheeseburgers on their minds.
After lunch we left the JMT and the crowds as we hiked along the northern shore of the Garnet Lake and over the saddle to the west end of Thousand Island Lake. We passed one couple looking for a place to set up camp about half way down Garnet Lake, but they would be the last people we saw for the rest of the day.
Use trail on north side of Garnet Lake
Saddle between Garnet Lake and Thousand Island Lake
View of Thousand Island Lake from saddle
Once we got to the western end of Thousand Island Lake there was no reason to continue any further. This was the campsite we were looking for. We were near the base of Banner Peak and the shores of one of the most popular lakes in the Sierra, yet there was nobody else around. We spent the rest of the evening sipping on bourbon and savoring the views.
Banner Peak from west end of Thousand Island Lake
Camp at night
The next morning I got up to try to take some sunrise pictures and then fell back asleep on a granite slab until Julie and Galen emerged from the tent.
Sunrise on Banner Peak
Once we finally got moving, we hiked along the north shore of Thousand Island Lake before connecting with the High Trail/PCT.
Banner Peak from the north shore of Thousand Island Lake
The High Trail route back to Agnew Meadows was the perfect way to end the trip as we enjoyed sweeping views of the Minarets, Mt Ritter and Banner Peak for much of the way.
Minarets, Ritter, Banner and Shadow Lake