Jul 24, 2012 at 9:11 pm #1292312
Here are a few pictures and a brief post-trip report on my backpacking trip to Thousand Island Lake, in the Sierras near Mammoth. I've been planning this trip for a couple years now and finally did it. I made a loop, taking the High Trail (PCT) from Agnew Meadows, up to Summit Lake, then to Clark Lakes, then over to Thousand Island Lake and down the River Trail.
I was very impressed with the Clark Lakes. In a future trip I think I'll approach from the Rush Creek trail and make the Clark Lakes my sole goal for a weekend. They are not as grand as some of the bigger lakes, but they are incredibly beautiful on a smaller scale. The next few shots are the heart-shaped Clark Lake:
I ran into several thunder storms during the day, and as evening came I found myself approaching Thousand Island Lake. Vixen doing her Gatekeeper impression, guarding the approach to Thousand Island Lake:
Most of the photos I've seen online of Thousand Island Lake have been taken in beautiful weather. To be honest, that is what I'd been hoping for on this trip. Thank goodness I didn't get my wish. The foreboding atmosphere made for an all the more "otherworldly" impression on my first sighting of the lake I'd been dreaming of for the past two years. It was a surreal experience and I wouldn't have changed it for the world:
As a side note, I believe all these photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.
So here were the lessons learned from this trip (and thanks to all who were so helpful in my gear list thread and pre-trip planning thread!)…
The Sawyer squeeze was a great water filter. Very fast and painless to use, and you could actually enjoy the taste of the water (I'd previously been using the tablets). I'm sold on my Akubra "slouch" felt hat. During torrential thundershowers, my head and shoulders stayed completely dry. I was not too hot in the warmest parts of the day, and didn't sweat as much as in my cotton boonie hat. It even survived a Vixen chewing while I was focussed on taking pictures, just popped right back into place.
Those who read my gear list thread, know I'd been debating wearing my Merril Trail runners as opposed to my tried and true Danner boots (which I wear everyday at work, play, etc.). Eileen Duncan gave the advice of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Even though my Danners probably weighed 3 times the Merril's, they served me well yet again. My feet were comfortable the entire way (roughly 20 miles), with close to (if not slightly over) 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. I'm glad I took the boots.
Now for the pack weight…roughly 34 pounds fully loaded with water, food for both of us, etc. It kicked my butt. Part of the excess weight was of course the DSLR and tripod. I was very glad to have them, but my pelvic girdle and shoulders payed the price in pain. I didn't know how long I'd be out for, so I carried food for both Vixen and I for 5 days. I ended up being out there less than half that time, so again, a lot of excess weight. A big part of the reason I cut my trip short was lack of sleep. Two nights in a row without more than a solid hour of sleep at a time, that plus the elevation (I live at sea level), kicked my butt again.
All in all, I've got to say that seeing Thousand Island Lake for the first time that evening, with the setting sun and thunder clouds, made it for a trip I'll always remember with fondness.Jul 24, 2012 at 9:28 pm #1897359
Great atmosphere. Clouds always make it more interesting IMO. Where do you think your problem was with sleeping?Jul 24, 2012 at 9:43 pm #1897363
@creachenLocale: East Bay
Excellent pictures Doug… That area is spectacular!Jul 25, 2012 at 2:31 am #1897403
@elf773Locale: Vancouver, BC
Wicked pictures Doug. Thanks for sharing.Jul 25, 2012 at 7:40 am #1897424
@ikeLocale: Central Michigan
Very inspiring pictures. Looks like your DSLR was well worth the weight.Jul 25, 2012 at 9:10 am #1897442
"Where do you think your problem was with sleeping?"
Ken, this was my 4th trip to Mammoth over the years, and I've never slept good even in a motel until the 4th night or so. I really think the main factor is the altitude. I know 8000' (in town) doesn't sound like much, but I live about 2 miles from the ocean, and so altitude is the only thing I can think of (I sleep fine in hotels at lower elevations, even 5000' like in Tahoe). The second part is that I used my RidgeRest cut to knee length and a jacket for a pillow. I know for certain that if I'd gone with my Synmat 7 and Wiggy's pillow I would have slept better, but that would have bumped my already significant pack weight up a couple pounds.Jul 25, 2012 at 9:31 am #1897449
Thanks very much for the compliments on the photos! I had a fun time taking them and I'm glad you guys enjoyed them. I'll share a little bit about how I did it. For starters, I'm a beginner when it comes to photography. Everything I know comes from my brother, who is a borderline professional large format landscape photographer. When I got my DSLR (a "base model" Canon T3 Rebel with kit lense), my brother gave me a sort of digital photography for dummies lecture. It's paid off so far. :)
I'm a firm believer in the KISS prinicpal (keep it simple, stupid). So all of these shots were done at 100 ISO. I figure if I bought a DSLR, I wanted detail in the photos, hence the tripod so that I can stay at a low ISO even in lower lighting conditions. So I begin every picture by setting the camera on the Av (aperture priority) mode, and depress the button 1/2 way until it pops up with the aperture number on the bottom of the screen. I then switch to the M (manual) mode, and dial in the aperture recommended on the Av mode. From there I use a shotgun approach to it, and take about 3 or 4 photos of the same subject, but dialing the aperture up and down from the recommended setting. With varying amounts of over and under exposure, I usually find one I like.
So as you can see, a photographer would have the knowledge to look at a scene and think "I'm going to use this setting for this shot". I'm not a photographer, so I take advantage of the digital age and take a gazillion shots in hopes a few turn out. Haha
Then comes the time to pick which one to use. This can be tricky because there are certain aspects I like better about one or the other. Take the example of the heart-shaped Clark Lake photo that I posted above and compare it to these next two photos. With a little bit less exposure, the ground around the lake becomes slightly harder to see, but the sky takes on a lot more interest (I actually like this version the best and probably should have used it instead of the first one I put up):
So I have to decide which "look" I like best, and generally go with the exposure that is the best compromise of stand-out colors and detail. There are a few times where I didn't follow this rule though. On the photo of Vixen and I looking over Thousand Island Lake for the first time I chose the photo that most truly matched what it looked like at the time (light-wise). With the picture slightly over-exposed, the scenery became much more visible (as you'll see in the next picture), but I chose not to go with it because it is not what it looked like in person:
Finally, this was the first time I've ever played around with my new circular polarizing filter. The only shots I used it for were the biggest Clark Lake picture, and the first two Banner Peak shots. I really liked the effect it had on the Clark Lake photo. The clouds really pop out, and the sky is a nice blue color.
Anyways, thanks again for the compliments and since I'm a novice, I'd love to get some feedback on suggestions of new things to try or ways to improve.Jul 25, 2012 at 11:31 am #1897475
Beautiful photos. That is one lucky dog too.Jul 26, 2012 at 7:43 am #1897675
Doug, you are the man. In perfect timeliness, you've posted (nicely done) photos of your excellent route — one that I'm doing in reverse (clockwise) in three weeks with Scouts.
After taking High Trail to Badger Lakes, then 1000 Island and River Trail back to Agnew last year, I decided to route us in 2012 so the final day and miles are *downhill*, ha ha! Dropping the switchbacks to Agnew Meadows should have the guys feeling like champions and "untired". Ergo, the clockwise routing.
Like you, I haul a DSLR. I'm not dedicated enough to carry a tripod though! I do have a mini-pod, but that's just to make it easier to balance the rig on rocks. Last year, I stuck with a 50mm prime 1.4, but I am going to dig out an 18-55 this year. I'll sacrifice speed to get field of view.
Congratulations on a great trip and thanks for posting photos!!Jul 26, 2012 at 8:52 am #1897690
Tim, thanks for the compliment on the photos! Vixen is a lucky dog, in fact, all of my backpacking has been with her. After several trips with less than ideal sleep at night, I'd love to try a hammock but Vixen is the thing preventing me from doing it. I just can't immagine backpacking without her (same reason I never hike in National Parks, since they don't allow dogs).
Erik, after doing a fairly similar route to me before, you can certainly make an informed decision, but here are the reasons I was glad I went the direction I did; By starting on the High Trail you get the vast majority of your elevation gain for the trip out immediately, and while you are the most rested. And in my opinion, it wasn't even all that brutal. Once the switchbacks were done (and still early and cool weather), it was a nice gentle uphill until the end of the first "forest" you come to. After that, when you enter the open space, you basically follow a contour line all the way to Summit Lake. You have the added benefit that on the way out you can avoid all the "how much further"? comments because they can look to the head of the valley and see their approximate goal. It gives a sence of progress, unlike the River Trail which is essentially a long uphill (if you go that way) slog with no discernable way of telling how far you have left to go unless you've been there before (or can read a topo well, which just makes it more disheartening haha).
I was extremely glad I went the direction I did. The River Trail, on the other hand, you immediately dump your 300' and then walk a flat trail all the way to the Shadow Lake junction, and then begin a brutal 1850' elevation gain for the second 2/3 of your hike. And nowhere near as gentle an uphill as you had on the High Trail. It's small stretches of flat, with grueling sections of steps and steep uphills. I passed two groups of Scouts going up the River Trail when I was coming down it. They looked exhausted and they still had an even rougher 3 miles at least ahead of them, with no way of judging progress.
I decided then and there that if I were ever to make a clockwise loop in the San Joaquin Valley, I'd be going up to Shadow and then Ediza, then across and over to Garnet to TI. That way you get a lot of elevation out of the way early, and see a couple lakes I missed. I would never take the River Trail all the way to Thousand Island, but that's just my .02 cents. I hear what you're saying about having them end on a high note with the downward switchbacks. I can't fault your logic there, but I will say that the final 300' up the River Trail was not as bad as I'd expected. It is not super steep, and I just took frequent breaks. Now what WAS super tough, was the last 1/2 mile when I tried to take the little connector trail over to the Agnew Meadow campground. My first clue should have been all the trees still down over the trail. Then it was a grueling slug through thigh-deep water and chest-deep brush in between crossing over stacks of downed trees for 1/2 mile of cross country (I navigated by the sound of chainsaws from the Cal Fire crews). When I emerged onto the road I noticed all the "area closed" signs. Hahaha
Regardless of which way you go, I strongly encourage you to check out Clark Lakes. You already saw Badger Lakes, which I missed, but the Clark Lakes were one of the highlights of my trip, and well worth the extra couple easy miles.
By the way, please put up a post-trip report with your photos as well, I'd love to see the area from someone else's perspective! :)Jul 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm #1897804
Doug, my wife and I did the hike last year, "counterclockwise" with our then 10-year old, to "pre-run the course" for this pending trip. I chose the counterclockwise route because I both knew it and didn't like the look of the River Trail (which I'd never used) climb on the topos. We found the first 4 miles of climbing on the High Trail/PCT beautiful, but our son may have enjoyed it more had that not begun mere yards out of the chute at the trailhead.
It was on the way down River Trail for the first time that I started thinking about coming in that way. Yes, it's steepish, but there's good shade and plenty of running water. On the climb up to Agnew Meadows, on those stairs at the end of the day, I decided to make this year's trip clockwise –and to use a very short first day for acclimation: we're stopping 4 miles into the River Trail for the first night. We'll camp just before the real ascent.
Yes, the yoots will awaken to a climb straight up the mountain and over to 1000 Isle, but it will still only be a four-mile day to the site we'll use back along the lake. Luxury!! Besides, I will point out the climb to Shadow Lake and let them know that's the alternative, ha ha!
I'm snatching some of your pics for use to stoke the guys up on what they're going to see (only my son and I have been there before).
Cheers!Jul 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm #1897821
Ah, got it. Acclimating 1/2 way into the River Trail for the first night is an excellent idea if you've got the time to spare. That will make the climb to 1000 Island Lake much more doable.
I'm honored you'd use the photos to generate interest. Remember you can enlarge them as well by clicking I believe. I host them through Smugmug.com.Jul 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm #1897827
I hear you Doug. My backyard is 52' above sea level.Jul 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm #1897839
@nel250Locale: San Francisco
Great photos! I especially like the one with you and Vixen facing the mountain taken from the back…….
I live in SF and was at 10K feet last weekend. The elevation really took a toll on us.Jul 27, 2012 at 7:24 am #1897942
I forgot to ask: how was water on trail? Were the cross-trail creeks flowing well on the High Trail, etc?Jul 27, 2012 at 7:30 am #1897944
Thanks for reminding me. I was going to mention that and forgot to. Pretty much every stream it showed on my topo still had enough water coming down it to be usable. In some cases it was only a couple inches deep, but there would be little pockets or mini-waterfalls where you could fill up if you needed to, even on the smallest of them. There were some seasonal streams that were completely dry, but to answer your question, plenty of places to resupply with water. In fact, it seemed like there were more on the High Trail than on the River Trail.
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