HST Community      Meeting people in the backcountry

Meeting people in the backcountry | High Sierra Topix  

Meeting people in the backcountry

If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!

another solo adventure

Postby markskor » Wed Dec 14, 2005 4:34 am

Well, since nobody here objects, and all appears slow, I will tell you another tale. Pardon my ramblings, pull up a comfortable log, sit a spell, and I will tell you all about:

The Trout Saga at Thousand Island Lake 1/01/2006

Where to begin…The JMT: the John Muir Trail, winds spectacularly through the California’s High Sierra - the entire route runs primarily north and south - mostly keeping to the highest and most spectacular wilderness our Sierra Nevada has to offer. Sure, there are mountain passes aplenty on this trail – tough ones too, but this well-maintained and long established trail just snakes itself along, preferring the higher altitudes whenever possible, always trying to keep itself exposed and, more times often than not, remaining above a polished granite timberline. The trailhead begins with official signage: auspicious, Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, off the bus and across a crowded tourist bridge. The trail enfolds, starting low, paved, and crowded, and ends up high (all-too-soon unfortunately), atop the summit of Mount Whitney, a mere 211 distant miles away.

Three times, no four actually, I have had the pleasure of hiking it in its entirety. The best part about this trail – well to be honest, there are many, many truly great aspects to this trail – (far too many to tell here), but one outstanding and truly unique characteristic of the JMT is that there are no roads built, yet, that bisect this trail - none at all. (Let us hope California – and Ah-nold our present governor – always keeps it this way.)

There are distinct topographical and geographic boundaries that allow logical divisions of the JMT into manageable legs – these legs suitably marked by convenient (and some not so convenient) access points. These favorable access points making it somewhat easy for any backpacker – novice to expert – to re-supply, to jump on and off the trail at their whim – taking as big or as little a bite of the trail as they comfortably can swallow in one stretch. The segment of the JMT that concerns this story is that ~ 27-mile stretch - that part that extends between Tuolumne Meadows and Red’s Meadows… probably one of the most scenic and (relatively) accessible but remote trail segments available to all in the entire world.

If you fellow anglers ever get the chance, (and more importantly, provided that you also have access to a good pair of boots, reliable backpacking gear, and something to fish with – very essential!), try this JMT segment yourselves. As Hunter S. Thompson said, “Buy the ticket and take the ride.” Some, those in an ultralight rush, they will argue that many could do this rather diminutive segment easily, in a relatively short period of time, maybe in as little as two or three days, provided the desire exists to push it hard. I say why hurry… anything this good… doing it too fast…I say relax and enjoy this best of all God’s creations. A week of premier Sierra scenery as well as opportunities galore for fantastic fishing awaits those who have the foresight, a bit of patience, and the allotted extra time available to do this segment right.

Logistically speaking, (there is conveniently), a local Yosemite bus system; its terminus right at the end of the trip, designed to one get back to the car – the YARTS line I believe. It originates in Yosemite National Park… the Valley, and returns daily from the parking lot of Mammoth - the main mountain, beside the Yodeler Restaurant/ main ski area. YARTS starts out (too) early morning in Yosemite Valley – boarding first near the Curry kiosk – then traversing along Highway 120, occasionally pausing, often trail-weary hikers flagging it down, dropping off and picking up hikers along the route. It pauses briefly in Tuolumne Meadows – at the store - carrying the daily mail and yesterday’s paper - then continuing onwards, meandering up, down, over, and through Tioga Pass before plunging down the hill towards Mono Lake and the town of Lee Vining. Reversing direction, this daily regularly scheduled bus, proceeds now southward, over Highway 395, past the June Lake loop, Deadman’s Summit, into the town of Mammoth Lakes …pulling right up to the ski area itself, ending up high on Mammoth Mountain. There, atop a ridge, in the big parking lot of Mammoth’s gondola, access awaits to yet another bus system, one that provides scheduled service down into the Devil’s Postpile/ Red’s Meadow area.

So backpackers, if you have some free week, take your ever-ready backpack, drive into Yosemite, leave the car safe in a designated long-term parking lot (by the Tuolumne Meadows wilderness permit shack), spend the first night nearby at the backpacker campground (no reservations needed), and in the morning, jump on the JMT. After backpacking a truly magic 27-mile-long trek, after all the fishing, after you finish playing and exploring, board a bus, and return to within 50 feet of your parked car – 6 or 7 days later. Get the picture? Now that I have set the stage, done the work for you, let us get on with this story.

Once again, I was on another solo backpacking trip, going north to south on this trip, hiking along that segment of the JMT that goes from Tuolumne Meadows to Red’s Meadows. (See how it all makes sense now?) The first part of the trail is relatively easy. You start out at ~8800 ft, in YNP, out of the bustle of Tuolumne Meadows, and travel southward, following the Lyell Canyon, up towards Donahue Pass. The first 7 - 8 miles of trail is relatively flat, travelling along a meadow next to a slow and meandering river, teeming with opportunities for trout. Soon enough though, at the base of the pass proper, the JMT rises and starts to make its climb out of this talus-covered, granite carved canyon. Your topographical map (essential to any serious backpacking) will show that you are going to climb 3000+ feet to get over the pass, but I say, never bust your ass all at once; camp instead half way up the hill. A nice stream crosses the trail at about the 10,000-foot level, and this makes a great site for your first night’s stay. All told, you have maybe walked about nine easy miles so far that day. (Confused yet? Maybe you should look at http://www.TopoZone.com, Type in Tuolumne Meadows, Ca, and click on the right map, hit large, update map, and follow along - that way, this whole opus may read a bit easier.)

The next morning’s agenda consists of, after a hearty breakfast of beef jerky, cream of wheat, candy, and tang (mountain food)… breaking camp, packing up, easily making ones way up and over Donahue, and then continuing on down into the Rush Creek area. (God, this is indeed pretty country - sinful!) Here greyly- streaked granite walls, intermittent conifer forests… add in a multitude of various lakes, waterfalls, and fast-moving streams, all available… nature alive splashed profusely throughout this impressive alpine arena. If you are so inclined, pick one lake or stream…any of the many available; trek meanderingly along one of those wildflower meadows close at hand, – (see the maps), make it a short hiking day and spend time fishing instead – camp anywhere that fancies you – I did. The fact remains that here, above 10,000 feet, there is an abundance of choices and a great variety of great trout-fishing opportunities close, especially early in the season… right after the snowmelt is best. Whatever immediate destination you decide on, eventually the JMT, will find itself, soon enough, at Thousand Island Lake, and that is where this story ultimately unfolds.

Thousand Island Lake…a large body of water by Sierra standards… orients itself relatively north to south along a trail that is now going, at least for these few miles, east to west. Here, the JMT just touches on the northern most part of the lake, and this immediate area, unfortunately too close and too accessible to the June Lake loop, has long been tragically overused throughout the years. In truth, present conditions on this side of the lake, camping wise, are not that nice, and may seemingly and initially, be disappointing to the first-time visitor. You see obvious evidence here – scars: of many old campsites, long-used, long abandoned... the lake exit, no trees left there, trash, soap scum, and generally various degrees of major trail erosion. Camping has even been restricted to the point where there are multitudes of posted signs here, blatantly stating, “No Camping Allowed within ¼ mile of this end of the lake.” So be it.

However, looking upwards, southward, you cannot help but ponder the awe, pleasantly humbled, overshadowed by the magnificence that is Mount Banner, located oh so close now, just at the far end of the lake - abruptly jutting upward – the sheer walls of a medieval ancient castle. Indeed, here is one of the more spectacular sights to behold in the entire Sierra Nevada. I abandoned the JMT and took the lightly worn path on the right side of the lake, heading toward the very far end over a mile away – closer to Banner. The faint trail enticed – I, not at all sure of what I would find, but I remember observing immediately that there were indeed over 1000 islands scattered over the crystal-clear lake… right there in front of me.

At the far end, over at the left side (southeast), I discovered by chance, a hidden - protruding out - a small “almost” island – a peninsula. (You have to actually “almost” wade and pick your way through about 15 feet of one-foot deep water to get on it – not too tough going at all.) This island is in the shape of an inverted J. (See the link provided to a topo map). On the far end of this J-shaped island is a large gravel area, flat with plenty of room for many tent sites, and the whole island conveniently juts out about 100 yards out into the deep-water channels of the lake itself. Home, I immediately made camp, staked out my tent, set up my MSR kitchen, ate, and prepared to fish; I intended to try all three sides of my island. Ever aware of the magnificent mountain just in front of me, and the clouds that danced and raced across the high monolithic walls, I strode to the water’s edge – my Eagle Claw 4-piece ready. See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... atum=nad83

I am a spinner person, usually fishing fly-and-bubble morning and night, and dragging deep spinning spoons other times…generally using 4-pound line. On the island’s west side, I cast out, waited a second or two, flipped the bale, and immediately got a hit (first cast too) - a fairly good-sized, wild, and healthy ‘bow, (using a 3/16 white Z-ray). After catching many more small ones there, I moved over a few steps, to the rocks off the north end of my now temporary island home, to the deepest part of the channel. Still dragging lures deep, the strikes continued, the fish cooperating nicely by hitting gold Panther Martins, red Mepps, - well, mostly anything that I had with me – all pre-loaded into my aluminum #69 Perrine case. No fish caught were that big - mostly in the 10 – 14 inch size – but they were all remarkably colorful, strong too, good fighters, and I was having great fun… then the rain came.

For those of you perhaps unfamiliar with the quirks and particulars of the High Sierra thunderstorm, let me enlighten you on some of their usual complexities. At noon, under calm winds, the sky can appear completely clear blue – nary a cloud visible on any horizon. Then, at about 2 o’clock, the sporadic winds start, and small clouds pop up, magically appearing, gathering, soon becoming thicker, darker, and blacker, and then, without noticing, they seem to race together, multiplying, and covering the entire sky. An hour later, the once azure blue turns ominous shades of black, and then, expectedly and predictably, the deluge begins. No respectable Sierra storm is complete without spectacular lightning strikes, fierce claps of thunder, and the big drops of high-altitude precipitation. These are the Sierra summer storms, they frequently move quickly, and one experienced can tell just how far away the storms are away by observing the flashes of lightning, and counting the seconds slowly until the roar of the resultant thunder; five-second durations equals approximately one mile.

While you are out in the high country backpacking, there is really nothing you can do when these sudden thunderstorms hit, especially when you find yourself stranded, on short notice, far above tree line. Your only real recourse is to crawl into the relative safety of a well-placed tent, hunker down into your sleeping bag, try to stay reasonably warm and dry, maybe take a quick nap, and pray that your number does not come up. Luckily, more often than not, these brief but violent storms only last an hour or so, and by evening time, the skies normally re-clear and spectacular sunsets are then the order of the day. This storm was a typical Sierra storm.

After many a Sierra tempest, I frequently notice a recurring phenomenon. (If you have ever been up there, re-emerging after a Sierra storm, you know.) There is usually a brief but undefined period of intense freshness, accompanied by a period of unexplained but magical calm… when everything seems tranquil, still, but the air itself, for whatever reason, feels charged … much more alive. After this storms passing, around sunset, it was just such a magical time. The evening sky’s purples and magentas danced across the lake surface, an amalgamation - sparkling flecks – shimmering patterns of gold and silver mixing and dancing with the boils of now-rising trout. The water below… mirror-like, Mount Banner, reflecting… the air above - somehow, unexplainably but definitely, ionized.

It deserves mention here that during the storm-induced hiatus, I purposefully changed my angling strategy, replacing existing lures with the fly-and-bubble technique, as I anticipated now taking advantage of the evening’s rise. Finally, after the rain subsided – almost sundown, again ready; I trod over to third side, the beach, cast out to the east… into the rising boils, the mirrored Banner, the purple and crimson-red, electric calm…and… BANG!

Taut lines are one thing, but this was a leviathan - monstrous, jumping once and then once again, bigger and stronger than anything I had ever caught on any 4-pound monofilament. He set the hook, all by himself, and I replied, immediately easing up the drag dial on my Penn 420 SS ultra light. From then on, it was all I could do to just hang on and play. I reeled in, he ran, the rod bowed, and the drag sang. (Funny, I can still remember looking around for someone to share this all with, but I realized that I was alone – my choice … too bad. The best I can do is now sharing it here with you here.) I do not know how long this dance lasted, seemed like a good 30 minutes at the time, though probably much shorter in reality… who knows. Finally, he gave up the fight, and I slowly reeled him over to a small gravel cove. I was finally seeing this big ‘bow, up close, laid out before me in its entirety - cool. Well… it was not over yet. He took one long look at me, did this athletic tail-whip thing, and took off again, maybe a bit weaker this time, but obviously still game…Five minute later it was finished - finally.

Again, I coaxed him in, grabbing him at the gills, and lifting him out of the water, trying to get some actual reference of how big he actually was – silver body, mottled spots, rainbow sheen, teeth and all… no camera – only something to remember. In my mind’s eye, I can still remember measuring his body length against my leg, and him being longer than the top of my knee to the tip of my boot, and I distinctly remember that could not reach around his widest part using both of my hands. I also realized that he was hurting… vulnerable; I grabbed my hemostats, quickly unhooking the fly from his jaw, and slowly eased him back into his lake.

Thankfully, he swam… out slowly… away, and then, much to my great chagrin, he stopped, shuddered, and unsteadily rolled over… belly up, now floating, drifting ever farther into the watery distance – too deep now… unreachable. I subsequently grabbed my pole and tried repeatedly to cast over the top of him – maybe I could snag him…tow him back. Then, after missing him over a dozen times or so, it happened… he twitched, and with a mighty flick of his tail, he again righted himself. One mighty swoosh later, disappearing… back into the blue-black confines of the Thousand Island Lake twilight. (If you ever see him again, say hi from me.)

I stayed there, on my own personal island, fishing, catching many more trout that night, and the next day too, some big, mostly small…all wild, but I have never caught anything Sierra wild as big as that giant, ever again. Two days later, I collected my gear and my memories, continuing on, back and down the JMT, towards Red’s Meadow and the next re-supply point.

Another solo backpacking adventure by markskor
Last edited by markskor on Wed May 16, 2007 5:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Mountainman who swims with trout

User avatar
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Posts: 2235
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 5:41 pm
Location: Mammoth Lakes
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Postby Buck Forester » Wed Dec 14, 2005 10:22 am

marksor, wow, that was one of the best reads I've had in a while! Wonderful writing, wonderful experience! Of course it helps that I'm also a fanatical fisherman who also uses a fly/bubble combo. Did you have an estimation on the length and weight of that rainbow? I have a buddy who caught a bunch of 18"+ rainbows this year in Thousand Island Lake, mostly in and around the outlet creek. One of these days I'll hafta share some stories about catching huge 20"+ goldens in the Wind Rivers and big wild cutts in the Selway Bitterroots and the Teton Wilderness. Since I've gotten into photography more, now I divide my time up between my fishing rod and my tripod. Unfortunately the best time for fishing is also the best time for photography... the personal turmoil and agony of deciding which to do at any given moment is almost more than I can handle!
User avatar
Buck Forester
Founding Member
Posts: 452
Joined: Mon Oct 31, 2005 1:38 pm
Location: Lincoln, CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

Postby SSSdave » Wed Dec 14, 2005 1:57 pm

Well written Mark, thanks, a nice read. I'm going to pick on a few minor items below.

mark >>>"Thousand Island Lake itself extends north to south along the trail that is now going, at least for these few miles, east to west. The JMT passes by and just touches on the northern most part of the lake, the Thousand Island Lake drainage. This area, unfortunately too close and too accessible to the June Lake loop area, has long been overused throughout the years. In truth, this side of the lake is not that nice, and may seemingly, and initially, disappoint the first-time visitor. You can see evidence here of many old campsites, long abandoned at the river exit, no trees left there, trail erosion, and camping there has even been restricted to the point where there are obvious signs posted stating “No Camping Allowed within ¼ mile of this end of the lake.” So be it."

Actually from a scenic point of view, the shore north of the outlet area of Thousand Island Lake is arguably the finest lake and mountain view in the entire Sierra Nevada range. A location prized by many of the world's best photographers. Thus I suspect you are rather talking about the beat up nature of the area rather than its scenic value. One reason that area is particular outstanding is because Mount Ritter which is behind Banner Peak, begins to be visible to the south of Banner creating a fine balanced shape that is missing when one moves north, south, or west of there.


Many hikers and backpackers spend all their morning hiking from Agnew Meadows to reach the lake, so arrive at this outlet area early in the afternoon when if looking at this scene, the sun is in their face to the west. As any photographer knows, that is not the time of day when landscape is in proper light so of course looks flat and backlit. Be there between 8 and 9:30am in the morning. Additionally the area along the infant Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River below the outlet for one-quarter mile is often profuse with wildflowers along its rock and turf edges late July providing wonderful river and peak views. Legal camping begins at the far side of the small round lake down stream near where this image was taken.


The area that most people camp at is beyond the quarter mile point around the northeast shore of the lake up at the many beat up campspots below whitebark pines. One often sees inconsiderate backpackers camping at illegally within the quarter mile distance both near this area and on the flat peninsula across the lake on the south shore. The following is an image of this area which again is arguably one of the most scenic shores in the Sierra. ...David



mark >>>"Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do when these thunderstorms hit while you are out backpacking, especially when you find yourself stranded, far above tree line. "

Actually if one understands the physics of electrical and lightning phenomenon there are clearly better and worse areas to be during storms. I usually site my tent at safe locations during buildups and don't hike in dangerous areas like ridges and peaks. ...dave
User avatar
Topix Junkie
Posts: 2316
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2005 11:18 pm
Location: Silicon Valley
Experience: N/A

Postby markskor » Wed Dec 14, 2005 2:57 pm

Thanks for all. Appreciate all the kind words, but...
3 retorts:
1) Yes, I am talking mostly about the visible past year's overuse issues at 1000 Island, only in that 1/4 mile area now, not the obvious scenic splendor when you look up and out, not down. I notice that all of your magnificent pictures taken in that zone start at the shoreline and look up and out too. In addition, more specifically, I somewhat object to the myriad of "NO Camping" signs that seem to be stationed everywhere here. I guess if one sign is good, 50 are better?
2) On the island in question, I paced it out, and indeed my campsite/ tent was well over the 100-foot distance from any water. It is a big island. Just my 2 cents worth.
See: http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=11&n= ... atum=nad83
3) I also understand mountain physics, and I was not camping on any ridge or peak - just in the flats - the best I could do. As far as I could tell, it did not matter that I was on an almost "island" or on shore, - it is all the same - anywhere (after you take in account all aforementioned pertinent topography questions) above tree line is basically a crap shoot in regard to lightning.
Mountainman who swims with trout
User avatar
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Posts: 2235
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 5:41 pm
Location: Mammoth Lakes
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Postby krudler » Wed Dec 14, 2005 4:48 pm

Awesome story Mark! Sounds like there are some decent fish in that lake, maybe because it's so relatively big?

Buck, I'd love to hear the Selway/Bitteroot stories - post them! :) I want to move up that way someday soon and look forward to exploring and flyfishing that area.
"Krusty, you know Bette Midler?"
"Yeah we own a racehorse together - the Krudler!"
User avatar
Founding Member
Posts: 177
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 6:51 pm
Location: Irvine, CA
Experience: N/A

Postby JM21760 » Wed Dec 14, 2005 4:48 pm

We were in the East Fork Carson River canyon downstream of Markleeville. We had hiked in from the west, and were doing a little fishing for some of the large native Rainbows and Cutts. We spotted two kayakers coming down the river, and commented that all the fish would spook, so we reeled in and sat down. As they passed us, one suddenly turned and said "John"? "HUH"? It was an old friend I had not seen in at least 5 years! I was blown away to say the least. We had a great time at this remote little flat next to the river. They even had cold beers! We finally bid them good bye after exchanging contact info. Small world sometimes.
User avatar
Topix Regular
Posts: 185
Joined: Sat Dec 03, 2005 3:57 pm
Location: Carson City, NV. Former Tahoe South Shore, 25 years.
Experience: N/A

Postby sierra cyd » Wed Dec 14, 2005 6:59 pm

Small world, indeed.
We were doing a 9 day loop which put us on the JMT for a few miles, and we stayed overnight at one of those large dusty sites with metal bear boxes. After we'd set up, two women came and camped right near us. We were a little unenthused that they camped so close by with all that wilderness out there, and they weren't even using the bear boxes (they had cans). But the site was big, so no big deal. One came over and made small talk and begged for some chocolate (we had none), and was very friendly and said they were hiking the JMT. We chatted a bit and then she went back to her spot.

The weekend after that trip, we were at an old friend's wedding in Sonoma, and I was making small talk with a woman standing next to me who was visiting from Wisconsin, and her boyfriend asked what we do for fun and I said "backpacking!" Then the woman chimed in that she and a friend had just done the JMT and we talked about it a bit, and, you guessed it, it was the same woman! I could hardly recognize her from the dusty knit-capped girl in the woods to the blue-dress makeup wearing girl in wine country. I was reeling from the small world feeling.

What are the chances of meeting someone on the trail who isn't even from anywhere near California, then randomly talking to her (out of 100 people at that wedding) and bringing up the subject of backpacking among all things, and having it be the same person???
User avatar
sierra cyd
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2005 6:00 pm
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Experience: N/A

Postby Shawn » Wed Dec 14, 2005 9:32 pm

They even had cold beers!

:D Excellent! :D
Topix Expert
Posts: 935
Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2005 9:56 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Postby Snow Nymph » Wed Dec 14, 2005 9:48 pm

Before I bought the Bearikade, I wanted to see and feel it. The guys from Bearikade said they were backpacking Big Pine Lakes, so I took a chance and got my permit. I had no idea what these guys looked like, all I knew was one guy was Craig. So now that I was on the trail, how was I going to find them? I didn't want to ask every guy "are you Craig?". Good pick up line for a female hiking alone.

I set up camp and found a spot to set my chair up, overlooking 3rd Lake. After awhile I heard a yell and a big bang. I looked over to the area where the noise came from, and saw 4 guys standing by the shoreline with a big black bucket. I knew it was the Bearikade. ( http://community.webshots.com/photo/661 ... 1872WiDLJX ). They were testing it for leaks, and the water was cold and someone dropped it. I walked over, and asked "Are you Craig?" and their mouths dropped. "How did you know?"

So they handed me the Weekender and my reaction was "WHOA! This is light!" That was what they wanted to hear. They let me fondle both the Weekender and the Expedition and I ended up ordering 3 Expeditions. One was for a friend.

Since I was out every weekend I was showing off my new canister, and people were ordering them. So they heard my name a lot.

Then for about 2 years, they gave discounts to people that mentioned "Snow Nymph". I didn't know til I saw it on a forum.
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison

User avatar
Snow Nymph
Founding Member
Posts: 2041
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 6:43 pm
Location: Santa Barbara & Mammoth Lakes, CA
Experience: N/A

Postby markskor » Mon Dec 19, 2005 3:22 pm

True about mentioning Snowy's name, and getting a discount. I called them - the Bearikade people - and told them that I was thinking of ordering one - all I did was mention that I was part of this forum, and that I correspond with Snow Nymph here - That's all it took - free shipping and 10% off too. (Just ask them.) I got the Weekender, very happy with it. I bet mentioning the infamous SN's name would even work today too.
Mountainman who swims with trout
User avatar
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Posts: 2235
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 5:41 pm
Location: Mammoth Lakes
Experience: Level 4 Explorer


Return to Backpacking / Hiking / Camping

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests