Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

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kylekuzma
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Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by kylekuzma » Mon Jun 24, 2019 10:43 am

Hey everyone,

I know everyones hungry for information about the conditions of the semi-high and high country so hopefully this helps a few people in their early season trip planning. Our original plan was to get to the minarets, however due to snow and general trail condition we were a lot slower than we planned and settled on 1000 Island Lake. My friend and I are both in above average shape, comfortable up to Class III, and have a healthy appetite but traveled understanding of risk in the backcountry. With respect to gear, we each carried microspikes and one trekking pole each. Only having two poles in total was probably my greatest regret, as the difference in difficulty when traveling on mushy potholed snow with one pole vs two poles is MASSIVE. I also wish we would have at least carried ice axes with us to make the ascents easier. Crampons would have been useful as well, but only in the initial ascent into the backcountry where switchbacks are common. The weather was immaculate and even at 10,000 feet, it was only cold up until about 10:30am (by 1pm on Saturday it was tanning weather at 1000 Island). The general takeaway from the trip was that it was difficult with only 1 trekking pole and just the use of microspikes, but with the proper gear it could have been much easier. The very-bright side of this was that once in the backcountry, we literally saw no one else outside of two parties quickly passing by on the JMT. I dont think I'll ever get to experience Thousand Island Lake totally empty and completely to myself on a 65 degree Saturday afternoon. And for that I am grateful....

Day 1: The reason we chose to enter via Rush Creek was simply bc the road to Devils Postpile was closed to cars. You can walk on the road it but I was against adding the extra mileage. Rush Creek trail was great up to Agnew Lake. After heading to the south side of Agnew Lake, the snow patches that would be the theme for the next couple of miles began. They were not really an issue until the steep switchbacks occur about half a mile past the lake. The snow patches basically took out the switchbacks and without crampons or ice axes, the only way we could make it up this mountain face was to go off trail in search of a route that could take us to the very top without any sheets of ice in our way (cool side-note was that some of these ice sheets were 5 feet thick in some places). Long story short, we did it, but i would not recommend it at all and in hindsight, we really just should have turned back as the face was extremely steep in places and the ground was very loose. AGAIN, I would not do this ascent without crampons or ice axes (or i'd just wait a few weeks).

Now at about 9500 feet, there was snow essentially everywhere except mtn faces that were totally exposed to afternoon/evening sun. Huge fields of snow that were totally covered in mushy potholes became the norm. Having to climb even small hills was a challenge due to the fact that getting grip in the snow/ice was difficult and required slow going (again, cue the need for crampons). Due to the ~600 foot climb that took us two hours by Agnew Lake, we only went about 8 miles on the day and made camp around Clark Lakes on a dry spot on a ridge overlooking beautiful Gem Lake and what I believe to be Donohue Peak.

Day 2: We packed a day pack with thoughts of going as far as we felt comfortable with about 13 hours of daylight. We made it to 1000 Island lake by about 11am and it was as beautiful as the pictures had led on. The approach to the lake was particularly annoying as the snow got significantly deeper and thus the potholes got significantly more annoying. Up at this altitude the snow was at least 2 feet deep and sometimes as much as 4 feet. There were a few dry patches with no snow, but nothing near the shore. We had lunch and lounged around, and decided against continuing onto the minarets due to the fact that potholes were so getting on our nerves and we had already turned a few ankles. I think each of us having only 1 pole screwed us here. Nonethless, it was a spectacular afternoon spent lakeside with only two parties passing by the entire time. We got to do a little exploring on the north side of the lake, and at about 2pm we truged back through the much mushier and much more annoying potholes back to camp. Arriving back at about 4pm, we decided to pack up camp and head closer to the trailhead to get a head start on the following days hike back to the car.
IMG_4122.jpeg
Day 3: The only notable part of todays hike was the descent down the ~600 foot face back into the Agnew Lake basin. As most of us already know, going down is typically easier fitness wise, but is made up for 10 fold by being much, much scarier. Thankfully we made it with no issues.

As a side note, my route required no crazy river/creek crossings although everything was running very high.
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windknot
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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by windknot » Mon Jun 24, 2019 6:54 pm

Thanks for sharing!
You can read a few backcountry reports here: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/

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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 24, 2019 8:01 pm

A safer early season route would be to continue past Waugh Lake and intersect the JMT. There is a bridge across the river. Although longer, Island Pass is much easier and safer than what you did. I also went up the trail from Agnew Lake years ago early season and would not have done it without an ice axe.

Nice photo of Thousand Island Lake. Looks like a while before it melts.

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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by kylekuzma » Tue Jun 25, 2019 9:47 am

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Mon Jun 24, 2019 8:01 pm
A safer early season route would be to continue past Waugh Lake and intersect the JMT. There is a bridge across the river. Although longer, Island Pass is much easier and safer than what you did. I also went up the trail from Agnew Lake years ago early season and would not have done it without an ice axe.
Really wish we would have taken the longer route but we had no idea whether those trails would be any better. THanks for the insight though, will use it next time.

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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by cdevine » Sat Jun 29, 2019 7:14 pm

Wow... great report and perserverence. Glad you guys returned safely. Any thoughts on when it will be a go too algers via rush creek? Maybe late July?

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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by kpeter » Sun Jun 30, 2019 6:28 pm

Wonderful to see conditions up there. I have done the hike to 1000 Island from Rush Creek and I can't imagine making it up that steep section without a trail! I suppose it is particularly bad since it is a North facing slope. But if we don't get some heat soon, I wonder if the snow will be clear by August. That is a lot of snow!

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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by SSSdave » Sun Jun 30, 2019 10:33 pm

Sobering read for those unfamiliar with travel into such snowy areas that are considering hiking into such where others have not yet broken a trail. Why hike into such places to see frozen snow covered lakes?

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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by kylekuzma » Mon Jul 01, 2019 12:24 pm

cdevine wrote:
Sat Jun 29, 2019 7:14 pm
Wow... great report and perserverence. Glad you guys returned safely. Any thoughts on when it will be a go too algers via rush creek? Maybe late July?
It's been at least 65-70 every day up there for the last 3 weeks so things are melting pretty quickly. I would say the trails should be clear by late July and snow totally gone (in the 9000-10000 ft range) by August. But I'm speculating here

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kylekuzma
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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by kylekuzma » Mon Jul 01, 2019 12:27 pm

SSSdave wrote:
Sun Jun 30, 2019 10:33 pm
Sobering read for those unfamiliar with travel into such snowy areas that are considering hiking into such where others have not yet broken a trail. Why hike into such places to see frozen snow covered lakes?
I actually thought it was more pleasant in the snow. A lot of trees were bright green, and the contrast between that, the white snow, and the grey mtns was beautiful. Most importantly, the trails were empty which gave us total solitude in otherwise very crowded areas.

But I hear ya and agree....turning back would have been the wise move.

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Re: Trip Report: Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek Trail 6/21 - 6/23

Post by cdevine » Wed Jul 03, 2019 3:52 pm

Nothing beats solitude and it’s hard to come by these days. Looks like if I plan August trip I should be ok. But it sounds like anything in July could be iffy.
Thanks for the update and glad it worked out.

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