September 5, 2019
Upper Lyell Base Camp to Thousand Island Lake (8.6 mi)
There is a break in the clouds and warm sunshine to bask in when I reach the outlet of Thousand Island Lake around 3 pm. I filter some water and and relax on the lake shore contemplating whether to camp here or continue on. I have been leapfrogging with Larry and Ellen all day, and they have been trying to convince me to hike a bit further than planned and camp at Garnet Lake instead of Thousand Island Lake, which Larry pish-poshed as “Thousand Camper Lake.” It is still early, but storm clouds have been threatening since I crested Donohue Pass at 9:25 am.
It hadn’t rained yet despite the ominous dark clouds and I had bragged to Larry and Ellen over lunch about my ability to make it not rain on backpacking trips. Larry exclaims, “You’re not supposed to talk about such things!” Ellen pipes up that she never filters or treats her water and she has never gotten giardia. Larry is aghast that we would so nonchalantly curse ourselves.
When I finally decide I will stop hiking for the day and camp at Thousand Island Lake after all, the clouds close in and the temperature drops. I put my fleece back on.
Larry is not wrong, Thousand Island Lake is a super popular place to camp. The nice sandy campsites Jackie and I occupied two years earlier are already taken, and I walk further around the lake away from the other people and pick an exposed, rocky spot for the view as a light rain begins to fall. I retreat into my tent planning to nap, and of course the sun comes out and turns my tent into a sauna. Banner Peak is shrouded in a cloud, but as the clouds blow across the lake towards me, the sun appears to burn them off. Make up your mind, clouds! I just want to nap! Then, it suddenly starts to rain in large droplets that pummel the ground with such intensity that they spray sand all over everything. It rains so hard that water bounces under the vestibule of my tent and I have to stuff my sleeping bag back into my drybag/packliner to keep it from getting wet. Rain is followed by a bit of hail.
It cools down and I am lying comfortably in my tent when there is a commotion outside as what sounds like a group of 10 weekend backpackers from the city contemplate setting up camp right behind me. There is not enough room for all of their tents, thankfully, and they move on. And so, it turns out to be a good decision to camp at Thousand Island Lake instead of hiking through intense downpour and hail to Garnet Lake.
Cons of Camping at Thousand Island Lake:
This is the hardest place on the JMT to find a good place to poop. There probably are a thousand campers at Thousand Island Lake every summer. It’s part of a beautiful backpacking loop from the Mammoth Lakes area. Behind every tree on the slope north of the lake near the campsites is some sign that a cathole has recently been dug. Or worse. Thousand Island Lake seems to be a place where a lot of beginner backpackers camp and I saw travesties like a bunch of rock piled on top of naked poop and toilet paper. Thousand Island Lake really needs a toilet because it is so popular. Some Silicon Valley tech billionaire should endow a pit toilet, like the public restroom in Bryant Park in NYC. (Bay Area friends, write your friends.)
Pros of Camping at Thousand Island Lake:
The view. Memorialized and made famous by Ansel Adams. You can only to fully enjoy the view and its infinite changes at sunset and sunrise if you camp here.