John Muir Trail Section Hike #3
Silver lake to Happy Isles
Recently (July 16-20, 2022), I hiked the section from Silver Lake to Happy Isles on the John Muir Trail.
This is my third section hike of the JMT.
Section 1: Wallace creek to Whitney portal (as part of HST)
Section 2: Silver lake (entering Thousand Island Lake) to Bishop Pass (exiting LeConte Canyon)
Section 3: Silver lake (entering Thousand Island Lake) to Happy Isles (Yosemite National Park)
This leaves me with a section from LeConte Canyon to Wallace Creek to be finished.
Our itinerary was like this:
Drive two cars from the Bay Area. Drop off one car at Happy Isles. Drive to June lake and stay at a motel there.
Leave second car at Silver lake trailhead. Hike Silver lake to Thousand Island lake. This was roughly 9 miles and 3,200 feet elevation gain and 500 feet elevation loss. I did the same hike last year and it was brutal. This year, I thought about starting the hike at Agnew Meadows, but the summer driving restrictions at Agnew meadows make it hard. Further, after the hike, you have to drive another hour inside to get to the car, and another hour back. The other option was to head straight to Rush creek from Silver lake (thereby missing a section around Island pass), but this was the first visit to Thousand Island lake for my other two hikers (and my third time), and I wanted them to experience the lake.
It was worth it. The sunset at Thousand Island lake was among the best I have seen.
Second day took us from Thousand Island to Donahue Pass to Lower Lyell Canyon.
We were planning to hike all the way to Ireland creek, but one of our fellow hikers fell ill on the trail and had to exit the trail at Tuolumne Meadows the next day, so we stopped a couple of miles before that.
12.72 miles, 1,700 feet gain (3,000 feet loss)
The climb up Donahue pass was pretty and tough.It l
I must rate it as the second most difficult pass I have crossed so far, after Muir Pass and the descent was brutal (just like South Bound Muir Pass). It led us to an astonishing Upper Lyell Canyon.
We hiked through Lyell canyon to Tuolumne meadows wilderness center and to the Tuolumne meadows store in the morning. It is flat ground and we pushed very hard (and this would cause the two of us left standing with blisters). A ranger told us that it would rain this day and that caused to pusher harder than our limits.
We had left 2.5 days worth food at the Tuolumne meadows wilderness center, so we had to go there and pick up food, drop our trash. We had a good meal at the Tuolumne meadows store (cold hand assembled sandwich).
The hike from Tuolumne Meadows to Cathedral lakes is not new to the two hikers left standing, we both have done it a few times now, but the fear of rain pushed us hard. We lucked out. It either rained ahead of us or behind us, but our excess mileage and stress today would mean that we would suffer the next two days.
Day 3 was 15.20 miles, 1,557 feet of elevation gain and about 350 feet of elevation loss, but it is the distance that did us in. The sunset was worth it though.
This day took us from upper cathedral lake to Little Yosemite Valley. We both were carrying injuries by now, that meant our breaks were longer. One of the new additions to the backpack this year was the Helinox Chair Zero and it found plenty of use this day.
13.50 miles, 860 feet gain, 4,000 feet loss.
Great views of echo valley.
Dropping over 4,000 feet to the valley was brutal on our legs, but familiar sights helped us moving. We reached Little Yosemite Valley after 8pm. Still jumped into Merced River which helped us.
The last day got us from Little Yosemite Valley to Happy Isles.
It was a short day, under 7 miles, 500 feet climb and 2,000 feet down and back to Happy Isles. This section of the JMT is one of the best to view the Nevada falls.
Pizza at Curry Village (thank goodness for the name change), drive back to Silver lake (2 hours because of the construction on Tioga Road). As we did last year, jumped into June lake to wash ourselves and drove back in our two cars via Sonora pass.
The closing down of the Tuolumne Meadows campground makes it hard for slow hikers to hike from Thousand Island lake to Happy Isles. I would have preferred an extra night at Tuolumne Meadows for sure.
You really can’t predict smoke and fire, and we really lucked out this time. We were able to hike between Washburn fire and Oak fire, that is the reality of hiking in California now.