John Muir Trail Hike - Trip Description

Organization and Trip Information:
This 6-day hiking trip was run by Call of the Wild, an organization offering outdoor adventures for women for the past 21 years. Their trips are famous for gourmet outdoor cuisine, and this trip was no exception! Pack animals carried most of the loads, and allowed us to have fresh, delicious meals everyday, since the food was stored in coolers - a luxury I'm not quite used to on outdoor wilderness trips! The leader, Bonnie Russell, and co-leader, Shirley Silveira, clearly relished the chance to bring a little luxury along with our camping experience. Sure beats the usual freeze-dried-instant fare I usually have on my own backpack trips... I could almost get used to this luxury! The easy pace of this trip gave me ample opportunity to run ahead and take my time setting up for photos, and literally gave me the chance to stop and smell the flowers... another luxury I could get used to!
Day 0: Meet up at Agnew Meadows
We all arrive for orientation and to get acquainted. The area is already filled with wildflowers in peak bloom, and gives us a taste of the incredible sights we'll soon be seeing along the way. I take a walk through the meadow, on a designated "Wildflower Walk," and start shooting photos right away. I begin to wonder if I'm going to have enough (digital) film to last the entire trip, at this pace!
Day 1: Agnew Meadows, past Shadow Lake to Shadow Creek
Leaving the meadow (8,070 ft), we make the easy climb to Shadow Lake (8,700 ft) for lunch, where we get our first view of the beautiful Ritter Range, and the ragged Minarets mountains. Climbing a bit further up Shadow Creek (to 9,300 ft) to finish a 6-mile day, we arrive at our camp where we have an impressive view of black rock Volcanic Ridge. I climb an opposing ridge for some photos, and then take an additional 2-mile round-trip excursion to Ediza Lake, a classic stepping-off point for climbs of Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak. Ominous clouds have been building during the day, and during the night, we get a spectacular light show as lightning flashes every few seconds on nearby peaks!
Day 2: Shadow Creek to Garnet Lake
We backtrack a mile back toward Shadow Lake, and then continue north back on the John Muir Trail. We cross over a small ridge (10,230 ft) under threatening clouds, and descend to Garnet Lake (9,680 ft) as the weather turns foul again. This time it pelts us with snowy hail balls! The thunderstorms pass directly overhead, and lightning strikes nearby on the exposed ridge as other group members start their descent. We skip our lunch stop, and push on to finish the 6 miles to camp at the base of Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter. The weather breaks just long enough to set up tents and unload gear, then dumps more rain and hail. We're all warm and comfortable, however, so spirits remain good, and another break in the storm a bit later gives us a chance to enjoy our dinner in peace!
Day 3: Garnet Lake, over Island Pass, to Rush Creek
The morning is clear and bright, revealing the full beauty of the mountains around us that were obscured by yesterday's storms. Climbing quickly above timberline, we soon have great panoramic views at Island Pass (10,170 ft), where we stop for lunch. We descend to camp at upper Rush Creek (10,200 ft) to finish the 6 mile day, and settle in to our beautiful setting framed by different mountain ranges on all sides. The southern end of the Koip Crest provides a dramatic ragged backdrop, while the Ritter Range and Cathedral Range display their splendor in front of us. And, of course, Donohue Peak, to the north, looks so appealingly close...! I start plotting a route...
Day 4: Layover Day at Rush Creek, Solo Climb of Donohue Peak (12,023 ft)
Why climb a peak on a layover day? Because it's there, calling to me...! This solo adventure, officially "off the trip," proved the highlight of the week for me. Only 3 miles away, and 1800 ft above camp, I knew it wouldn't be a strenuous challenge (I allowed 6 hrs, and could've been back in 3.5 hrs), but it was a chance to get off the trail, and do some route-finding, boulder-hopping, and scrambling up a mountain - my favorite things to do! The solo experience also let me move at my own pace - as fast as I wanted, but with stops anywhere a photo opportunity popped up. I was in paradise! I spent nearly an hour on the summit, just savoring the moment(s) and the view. I dragged out the descent, taking time to swim and bathe in some pools along a creek, and took a detour that brought me through more meadows of wildflowers. I returned by my appointed deadline, but the excursion was over entirely too soon!
Day 5: Rush Creek, over Donohue Pass, into Lyell Canyon
The trip continues up over rocky Donohue Pass (11,040 ft), near the base of Mt. Lyell (highest mountain in the Yosemite area, at 13,114 ft). We're actually so close to the mountain that the summit is obscured by the lower hills in front of it. The pass gives us our first view of lush Lyell Canyon, and after a steep, scenic descent, we reach camp (9,000 ft) where Lyell Creek turns into a full-blown river, after a 7 mile day.
Day 6: Lyell Canyon to Tuolomne Meadows
The final 9-mile, level, dusty hike through the canyon ends our trip at Tuolomne Meadows. The granite domes, characteristic of the rock formations around Yosemite, greeted us at the meadows. Arriving early, I even had a chance to take a hot (!) shower in the lodge before others joined up for the shuttle back to Agnew Meadows.
Return to John Muir Trail Gallery Index