We were itching to get back on the trail after our first day of rest in Mammoth. Though we definitely enjoyed our time eating good food, drinking beer, and getting a couples massage, the slow pace of R&R got old quickly and we were excited to get out and continue our hike. Much of our second day in Mammoth was spent repacking, venturing into town for more trail food, and figuring out how to lighten our packs a bit. When all was said and done, we boxed up about 10lbs worth of gear that we hadn’t used during the first stretch and sent it back to my parent’s house.
On Monday morning we woke up early, grabbed some coffee and bagels at the Old New York Deli, and headed out to the bus stop to catch the bus up to Agnew Meadows, where we’d hop back on the trail. After 45 minutes of waiting, we learned that the bus had been shut down for the season last week… whoops! Instead of a free bus ride 8 miles to the trailhead, we decided to start hitchhiking up the road with hopes that someone would take pity on us and drive us most of the way. With fresh coffee in hand, we began our journey up the road with thumbs out.
October is off season for Mammoth, so there wasn’t a ton of traffic on the road. Fortunately for us, we only had to hike about a mile before a group of middle aged guys swung their Prius into a pull out and we piled in the back. They drove us the rest of the way, sharing stories about their cycling adventures and joking about how crazy we were to head out in the current stormy weather.
From the Agnew Meadows trailhead we found a sign pointing in our direction and were off towards Yosemite. The weather had changed dramatically over the weekend and, where there had been blue skies and 70 degree weather on Friday, there were now low clouds, frozen creeks, and snow in the forecast. Temperatures were definitely dropping, but we were confident in our equipment so we bundled up and blazed on.
As we continued our hike toward Thousand Island Lake, the weather grew progressively worse until we found ourselves walking in a light snow storm. We threw on our rain jackets to stay dry. This is where I found out that the zipper on my rain jacket had broken. Great, we were walking into a storm and the zipper on my only waterproof outer layer wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t help but be a little grumpy about that, but I did my best to close the jacket up using my backpack straps and walked on.
We continued hiking in the snow up to a perfect lunch spot overlooking Thousand Island Lake. On a clear day, we’d have an incredible view of Banner and Ritter Peaks, but today the low clouds prevented us from catching even a glimpse.
From Thousand Island Lake it was an easy walk up to the relatively low and flat Island Pass. Considering that we’d been hiking in the snow for a couple of hours now, we were feeling pretty good and the energy levels were still high.
Once over Island Pass, the trail dropped down into another valley before starting the slow climb up toward Donahue Pass. As we climbed, the storm intensified. The gentle snowfall from before turned into high winds and big gusts of icy sleet. Our Hyperlite packs are fairly waterproof, but we wrapped them in trash bags to make sure crucial gear like sleeping bags and puffy jackets stayed nice and dry.
The higher we climbed, the heavier the snowfall became and the more it built up on the ground. Soon, we were walking through snowdrifts that were several inches deep. I was cursing the broken zipper on my jacket, but we were both pretty happy for our GoreTex shoes.
As we neared the pass, the snow situation turned up another notch. It was becoming difficult to find the trail and the rocks were extremely slippery underfoot. We stopped near the top for a moment of seriousness to acknowledge that a careless mistake here could be potentially devastating. We had to be careful dropping down off the other side of the pass.
Once we were up and over Donahue Pass, the new objective was to get as far down into the valley as possible. The more elevation we could drop, the drier and warmer we’d sleep tonight. For the first time on the trip, we were really wishing that we had a tent with a bathtub bottom.
Down we hiked, stopping occasionally to add a layer as the cold and fatigue began to set in. Honestly, at this point I was starting to struggle and not having a great time. Alyssa stepped up in a big way and became the group leader, blazing the way down to camp.
Below the treeline and out of the worst of the snow, we crossed the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River and found a flat spot to pitch the tent. We were cold, tired, and ready for rest.
A few words from the journal:
Finally we made it down into the canyon and pitched our tent in the snow just before dark. Everything is dry and warm so we should be good to go tonight. We’re hoping it’s warm and clear tomorrow. It sure would be great to have a tent with a bottom in conditions like this.
One last thing: Alyssa was the true MVP today. When things got tough, I was getting tired, cold, and grumpy and she stepped up big time as the group leader making sure I was okay and keeping the energy positive. I love her!