I left Mono Lake in time to arrive at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center right when it opened at 8am. Thanks to a trip to Ediza Lake a while back, the process for securing a backcountry permit in the Ansel Adams Wilderness wasn’t new to me, and it was much easier to already know the drill: reserve your permit in advance, pick it up at the Welcome Center, park near the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, gear up, buy a ticket for the shuttle, and ride the shuttle to your trailhead.
From Agnew Meadows I hiked out on the High Trail (part of the Pacific Crest Trail) about 8 miles to Thousand Island Lake. My body wasn’t used to trudging uphill with a heavy pack and it definitely took a toll on me. But the scenery more than compensated. After the first couple of miles there were amazing views of Shadow Lake and the surrounding mountain range – including the Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak – a craggy gray wall along the entire western horizon.
I made it to Thousand Island Lake at about 4pm. It was a little more crowded with other hikers than I hoped, but I found a great secluded spot to set up my tent. I hadn’t been backcountry camping in over a year and felt rusty. I was relieved I’d remembered to bring the right gear and that everything still worked.
I never sleep well in tents, which makes it easy to get up early for sunrise photos. There’s a special quality about mountain lakes before dawn – the air still, nobody else in sight, the nearby peaks mirrored in the glassy water. And the first morning light hitting the highest mountaintops is magical. The sunlight that morning, filtered through a faint layer of smoke from the nearby wildfires, was even softer than usual.
After morning photos I boiled water for coffee, packed up my gear, and hiked out. I looped back on the River Trail for a change of pace and was at my car by about noon. I’m sorry to report that my feet and legs did not hold up nearly as well as I would have liked. But all things considered the hike went really well. I was happy to get sunrise photos of Thousand Island Lake, and – afterwards, at least – it felt great to have had to put in some work to get there.