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Backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness

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I looked out at the mountains from our vantage point at the Minaret Vista parking lot and furrowed my brow. The mountains, which should have been clear and crisp from our distance appeared vaguely through a smoky haze. The Lions Wildfire that was sparked by a rogue lightning strike on June 1 was only partially contained and the smell of smoke was overwhelming. 

My friend, Laura, and I were scheduled to begin our hike through the Ansel Adams Wilderness the following day and from where I was standing it seemed we would be in for a smoky trip. We had already picked up our wilderness permits from the ranger station in Mammoth, stopped for some sandwiches in town, and headed to the vista to wait until 7pm at which time we could drive to the trailhead at Agnew Meadows. At 7 o'clock sharp we headed past the gates and down to the trailhead where we set up camp at the first-come, first-serve campsite located there. I decided to get to sleep early and tried to avoid thoughts of wildfire and smoke. 

After a fitful night of sleep Laura and I packed up and officially hit the trail. There is an endless supply of loops, out-and-backs, and point-to-point hikes that can be completed in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and Laura snagged us permits for the River Trail entrance. The plan was to head to Thousand Island Lake on the first night, Ediza Lake on the second, and Minaret Lake for the third and final night. 

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Our destination for the first night was Thousand Island Lake. A gorgeous, deep blue lake, dotted with islands, that sits beneath the imposing face of Banner Peak. Since we had such an early start we were the first group to arrive and we had our pick of camping spots. We found two flat expanses of rocks, set up camp, and then rested. I pulled out the book I brought - the appropriate Ansel Adams Autobiography and dove headfirst into the pages. Reading Ansel Adams' words in the place that was made so famous by his timeless photographs felt like such a treat. 

 Sunset on Thousand Island Lake

Sunset on Thousand Island Lake

From our camp at Thousand Island Lake we were able to witness the most spectacular sunset and sunrise. Both looked like they might fizzle out but on both occasions the sky unexpectedly lit up in the most beautiful display of color I've seen in a long time. 

 Descending the trail towards Garnet Lake

Descending the trail towards Garnet Lake

On the second day we made our way down towards Ediza Lake. On our way we passed by the equally stunning Garnet Lake where we took a break for a quick morning snack. The bugs were pretty bad at Garnet Lake so we didn't stay long before heading back to the trail. 

Once we reached the Ediza Lake and Shadow Lake Trail Junction and turned towards Ediza Lake we met fewer people on the trail. The trail we had been hiking prior was full of JMT thru-hikers and we regularly had to step aside as we met other hikers. 

As we made our way towards Ediza we ran into only three groups and each group informed us that the bugs at Ediza Lake were bad. The fact that three out of three groups told us that the lake was buggy likely meant that they were bad. We decided to continue on to Iceberg Lake instead of subjecting ourselves to the merciless mosquitos. 

 Camp at Iceberg Lake

Camp at Iceberg Lake

Iceberg Lake was a welcome change from the busyness of the JMT and Thousand Island Lake. We arrived to an empty, quiet basin. We set up camp and sat on the shore of the lake and watched as the icebergs slowly drifted around in the lake's eddies. We had Iceberg Lake to ourselves until after dinner, when two English gentlemen appeared on top of the pass to Cecile Lake and quickly began making their way down the precarious scree and across the snowfield. Once they made it to the lake they informed us that they were attempting the long, challenging Sierra High Route that travels off trail for some 195 miles through the Sierra high country. 

The sunset was cloudless and I went to bed early with an alarm set for midnight for night photos. I definitely did not want to get out of my tent when my alarm went off, and since Alex wasn't with me I was also not looking forward to creeping around in the dark alone trying to find compositions. I seriously debated just going back to sleep but when I saw how many stars were twinkling outside my tent I felt obligated to take at least a few photos!

 Stars over Iceberg Lake

Stars over Iceberg Lake

The next day was a long one. We waited until about 11am to try to cross the snowfield to make it over the pass to Cecile Lake where we would then descend to Minaret Lake. The snowfield was still frozen. Not wanting to wait any longer (and not having any crampons) we headed back the way we came and hooked up with the John Muir Trail heading southbound. The day was long, and not particularly scenic but it was nice to stay in the wilderness. 

On our final night we set up camp in the woods just off the trail, with the millions of mosquitos we had avoided the night prior by continuing on from Ediza to Iceberg Lake. With not much of a view and way too many mosquitos we called it an early night again. 

The next morning was a quick 2.3 mile hike down to Devils Postpile where we hopped on the Mammoth Shuttle and were driven back to our car at Agnew Meadows. Just like that 4 days in the wilderness had come and gone. The region is wildly beautiful and I can't wait to return and complete the full loop we set out to do! 

If you are interested in completing this loop, please check out the Adventure Guide HERE!

 Sunrise at Thousand Island Lake

Sunrise at Thousand Island Lake