August 7th: 12.4 miles from River Trail to Donahue Pass via JMT/PCT
Spence here! Continuing onward and upward toward island pass (10,205ft) and the goal for the day, Donohue pass (11,056ft). my legs and curiosity were strong after a good lunch of trail mix, mac’n’cheese and soup. (our new pressurized gas stove working very well, thank goodness!) The way to island pass was dotted with tiny pools, dry mud patches and little green tufts and mounds. I could see that in other years, this path would be or might be quite soggy, but not this year. The guide book mentions that in some years, the path is actually a bog and one’s feet were guaranteed to be soaked in the climbing process. My feet were dry and dusty actually, but I enjoyed the stone stepping just the same, as well as several modest marmots, peaking up over boulders and through the grasses. I was paying so much attention to the views and the wild flowers I scarcely recall looking back at billy and mentioning that we may have summited the pass already.
The downward fury of the rocky path that followed made me sorry for the folks coming up the other way. I could appreciate the height of the pass from that prospective. Crossing over a log bridge and through a maze of rocks in a small valley, I was in awe of rush creek. It helped me solidify another connection in our trip, as rush creek drains into mono lake, which we had recently passed twice on our road trips south this summer. I tried to imagine artificially diverting this vibrant, busy, natural mecca for uses such as watering a golf course in los angeles and it was beyond my capacity of evil. the inherent beauty of this area really was too good to be true and that alone should deem the creek untouchable, let alone the amount of wildlife it supports. I really felt so thrilled and alive to see such a twisted, raging, complicated, yet easily understood course of water.
The honeymoon was short. Up we went again, although the views and trail continued to be astoundingly beautiful, my legs seemed to want to melt. Granite steps about 3 feet tall, built into the side of tumbling rock were challenging my attitude and my knees. Billy lead the way with a youthful gait, while I huffed up after. I knew I could do it, my wonder at being up over 11,000ft and my minds question “what will we see on the other side?” helped me forward. By 8:30pm as the sun drifted away and a bank of clouds formed overhead, we summited through impossible craggily peaks. Valleys and lakes laid out before us as the snow clung to the north sides of rock. Hello Yosemite national park. Time for bed!
Billy here! Since we were already at 9,840 feet at Thousand Island Lake, Island pass was less than 400 feet further up and we hardly noticed it. My attention was on the numerous clear ponds, streams and meadows surrounding us. It was as if we had stepped into Alice’s Wonderland: the sun and sky were surreally bright and the wildflowers vibrant and alive with insects. The meadows surrounding Rush Creek were littered with granite boulders deposited from old glaciers. We could still see the small remains of glaciers to the south of us, which have been melting rapidly over the last century. These glaciers formed in the Little Ice Age around 700 years ago. I was somehow stunned to see how lush the lands at 10,000 feet are here, perhaps because of all the melting ice and snow every year. Tiny little brooks snaked in and out of themselves through little soft grasses. Yarrow, paintbrush and white umbrelled flowers blossomed everywhere. Little waterfalls tumbled over granite passages. Slowly the meadow opened and the trees fell back to a rocky expanse to the west, where we would make the steep climb at dusk over Donohue Pass. Unlike the Island Pass we just crossed, this pass was an unmistakable trek. Winds whistled and my heart and lungs labored as the sun spilled molten over the granite. We pushed to make it over the pass before sunset. I couldn’t help but recall heroic journeys of myth and literature: how would it be to cross such a landscape in winter? All the snow had melted but in a few tiny patches on the north side of the range, which we wouldn’t see until the other side. The sky seemed a sun chariot, the walls of the mountain larger than any castle a human could conceive. The greenery shrank to a few brave grasses. It seems, like in the old stories, the rocky desolation of the peaks are a place for giants and magicians and gods only, not a place for the living, but a gate into the other world above, beyond which lies vacuum and a realm of not-death, where there is only Void and unmanifested Pattern. You can only hear wind and breath and your own heartbeat and footfall. As we rounded the bend of the pass, Lyell Canyon and the lakes where we would camp nearby opened up below us, an entirely new world, in more way than one, for the pass marks the crossing into Yosemite Wilderness from Ansel Adams Wilderness, where we would wake tomorrow after a windy night in the tent behind a boulder at 10,000 feet.