Thousand Island Lake/Garnet Lake

10:10 p.m. on November 20, 2013 (EST)
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Long term goal is the hike the John Muir Trail, but in the meantime, looking for shorter hikes to get a taste.  Looking at Thousand Island Lake and Garnet Lake area.  I would love to get some feedback on this.  Or if you care to lead me to another area of the JMT, that's OK too.  I am open to suggestions and since it's really not JMT hiking weather...I have a lot of time to think about it.  Thanks so much,  Donna

10:53 p.m. on November 20, 2013 (EST)
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Can you give us an idea of what kinds of trips you are interested in doing?  How many days, miles/day, etc?  Is it easier for you to access the west side or the east side?  What time of year?

I have never done the JMT in one shot, but I have been over a significant portion of it.  Lots of nice areas to explore.  And if you just want a good sierra experience, there are many areas as nice or nicer that don't have the crowds because they aren't on the highway known as the JMT.

8:30 p.m. on November 21, 2013 (EST)
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Because of high impact over the years, you cannot camp right at Thousand Island or Garnet Lakes (nor a number of other lakes along the JMT which used to be extremely popular for hiking). When you look at the USFS and NP trail maps, the "no camp" zones are marked. HOWEVER, there are a large number of other lakes nearby which are just as nice. There is a general rule that you must camp 100 feet from the water (lake or stream), with some variation on this, depending on whether it is a designated Wilderness Area (in capital letters), some areas saying 50 feet, others saying 200 feet.

Some places that will get you into country like you will find on the JMT and are not as popular are South Fork of Big Pine Creek (southern part of the Palisades) at or near Lake Elinor or Brainard Lake; go past South Lake over Bishop Pass to Dusy and/or Palisade Basin; Crown Valley (south of Wishon Reservoir, to Geraldine Lakes); Dinkey Lakes (you pass Dinkey Ranger Station on your way from Shaver Lake to Wishon Reservoir); Rae Lakes; Evolution Valley (may be too long a hike for your purposes).

Remember that the Spring thaw from March/April up to mid-summer (July) is mosquito time. Sierra mosquitoes are not as bad as some other areas, but they can be annoying.

7:08 p.m. on November 22, 2013 (EST)
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+1 for Rae Lakes and Evolution Valley, but as Bill stated, both these venues require several days to reach these destinations.  And both are often congested, as is much of the JMT.

The OP should also consider venues not on the JMT; after all scenic mountain sides abound all over the Sierra.  No reason to obsess over the name of a trail.  The Eastern Sierra has lots of good opportunities that are not along the JMT.

Sometimes finding peace and quiet does not require sacrificing scenic quality.  Bill mentions the South Fork Big Pine Creek, I surmise in part because the north fork is one of the more popular/crowded venues in the Sierra.  But one can often find solitude, even in these locations.  For example most camp along the lower lakes of North Fork Big Pine Creek, or at the climber’s camp below the glaciers.  But if one ventures to the upper lakes, say lakes 6 or 7, they would find a dramatic drop in the number of campers encountered.  Alas it is a vigorous hike with a pack to reach the upper lakes.  On the other hand popular venues like Cottonwood Lakes have areas with only sparse camper activity that are just as easy to reach as the crowded nearby lakes.  There are even relatively un-crowded destinations along the trail to Bishop Pass and other similar backcountry “freeways.”  Usually all one need do is step off the main trail and hoof up a side canyon a bit to find their own space.  My advice is get several trail guides on the Sierra, study them, and then do some field study.


11:54 p.m. on November 22, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks so much for such immediate responses.  I don't have any specific plans, as I said, it's fall, not planning on doing any serious hiking till at least the spring or summer.  And into the fall.  I would like to do about a week long hike.  I guess I did get somewhat obsessed with the JMT, having this idea that I'd like to do some nice long thru hike sort of thing.  The PCT is way too far out of my league, as is the AT.  So I thought that the JMT might be something that is a bit more manageable...But for right now, even that isn't really an option.  For one thing, I am employed full time and don't see that ending real soon.  So, I thought it might be nice to do something in the CA area to get a taste of the JMT.  I was a bit dismayed at the comments of the crowd factor.  I hadn't realized that this would be the case here!  I am not totally opposed to running into other hikers, but don't really want to have to share a whole lot of my space with a whole lot of other hikers!  As for miles per day...not many.  So far the furthest I've hiked in one day has been about 9 miles.  I like to take things slow, enjoy the ride, etc.  Plus, I live in Ohio, so the elevation is pretty low here.  The highest I've hiked so far has been about 8900 feet, and actually wondered if some of the weird things I'd experienced might actually have had something to do with the elevation.  So, all that said, I am going to take a few minutes and do an online exploration of some of the places mentioned in above responses.  I do love water and find myself looking for hikes along rivers, arriving at lakes, waterfalls, etc.  As for trail guides...please give me some exact Christmas is approaching and people are always asking me what I want!  Thanks again for all your help.  ----Donna

3:46 p.m. on November 23, 2013 (EST)
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I've used:

Sierra South: 100 Backcountry Trips in California's Sierra Nevada

For years.  I like Tom Harrison Maps (.com) as they are easy to read have fairly accurate mileage.  Others should pipe up about their favorites.

I also like: for free online browsing. 

Almost everybody who go to the Sierra are from near sea level so you won't be a lone soul with higher altitude affects.  Take it slow the first couple of days and try to sleep as low as you can get each night.  Many are surprised that they hike up hill most of one day and mostly down hill another - repeat as necessary.  Lots of water in you helps.

Most of the trails are moderately graded.  Near some of the passes they get steeper for a short distances.  A general rule of thumb is that you can plan on 7-10+ miles a day at 10,000'+ on trails.   That could be anywhere between 1 and 2 mph over a long day.  The more fit you are, of course, the more enjoyment you will get out of your struggles.  Plan on early starts because most weather comes in toward mid afternoon.  Except for restricted areas you can generally camp anywhere you like - so long as it is away from water.  Just keep a plan in your head and if it is a good day, extend it or camp early if it is just not working for you.

20F sleeping bag will keep you out of trouble most nights in spring through early fall.  The days could be very hot later summer.  You could expect upper 20's almost any night during the summer if above 10,000'.  That is when you pile on most of your clothes or be a bit uncomfy.  I carry a Precip (hooded) top and 200 (equivalent) fleece.  I also stash a down vest in a corner of the pack just in case.  It has been used on loan over night more often than I have.

Sunscreen, a brimmed hat, high UV sun protection (include lips) and sun glasses are a good thing to have as you will more than likely be above 10,000' for much of your trip.  You could be a crispy critter.  DEET is handy for the critters.  Use sparingly and often.  Some swear by mosquito net head covers for early summer late spring.  They weigh less than a couple of ounces.  You can expect severe thunderstorms in late afternoon.  Plan to be off of passes and high places by then.  Some swear by trek poles.  They do help if you know how to use them. 

The trails on the east side of the Sierra start high - most are above 9,500' and one is about 10,500'.  Most lead to a 11,000+ pass within a 6 miles.  Lakes within 3, usually.  Once over the passes you are often in a National Park on your way to the PCT or the JMT below you.  The PCT and JMT share trail space for much of the JMT.  PCT takes off north and south for the borders.  You could catch a portion of the PCT to get to the JMT from the north.  Almost every wide spot on US-395 has trail access into the National Parks. Any overnight requires a wilderness permit.

Depending upon how much snow accumulates, east side trails are clear to 11,000' by Father's Day in June and the passes could still have a lot of snow by end of July.  They would be passable by following all the footprints of those ahead of you.

The trails from the west side of the Sierra start considerably lower and follow a relatively easy slope to the east.  This makes getting to the higher mountains a bit longer (a day or so).  There are fewer trails into Kings and Sequoia NP from the west than there are from the east.  The one exception is Mineral King south of Sequoia. Beautiful area with trails to awesome scenery.  The trails can be steep, dry and hot (more like the east side) and starting high and going higher.  The west side has the BIG trees and is a bit greener.  The east side is dryer with smaller trees spaced farther apart.

The trail permit system keeps the crowds at bay.  You have a few more people on the first few miles on trails from the tourist areas especially Mammoth,  Yosemite Valley and less so from Sequoia.  You will pass the occasional backpacker and there is always ample opportunity to walk a 1/4 mile farther off the trail and you will be back 100 years.

In all of the National Parks (and some accesses from the east) you will be required to have a personal bear proof canister.  They are for rent in many places you pick up your permit.  Check ahead.  There are bear boxes along some of the trails that you can use to stash your food out of harms way.  They, of course, are along the more popular trails.

To add to the info above....

From the east, there are many 'lollypop' trips and few loop trips.  But in/out trips are good too...more of them anyway.  Two loops:

- one at the very southern part of the Sierra (Lone Pine entrance) goes over Cottonwood Pass from the west end of Horseshoe Meadows; then around to the west side at Rock Creek; then up over Army Pass down to the car (or the other way around).  You don't touch the JMT, but you do use the PCT for access.  A moderate hike.

- Another from Independence at Onion Valley; over Kearsarge Pass picking up the JMT down to Vidette Meadows; south over Forest Pass (13,200') to the real high Sierra - the Kern River Basin; then leaving the JMT, east over Shepherd Pass down to Simmes Creek; a 3 mile hike to the road for a hitch up to your car at Onion Valley.  This is a strenuous hike either direction.  I prefer the clockwise trip for the scenery.

Once over Kearsarge you have the option to go north to Rae Lakes and return.  There is the very popular 40 mile Rae Lake Loop from the east side at road's end in King Canyon NP.

Bishop has South Lake to Dusy Basin via Bishop Pass.  You could spend time just day hiking up over Knapsack Pass and optionally down into Pallisades Basin.  There are lots of places to explore and photograph, including the precipitous drop down to the Le Conte area.,-118.52909&z=13&t=T

Big Pine Lakes (out of Big Pine) are just east of Bishop Pass on the map above.

Also the road up goes to Sabrina and North Lakes - to Piute Pass and Humphreys Basin.

Mammoth area is your closest access to the JMT.

And more....

I'd bet most here would be happy to chat about any of the trips into the Sierra and some know about the Colorado Rockies as well. 

3:59 p.m. on November 23, 2013 (EST)
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For Christmas or other gift giving holidays, I always reply that to make it easy for them (when they ask or need prompting) to just give me a $25 REI ( -- or pick an outfitter -- gift certificate.  When I collect enuf of them I go purchase something I really need.  In most cases they don't know what you need/like and would spend hours trying to find it at places they probably don't go to often.

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