Thursday, July 19, 2012

Packrafting Thousand Island Lake, July 4-5

I brought my packraft up to Thousand Island Lake via Rush Creek/  I was carrying roughly 50 pounds, and was traveling by myself for the first time for an overnight.  Things did not start off well, with my nose turning into a very leaky blood faucet not more than five minutes into the hike.  Without a tissue or large leaf at my disposal, I decided to make my shirt look like I just gotten mauled by a bear as I sheepishly tried to avoid passerbys who might witness what I mess I was.

The trail was easy to follow, but required peeking at the map, particularly at the hydro plant below Gem Lake where the trail was stupidly hard to follow.  The first 4 miles was rather unremarkable with long stretches of steep, dusty terrain covered in horse shit, and views of a plethora of man-made structures rather than unspoiled wilderness I am used to in this area.  Not to mention, I forgot my lighter, and luckily a backpacker on his way out gave me his matches, which saved a frantic hike/run back to my car!

The scenery eventually gave away to countless alpine lakes framing sweeping views of some of the most rugged peaks I've seen in the Sierras.  Thousand Island Lake is about 9.5 miles off the road near an intersection of the PCT and JMT.  The wind was rushing through the notch between Banner and Davis, nicely blowing along the length of the lake.  Thus, I was presented with an opportunity I never thought I'd have on the trip - functional use of my packraft!  I was pretty sure my raft would have zero utility on this trip, making hauling it along more of an exercise in packrafting in the backcountry.

I decided to camp at one end, and raft back the 2 mile lake in the morning, lazily riding the wind the whole way.  I hiked the additional 2-3 miles along the lake to the far side where I setup camp in a sheltered high point on a ridge in the shadow of Banner Peak.  I made dinner with some difficulty due to strong winds, but made good use of my fresh veggies, butter, and trusty Liptons packet.  I took a swim in solitude, and admired the fading light dancing across the water and finally hiding behind Davis to the west.  Darkness fell, and the high winds and sore neck kept me awake for quite some time.

The morning brought light winds and swarms of mosquitos eagerly awaiting to bite me when I exited my tent in the morning.  I couldn't wait to get on the water, so I packed up camp and headed towards the base of Banner where the large body of water connected to the main lake.  Aaaaand, I was wrong.  Damnit.  It seems my guess about being on a little peninsula was off, but luckily I had my pack strapped to the raft a la Roman Dial, so I threw it on my back and walked to the main part of the lake.

I pushed away and was finally paddling.  The contrast between miles of hiking on my sore feet and the effortless floating with a strong wind at my back was delightful.  I set my sights on the first big island I saw, determined to land on it.  I kept letting the wind carry me back, and I landed on two more funky looking islands along the way, occasionally paddling towards the midline of the lake in order to correct for the slight crosswind.
Manatee Island
Hanging out on Manatee Island
Approaching Hedgehog Island
It didn't take long to complete the traverse of the lake, and the strong winds and whitecaps reminded me why I was glad I brought a pfd along.  I took a quick dip in the lake with a fellow San Franciscan I had met earlier in the trip.  She was hiking with a group of other city dwellers, and they were spending the next few days around the lake.

I quickly hiked back to my car, keeping a reasonable pace with occasional stops, and speedups to pass horses shitting in the middle of the trail.  Afterward, I caught up with Justin at the campground, and I headed to his Mom's condo in Mammoth Lakes for a shower and some hot tubbing, which offered quite the contrast to my dusty slog.  I definitely wish I had brought my axe and crampons, even though it would have meant for an even heavier pack.  Given how stark difference in scenery from the first half to the second on this trip, it'd be worthwhile to spend an extra day or two at Thousand Island to summit Banner and Lewis.


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  2. Your pictures are absolutely beautiful!!! and what an adventure!!!!