Garnet Lake to Donohue Pass to Lyell Fork Bridge, 12 miles
We wake up at 5:15 to photograph the alpenglow on Banner Peak and its reflection on Garnet Lake. As always, it’s a struggle to get out of our cozy sleeping bags, but we don’t have a lot of time to spare. Our shooting spot is only a few hundred feet away, so it would be pretty pathetic not to get there. We head out to a little rocky spit of land sticking out into the lake that gives us a beautiful view of the peak, and we are in place on time for a gorgeous sunrise. Hallelujah!
It’s really cool to watch the quality of the light change as we pass through Blue Hour, sunrise, and finally Golden Hour. And then, just like that, it’s done. It’s a good thing we got moving when we did—gorgeous light like this doesn’t last long, especially when there are absolutely no clouds in the sky to help reflect and keep the beautiful pink colors of the rising sun around for longer.
We take advantage of being in such a gorgeous location and snap a few photos of us together. We take some photos of Team Alabama, too, mostly because we need a record of how incredibly dirty their shirts are. Geez!
Once the big show is over, we break camp and hit the trail. Yosemite National Park is our ultimate destination today, which is hard to comprehend after almost three weeks on the trail. We are anxious to get walking, but we don’t manage to leave until almost 8:30, which is pretty late by our standards these days.
We start heading up and pass a few small picturesque lakes, but the big prize of the day is Thousand Island Lakes, where we will get views of both Banner Peak and Mount Ritter together.
As we approach the lake, we stop at the very first view and spot a female mallard and her eight young ducklings who swim very close to us by the shore.
We cross the log bridge at the outlet and stop to take more photos of the beautiful scene. As we continue on the trail around the lake, we find that there are many more hikers here than at Garnet Lake, making us even more pleased with our campsite last night.
The trail takes us high above the lake, and soon we are past Island Pass without even realizing it. As we lose elevation on the other side, we enter meadows that are full of tiny red Indian Paintbrush, one of our very favorite alpine flowers. They are scattered about in all directions and remind us of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where the Wicked Witch casts a sleeping spell on Dorothy and her crew with her magical poppies. We hope we don’t fall asleep—we still have a long way to go to Donahue Pass.
There are lots of trail junctions on this part of the trail which helps to break up the journey. After hitting the last one, it’s still 2.2 miles and 1000’ of elevation gain up to the pass. It doesn’t look too far away, but it seems to take forever to work our way through the rock-strewn mountainside.
We come across a guy hiking southbound with a large American flag on a pole sticking out of his pack. Matt strikes up a quick conversation with him and finds out he is a former marine, but “once a marine, always a marine!” he tells us. Matt asks if he has a trail name. He says “not yet,” and Matt suggests “GI Joe.” We wonder if it will stick and wish him a great day on the trail.
We cross a small snowfield near the top. Just beyond that there are several tarns, some of which are surrounded by snow. We are so busy checking them out that we almost completely miss the ptarmigan on the trail just a few feet in front of us. She doesn’t seem bothered by our presence and takes a dust bath in the dirt until we encroach a little too close. Suddenly she runs along the trail looking rather embarrassed as if we had seen her doing something indecent. Who knew ptarmigan were so uptight?!
We finally reach the crest of the pass where multiple signs indicate the end of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the start of Yosemite National Park. We are both delighted to be there at the top of Donohue Pass. This is a huge milestone on the JMT, especially because the number of hikers allowed over the pass has been restricted in recent years to help protect the trail from overcrowding. We feel fortunate to have been issued a pass that will allow us to complete what we started.
There’s no shelter here at the top, just an open expanse of rock and snow, and it’s windy. We take a few requisite photos and move on. This is no place to linger today.
After the pass it’s a pretty steep drop down towards Lyell Canyon. We can see the canyon floor with the meandering Lyell Creek lazily running through it, but it’s a long way down.
We really want to keep our speed up, but the rocky downhill is tough on our achy knees. We manage to get 2.6 miles down to the Lyell Fork Bridge before Matt wants to call it quits. He is usually not so tired, but the late night/early morning photography has finally caught up to him.
We find a campsite near the trail and the rushing river in a forested area that feels sheltered but not too dark and foreboding or buggy. There are a few small waterfalls visible from camp that we want to photograph, but we only manage to make dinner and get the camp chores done before we head to bed for the evening.
We are both dog tired and fall asleep quickly. Bedtime bliss!