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John Muir Trail somewhere between Island and Donahue Passes

August 18, 2000
Island Pass over Donahue Pass to Lyell Canyon
The beautiful and varied landscape south of Tuolumne Meadow

0600-0715 — Island Pass (56°F; dry, clear & windy)

          My night was restless so it is good I had the moonlit mountain view to enjoy when I kept waking up. Maybe it was my sore back or maybe the ground wasn't quite right. You win some, you lose some. A bad night's sleep is soon forgotten once you get on the trail, that is to say, until nap time.

          There is a slight wind this morning, so I find it difficult getting up and out of the comfort of a warm sleeping bag. But there is trail to travel, life to live and phenomenon promised around every cornucopic corner.

0845-0915 — Davis Lakes runoff 37°44.639 / 119°12.708 - 10,269K' (72°F)

          We don't get far down the trail before it is time to shed our fleece. The day is warming up nicely as we cross over Island Pass and head out toward Donahue Peak. The trail here between passes has great vistas of the peaks to the west and Banner/Ritter, as well as, picturesque creek and meadow environs (see above painting John Muir Trail) until the final climb over solid rock.

          The approach to Donahue Pass is deceptive and a long trek over a great expanse of treeless open rock. Anxious to get the climb done before the day gets much hotter; we perhaps move too quickly up this trail. And it never seems to end. Even the top is anticlimactic, wide and open with either a view north or a view south but not both together.

1130-1215 — Donohue Pass 37°45.640 / 119°14.826 - 11,050K' (77°F)

          We climb up a little ways on the south face to take a lunch break and enjoy last views of Banner Peak and other points of interest whose identity we dispute. When we get home and review our photos in conjunction with the maps there should be no doubt that the lake in question is indeed, as I insist, Gem Lake not Silver Lake. End of issue. ("We" still need to work on our landmark identification skills. Although Irene knows my visual perception ranks in the top 99.98 percentile of humankind, she can still doubt me on this. I don't know if it is more a matter of her being Libra or my being Aquarian?)

          We descend toward Lyell Canyon. The crowds have thinned dramatically today. We have only passed a handful of people while a threesome, also headed north, yoyos with us most the day. We get ahead of them and take a break, they come up from behind us and stop close by about the time we pick up and continue down the trail. Eventually, we lose track of them. Generally people don't maintain the same pace for long. In fact, there are groups supposedly traveling together who can't keep the same pace. Irene and I can stay together pretty well, usually. At least we stay within sight of one another, mostly. I have energy early in the day and Irene has energy late in the day so if the tired one of us is leading then we stay together. Actually, hiking like golf is not really a social activity. (Those two ladies on Muir Pass were trying to make it a social event and they were driving the rest of us batty).

Lyell Glacier

View of Lyell Glacier just north of Donahue Pass

          As we descend we must stop to look back at the fabulous view of the Lyell Glacier nestled between Mt. Lyell and Mt. McClure. This is the only real snow we have seen for most of the trek. Banner and Ritter have their glaciers as well; but otherwise, the Sierra is snowless.

          Looking north and forward into the Canyon we see the meadows and the slow meander of Lyell Creek. We wonder why this valley is called a canyon. Lyell is so wide and the walls are by no means dramatic, in fact, they are heavily forested. No doubt it was a canyon millions of years ago when it was first named.

1415-1430 — bridge 37°46.676 / 119°15.733 - 9,714K' (81°F)

          Finally we rest our feet after the climb and descent of Donahue Pass. It turned out to be more effort than I had expected but now we are close to reaching flat land for the next seven or eight miles.

          When we reach the first meadow we wander out to the meander for a couple pictures and to see if there is a place to bathe. The banks of the creek are about four feet deep. The water runs shallow and slow about twenty feet wide on average. There are deeper pools suitable for dunking on the outside of the bends where the water runs a little quicker and cuts a channel (the phenomenon that causes a mature river to evolve the meander). It is much warmer water down here in the meadow than high on the mountain below the glacier. Irene just can't find the right spot for a bird bath. So we continue along the path from one great meadow to another and another ...

Chasing The Sun

Chasing the Sun in Lyell Canyon south of Tuolume

1600-1715 — Lyell Fork Meadow 37°47.895 / 119°15.692 - 9,010K'

          Our plan is to stop for a little dinner and a nap (for me) and then continue on the trail until we get tired or we lose the light. We settle down next to the creek with a wide view of the meadow south and Mt. Lyell in the far distance. While we take this late afternoon break, three bucks wander into the vicinity and graze in the meadow, our dinner show. Such simple pastoral events can be so entertaining.

1915-1930 — Lyell Canyon 37°51.109 / 119°17.496 - 8,925K' (57°F)

          We chase the setting sun still illuminating the north end of the canyon but eventually we run out of steam. We bed down on a sandy spot close to the creek with marvelous meadow panoramas both north and south. Irene hurries in what light is left to make coffee for our desert (a bite sized Snicker and a cookie). It has been a big day and I estimate we covered 13.25 miles. As we wind down, settled into our cozy bivies and savoring every crumb of desert, a single coyote howls and the canyon comes alive briefly with muffled echoes. The howls repeat without answer; the coyote is headed south toward the mountains. The coyote may have been howling at the moon except that the moon was not yet risen. On that note the day ends.

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