INTO YOSEMITE – DONOHUE PASS
PCT DAY 55: Mile 923 (Thousand Island Lake) – Mile 942.5 (Toulumne Meadows)
Tuesday June 7, 2016: 19.5 miles (31.5km)
It was a brilliant sunny morning for our traverse of the last pass before reaching Yosemite; Donohue Pass which stands at 11,056 feet. We were anticipating to have quite a bit of snow for this traverse. The hiker we met last Saturday morning, who gave us $2, said that he thought Donohue would have more snow than Silver Pass. Knowing how much snow we hiked over at Silver Pass we were prepared for a long haul at Donahue. To our pleasant surprise this turned out not to be the case.
Thousand Island Lake must look so beautiful in summer. It is set in a large open valley and surrounded by tall craggy mountain peaks. This morning the Lake was still frozen so it was difficult to see how it gets its name.
We encounter snow almost immediately on leaving camp. Being early in the morning, the snow had an icy crust. We hiked with microspikes to help with the grip on the icy surface. The snow softened quite quickly. And as we hiked towards the summit there were large areas of trail which was free of snow. This made navigation very easy. Until about 2 miles from the summit about 50% of the trail was snow free. The last 2 miles to the summit the snow was still relatively easy to walk on. This would have to be the easiest Pass so far.
We stopped at the summit to enjoy the view back towards Mammoth. When we stopped we had the company of several cheeky marmots who kept aproaching us. Before too long we were joined by 6 southbound John Muir Trail hikers. This was to be the first of many we would see today. Before we reached Tuolumne Meadows we passed 35 southbound JMT hikers. We have not seen this many hikers in one day since leaving Campo. As we left the summit to beging the descent off the pass, one of the hikers gave us some friendly advice. He said to be very careful as the conditions were very difficult. We thanked him and wished the group happy trails.
As we are learning on the PCT, the advice people give you is all relative to their own experience and their own comfort level. As it turned out, the descent off Donahue Pass was relatively easy, despite the numerous footprint trails leading in multiple directions.
We reached the Lyell Fork creek crossing just after noon and stopped here for lunch. It was beautiful to sit in the sun and look back towards the pass.
Once we descended to Lyell Canyon, the hiking was the best we’ve had for some time. It was almost too good to be true. We hiked through green meadows with the most amazing emerald green river meandering through. Gone was the mighty roar of snowmelt rushing off steep slopes. It was the type of hiking of the PCT I had always imagined. Hammer was tempted to go in for a swim, we’re it not for the enormous sized and numerous mosquitos which were feeding on his legs.
We got to Tuolumne Meadows just before it got dark. The campground is not yet opened. The store and Post Office were closed and there were no people about. So we camped in the campground anyway.
Reaching Tuolumne Meadows is such a great milestone for us. And today it felt like we have entered a slightly different season. It was warmer and felt more summery. Maybe it was the meandering emerald green creeks? But I can’t imagine that for the rest of the hike, in California anyway, we would encounter snow falling.