John Muir Trail: Tuolumne Meadow to Angew Meadow
In August I section hiked the John Muir Trail. I intended on doing the full thru-hike, but I got injured on day 3 so instead, I exited at Agnew Meadow in Mammoth.
This first section was beautiful.
Day 1 - 6 miles
The trail starts from Tuolumne Meadows and follows the river until the ascent up Donahue Pass.
The first 7 miles of the trail is flat, camping isn't allowed for the first 3 miles on the trail. I camped about 6 miles into the trail. There was a flat rock section between the trees off the trail where a couple of other hikers were setting up camp. It was a short walk to the river to fill up water and to take a chilly dip before dinner.
Day 2 - 7 miles
I left camp in the morning around 8:30am and started the ascend up Donahue Pass.
There were virtually no mosquitoes in Tuolumne and as we started hiking up, some started to appear. Surprisingly, this section really tired me out. I’m not sure if it was the fairly late start and the exposed trail, or just because it was the second day and my body was still adjusting.
As you climb higher and higher, you have expansive views of the meadows below and where you hiked from. You get a great view of Mt. Lyell and Lyell Glacier right underneath it. And you’ll pass a couple of pristine alpine lakes.
Since 2019 was a high snow year, there was water everywhere. There was only one place in this entire three day section where I needed to take off my shoes to do the water crossing, but that was mainly because I wanted to soak and numb my feet before heading up the pass.
When I picked up the permit, the ranger told me that the last water source is 2 miles before and after Donahue Pass. There is a lake shortly before the top of the pass, and I’m assuming that lake is there every year since it’s fed entirely by snowmelt. But this year, you were never more than 15 minutes away from your next water source.
There is a false summit about .5 from the pass. But at the top of the pass, there are beautiful 360 views of Yosemite to the West, June Lake to the East, and the High Sierra peaks towering above. And, officially, you’re out of Yosemite!
There’s also cell reception at the top of the pass. It’s good enough to call your mom, text your friends, check emails, and post on Instagram. Yes I did all of those things and texted a few photos too. I can text off my Garmin In Reach, but there is something so satisfying about being able to text images, which I can’t do from the Garmin.
I got to the pass around 4pm, and it was about 5 miles from where I camped the night before.
On the other side of Donahue Pass is where the mosquitoes start. I’m actually really surprised how few there were in Yosemite. This year the mosquitoes were bad. Like some strange vampire mutants that multiply in minutes. I covered my clothes, tent, and backpack in Sawyer’s Permethrin Spray before leaving home, which worked so well! On areas that were covered, no bites! I brought a head net, which really helps with the mosquitoes, but it’s so hard to see with it on, so in my stubbornness (and fear of tripping over a rock) I ended up with a lot of bites on my forehead, but none anywhere else!
Since it was late, my hiking partner and I decided to set up camp 2 miles below the pass. The sun was setting, so we didn’t want to set up in the dark.
The sunset was beautiful and the area was just breathtaking. These photos do not do it justice! The sunrise in the morning was even prettier!
Thankfully, at night it got so cold that all the mosquitoes disappeared around sunset! There was a cold front coming through. I woke up to condensation on the inside of my tent, frost on my bear can. My sleeping bag and everything inside my tent were moist, and this was mid-August! Always be prepared in the mountains. During the day it could be 80 degrees, and at night it could drop below freezing. But, hey, no mosquitoes!
Day 3 - 13 miles
Unfortunately in the first two days, we got behind on the miles that we were supposed to be covering each day, so those miles needed to be made up on the third day.
It was decided that we’d exit in Mammoth to shower, resupply on food and get back on the trail plus the hotel was pre-booked in Mammoth. But the 13 miles with a 35 to 40 pound backpack on was just too much for my knees. The last two miles my knees really started to hurt. When I got to Mammoth I could barely walk the next day. This is the reason that, with great pain, I decided to exit and get a ride back to my car waiting at Whitney Portal, instead of pushing through and possibly further injuring myself. The next easy exit would have been over Bishop Pass, 5 to 8 days later.
I woke up before sunrise and watched the alpine glow over the granite peaks, packed up my wet tent and sleeping bag, and started hiking around 7:30am. By early morning, the mosquitoes were already out and getting to be in full force.
By lunch, I made it to Thousand Island Lake, which was stunning. You hike over Island Pass, and then it opens up to the beautiful view of the lake. Island Pass doesn’t feel like a Pass, there’s a lot less elevation gain that there would be on a normal pass. There was a lot of up and down on this day.
If you’re planning on camping somewhere near Thousand Island Lake, we were told by NOBO (northbound) hikers to stay somewhere above the lake but below the pass since the mosquitoes apparently were better there.
Down at the lake, I stopped for lunch and to jump in. The water was amazing! Honestly, just perfect. It was chilly, but not too cold to fully go swimming and dunk your head, but so refreshing, and it was warm outside and not windy. This was probably one of the most perfect swims I’ve had in an alpine lake so far. I definitely recommend water sandals! I wear Keen Whisper ones, it’s easier to get in lakes and over water crossings when you’re not worried about sharp rocks stabbing your feet. I like that the Keen Whisper sandals don’t have exposed toes. I feel more secure in the shoe and not worried about stabbing my toe on a rock.
After an hour long lunch, I went on the Pacfiic Crest Trail (PCT) instead of continuing along the John Muir Trail to get to Mammoth. There are a couple of ways to get to Mammoth from this area, but the PCT is the fastest. About half a mile from the lake, there is a junction to continue along the PCT or go down the River North Trail to the Shadow Creek Trail to Agnew Meadow, so I took that. It was actually a lovely hike. It was fairly mellow, not exposed, plenty of access to water, and cell reception! You could also see the gondola at the top of Mammoth Mountain.
I’ve heard that if you can see Mammoth Mountain, you’ll have cell reception. I don’t know if the rumor is true, or if it depends on your carrier, but I have Verizon and I had cell reception here. Good cell reception too.
I was hiking pretty slowly because of my knee. The last shuttle from Angew Meadows/Devils Postpile/Reds Meadow leaves at 7pm. We got there at 7:15pm and on a Tuesday so there were no cars to even hitch a ride. I’m in Mammoth quite frequently on the weekends, it was weird being there on a Tuesday, but I loved it! It’s so empty, so the last mile or so we were using the internet to check for Uber or Lift (which don’t really operate in Mammoth) or taxi services. We ended up calling a taxi and it cost us around $75 total for 2 people from Agnew Meadows to the Village in Mammoth.
Permits are required for all overnight trips in and leaving Yosemite Valley. For more info on how to get John Muir Trail permits, for both the full thru-hike and for a section, read through this blog post.