Day 6 (2016/08/25)
Start: 1,000 Island Lake
Distance: 12.7 miles
End: Rush Creek Trailhead/Silver Lake Resort, 7,230 feet
BEAUTIFUL beautiful morning. We got up at our 5:30 alarm but we took forever to get going because it was just so lovely. We had this incredible view to our right of the morning light on Banner Peak and the Ritter Range and to our left we watched the sun appear and rise, and between them was 1,000 Island Lake. I think we were the first ones up, but not the first ones out; it was a perfect, peaceful morning on top of the world.
We packed up all of our stuff and carried down the dishes. I didn’t mind that the tent was dirty and slightly damp because we didn’t need it again on this trip. I was thrilled that we wouldn’t have to actually properly wash the dishes because we had used them for the last time. We had purified our water the previous day using the tablets. If it wasn’t for those things, we probably would have taken three hours to get out.
It was bittersweet as we walked back to the main trail, but luckily we didn’t have to say goodbye just yet. The trail climbed up and we were given beautiful views of the lake from above. When we turned the corner and the lake disappeared from sight, we turned our excitement toward the Island Pass we would be going through! The ranger had told us it wasn’t much of a pass but after seeing McGee Pass we were excited.
The trail flattened out and we ran into a few people, some were oncoming and a couple of them passed us. It was a lovely bit of trail, and though I was excited to be in a shower, it was starting to feel bittersweet. Who would want to say goodbye to this?! We started going down, a lot, and I was confused because we were supposed to be heading up toward a pass and this stretch was only like 3 miles. The Adirondack hiker in me started to get nervous about how steep it would be. Greg pointed out that we may have already been through it, which would make sense since we were moving pretty strong, but if that was the case then it was really really not a pass.
We reached a junction, and that confirmed that we were in fact through the pass. Oops. We crossed a creek soon after and I joked that maybe this was Rush Creek. A second later we reached the Rush Creek trail junction. We said a sad goodbye and then parted ways with the PCT.
We had been moving pretty well up until this point, and then it was like the pain caught up with us. The pads of my feet were killing me so every step hurt and I had to keep taking breaks. Everyone had told us that this trail was rough, and the guidebook even said that it should only be used in emergencies. Well, it was definitely uglier by California standards, but not terrible. There were a lot of rocks, which didn’t add any pleasure for my feet, but it was still a beautiful trail.
We reached Waugh Lake and it was beautiful! The water in these lakes is this incredible blue!! We work our way around the lake, stopping here and there for pictures and to relieve my feet for a second or two. As we got closer we realized that there was a dam at the end of it! The path got a little softer and less rocky, and soon we were turning away from this one. We had thought we might eat lunch here but decided it could wait until the next lake a couple miles away.
We passed a tent city, complete with what looked like a tent shower! Greg wandered up to it to read the sign, which read: Designated Stock Camp. Looked like a pretty sweet place to set up! We started to see more and more people around this area, most of them had daypacks and fishing equipment with them. It was a wonderful sight! I went back and forth between being sad to leave and being excited to finish all day…
Our camera got on a weird setting for a bit 😦
We followed some horses (fresh presents!) down to Gem Lake and stopped for a lunch break on a log. I hadn’t wanted to do the extra 200 feet of walking but Greg convinced me to go down to the lake and it was worth it! We sat in the sun enjoying our peanut butter packets before putting the packs back on and moving along. We walked a fair way around the lake, looking down at the blue waters. It was hot, we were in the sun, and it was dusty, we reapplied sunscreen multiple times and drank lots of water but SPF 30 was not cutting it so I was forced to put my long sleeve shirt back on.
We saw quite a few of these throughout the trip. We thought they looked pretty aggressive for blazes and have since been informed that they might be pileated woodpecker holes! Glad we finally remembered to take a picture of one on the last day!
So much dust. I took the time to wonder about how much horse poop dust I had in my lungs after these few days. It felt like the walk around the lake was taking a long time, but as we turn away from it, we see Agnew Lake right away. Very far down, but it was a good sign of progress being made! It was very steep, and as expected, there were many switchbacks. I dropped my pole (the strap had broken that day) and thought it was gone forever – it was in the one place where there weren’t switchbacks just below, only a big rocky slidey drop – but Greg edged down and rescued it for me!
As we were pounding down the rocky, dusty trail, Silver Lake suddenly came into view. It was only 2.2 miles, according to the map, but it felt like longer. We crossed rail tracks, twice, during our switches and backs. We met a lot of upbound traffic, I did question their pretty late starts, but then I realized we had started even later so I had no right to judge.
We could see our goal in the distance, that resort right at the end of the lake, and after what seemed like forever we reached it! Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to get there. We thought there would be some big obvious signs of the Rush Creek Trailhead, but we saw nothing and ended up wandering off and onto the road through a trailer park. Not the big dramatic exit we had imagine, but a friendly guy in a golf cart pointed us to the general store and we plunked ourselves down with a nice cold ice cream.
We called our taxi (same guy who had dropped us off what seemed like so long ago) and sat around toiling with emotions of relief, sadness, excitement (for a full JMT trip one day perhaps), and aches.
The mountains are calling…