Thousand Island Lake and Gems of the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13122A, Backpack


  • Explore spectacular Thousand Island Lake
  • Revel beneath the towering Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak
  • Wander or relax amongst the Sierra’s grandest sights on a planned layover day


  • Group cooking gear and bear cans
  • All on-trip meals
  • Permits and first night campground fees 


DatesJul 3–7, 2013
Difficulty2 (out of 5)
StaffNancy Mathison

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Trip Overview

The Trip

"The mountains are calling and I must go." - John Muir

This trek through the Ansel Adams Wilderness to the spectacular chain of lakes that lie at the base of the Minarets, Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak traverses some of the most dramatic terrain of the Sierra Nevada. Inspired by their brilliance, early adventurers bestowed these lakes with names of precious gems, such as Garnet, Emerald, and Ruby. In just four days we will experience the magnificence of the High Sierra wilderness, yet our secluded campsites are each less than a day’s journey from a trailhead. We will hike on three days, and take a layover day in which we may choose to relax or explore nearby lakes, meadows, and peaks. The trip is over the Fourth of July weekend, allowing time to arrive a couple of days before the trip to acclimate to the altitude, and to have a day or so after the trip ends to catch our breath before returning to our other lives.


Day 1: On Wednesday, July 3, we will meet at a campground near the resort town of Mammoth Lakes for our first evening together.  We will enjoy a potluck dinner as we get acquainted with each other and review details for the trip.

Day 2: On the morning of Thursday, July 4, we will drive from the campground to the Mammoth Ski Lodge, where we will catch a tram down to Agnew Meadows.  We begin hiking along the middle fork of the San Joaquin River.  Ideally we would like to hike the entire 7.3 miles to spectacular Thousand Island Lake, made famous by the photographs of Ansel Adams. In order to do this, trip members will be need to be well acclimated to the 9,000-foot elevation level found near the Mammoth Crest, and well conditioned to carrying a pack weighing up to 40 pounds.

Day 3: We’ll take a layover day and camp for a second night at spectacular Thousand Island Lake. Trip members may spend the day relaxing, hiking to any number of nearby lakes, or exploring the basins below Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak.

Day 4: From Thousand Island Lake we will find the John Muir Trail, which we will follow southward past Emerald, Ruby, and Garnet Lakes to camp at beautiful Ediza Lake.

Day 5: Reluctantly we will depart our final camp and hike down Shadow Creek to Agnew Meadows, where we will catch the tram back to our parked cars at the Mammoth Ski Lodge. We plan to arrive at the lodge by mid-afternoon, however our schedule will be flexible to accommodate any unforeseen conditions or circumstances we encounter during our adventure.



Getting There

Our hike begins and ends at the Agnew Meadows trailhead, elevation 8,300 feet, near the town of Mammoth Lakes on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. Mammoth Lakes is about 160 miles from Reno, 250 miles from San Francisco, and 310 miles from either Las Vegas, or Los Angeles. Trip members arriving from other parts of the country should explore the option of flying to one of these major cities and sharing a rental car or arranging a ride. We will send a trip roster to all participants well before the trip in order to help facilitate ride-sharing. Specific driving directions will also be sent before departure.

Accommodations and Food

All on-trip meals, beginning with breakfast on our first hiking day (Thursday, July 4) are included in the trip fee.  The leader enjoys planning meals that are flavorful, diverse, and, at times, atypical of usual backpacking fare. We will provide a menu that appeals to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Trip members will share the responsibilities for meal preparation and clean up.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated  2 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most strenuous. Mileage on our three hiking days ranges from 7-9 miles, with a total of 25 miles for the entire trip. Our first day will be the most challenging as we hike up nearly 1,500 feet and 7.3 miles with full packs loaded with four days' worth of food and gear. Our camp at Thousand Island Lake will be just under 10,000 feet, and our camp at Ediza Lake will be at 9,200 feet.

Participation in this outing requires that you have recent backpacking experience, are in excellent physical condition, and have realistic expectations for the trip. Our objectives are to enjoy some spectacular country and to complete the trip safely as a group.

Known for its temperate summer weather, the High Sierra can also experience sudden, unexpected spells of rain, hail, snow, heat and cold. Daytime temperatures can soar into the upper 80s, while nighttime temperatures can dip into the 30s or lower.  It is essential that you be prepared for extremes in weather conditions, and also be flexible so that we can adapt our route to accommodate unexpected conditions or events.

Equipment and Clothing

We provide the following items: food (including all trail snacks), pots, cooking utensils, stoves, fuel, and bear-proof cans. At the beginning of the trip you will be issued one bear can loaded with food, plus a portion of the group gear, which together will weigh up to 15 pounds. Please limit your personal gear to 25 pounds or less, so that your total pack weight is less than 45 pounds, including 1-2 liters of water. You may bring your own water filter, or we will provide information regarding alternate water treatments prior to the trip.

We require sturdy, fully broken-in leather boots with rubber lug soles for this trip. We recommend that you waterproof your boots before beginning the trip. For shelter, we strongly encourage you to bring a tent with a rain fly -- a lightweight waterproof tarp is the required minimum. For raingear, bring a waterproof jacket and pants instead of a poncho.

The leader will send detailed equipment recommendations to participants well in advance of the trip. More information regarding personal gear may be found at the following link:



Please bring your own map and compass, both for your personal safety and to more fully appreciate our route and the inspiring landscape surrounding us.

  • The U.S.G.S. 7.5-rninute "Mount Ritter," "Mammoth Mountain" and "Koip Peak" quadrangles together cover our planned route.
  • Or, the 1:63,360 scale map published by Tom Harrison, "Mammoth High Country".
  • Or, the 1:63,360 scale map published by the U.S. Forest Service, “A Guide to the Ansel Adams Wilderness” also covers our route.

Maps may be purchased online:


  • Alsup, William, Missing in the Minarets: The Search for Walter A. Starr, Jr.  The book centers on the search for Walter A. “Pete” Starr, and is filled with wonderful background on the legendary early mountaineers and explorers of the Sierra.
  • Arnot, Phil, High Sierra: John Muir’s Range of Light.  Written in 1996 when the Ansel Adams Wilderness was formerly called the “Minaret Wilderness,” this has excellent descriptions of the entire area of our trip along the Ritter Range.
  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada (published by the California Academy of Sciences), is an excellent guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails.  An excellent general reference to trails, cross-country routes, and climbing routes in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Winnett, Thomas and Jason Winnett, Sierra North: 100 Backcountry Trips in California’s Sierra, has excellent descriptions of each segment of our trip.


"Do something for wildness." – John Muir

The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it." – President Lyndon B. Johnson

We will venture off-trail into pristine alpine lake basins, which appear today much as they must have to the early mountaineers of the 19th century. We will share the mountaineers' stories and their visions for ensuring the preservation of this treasured wilderness for many generations to come. As a group we will diligently observe Leave No Trace principles and invite discussion of current efforts to protect our wilderness lands.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Inyo National Forest.



Nancy Mathison took her first wilderness trip to the High Sierra in 1972 and has returned to its spectacular landscape to backpack and cross-country ski every year since then. She began participating in the Sierra Club National Outings Program in 2001 to venture off the beaten path with other backpackers who share her love for adventure and the wild, pristine beauty of the Sierra. Having led over 20 trips for Sierra Club National Outings, she has backpacked throughout the western United States and Alaska, and has hiked in Switzerland and Italy. In her other life back down at sea level, Nancy is a professional clarinetist and teaches instrumental music in the public schools. She enjoys weekly hikes in the mountains near Santa Barbara, and has recently begun to dabble with organic urban farming.

Assistant Leader:

Ann Carey rediscovered the joys of hiking in the Sierra Nevada 18 years ago on an Outward Bound trip for women, and has been exploring this vast range every year since then. From initial trip planning, to gear “pfaffing,” camp setup and deconstruction, and the final haul back to the trailhead, she relishes every challenge of an extended trip in the backcountry. Summits are her passion, but a high pass or open meadow hold equal beauty. She characterizes her leadership style as “leading from behind,” encouraging individuals and groups to take initiative and test their skills. When not in the mountains, she is an avid road cyclist and aspiring gardener, and a financial consultant to public agencies.

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