Forest camp above Ediza Lake to Lower Twin Island Lake
(9 miles, +3,300/-3,000 feet).
Today was extremely gorgeous! We basically spent the whole time circumnavigating the highly photogenic Ritter and Banner Peaks and the lakes below them. I will definitely need to come back to this part of the High Route.
To make things even better, I got the best sleep last night I think I have ever gotten on trail. My tent was perfectly snuggled in a flat dry copse of trees and I awoke only once the whole night!
This morning we packed up to a glowing Ritter and Banner that would only get bigger and lovelier as we approached them.
We waited to have breakfast until we hiked a bit and reached a flat area at the base of the glaciers below Ritter.
After breakfast we approached the glaciers and found a beautiful tarn at their base.
Slowly we started climbing away from this shangri-la over grassy slopes on our way towards Whitebark Pass above Nydiver Lakes.
The path grew a little steeper, but it was grassy and we needed only to keep our elevation as we wrapped around above Nydiver Lakes
On the other side of Whitebark Pass we got our first glimpse of Garnet Lake and the talus that lay below the pass.
I made my way down to a big boulder and waited in the shade for the rest of the group.
Garnet Pass was even easier than Whitebark Pass as we passed into the basin for Thousand Island Lake.
The High Route winds around Thousand Island Lake and keeps going straight northwest for a bit until it passes a very large ridge below Banner that contains the lake’s inlet. It then heads south-ish (and up!) to North Glacier Pass. We eventually came upon a distinct use trail that led the way up this beautiful valley.
Soon the route turned to talus and snow fields.
When we got to the top it was a bit of a fakeout — we needed to climb another 100 feet!
But we did finally reach the pass proper and we were immediately treated to gorgeous views of Lake Catherine sitting at 11,040 feet above sea level.
We stopped for a much-needed lunch (Ultashuffle said he used his last molecule of energy on that climb!) and enjoyed the lake before once again doing the talus shuffle.
Below Lake Catherine was another small lake that we carefully picked our way around
We then followed the outlet through meadows, past waterfalls, and over terrain that bordered on class 3 as we made our way through massive granite hills. I was really nervous about the description of this part of the High Route, but it turned out to be fine, with very little exposure and no need to lower packs anywhere.
The next part of the high route involved finding an old mule trail that switchbacks down a steep gully, again to avoid class 3 climbing. Fortunately we found it, and then followed a use trail nearly all the way to Twin Island Lake.
The last bit of our hike that we were nervous about was a deep stream crossing at the outlet for lower Twin Island Lake. The book on the High Route suggested that the strongest hiker in the group carry all the backpacks back and forth in chest deep water. But this late in the season it turned out to be a relatively easy leap across from a wet rock to a dry rock.
At the lake we stopped and looked at the map. It did not seem like we had enough time to make it to Bench Canyon tonight, and that meant we probably did not have enough time to make the bus in Tuolumne by Saturday evening. So we needed a plan B for the rest of the trip.
Fortunately, I had downloaded the list of back country passes from High Sierra Topix and I saw that there was a class 2 pass just two miles north of us that would take us down to Davis Lakes and back to the John Muir Trail. So we decided to make camp at the lake, enjoy a leisurely dinner, and head north in the morning.