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John Muir Trail

Day 5 of 22

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Monday, July 20th
Evelyn Lake Junction to Marie Lakes Junction
9.1 miles
2320 vertical feet (ascent)
1100 vertical feet (descent)

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GPX File

There was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms today, so I wanted to get up and over Donohue Pass as early as possible. To that end, my watch alarm sounded at 5:45am. Still, it was very cold (though clear), so that made it a little hard to get going in the morning. The sun finally reached our camp about the time that we left, 8:30am.

As we hiked along the flat trail through the rest of Lyell Canyon, we saw that the canyon was actually quite beautiful. We hadn't noticed this yesterday when it was cold and raining. We passed more campsites further up the trail, some of them still occupied. We also noticed what appeared to be a CCC camp on the opposite side of the river.

Lyell Canyon

Hiking up Lyell Canyon

Trail next to Lyell Fork

Reflections in Lyell Fork

Reflections in Lyell Fork

Cloud reflections in Lyell Fork

Continuing up Lyell Canyon

After about 3 miles of flat trail, we took a break by the river. An older gentleman walked down, saying he had been hailed on at Donohue Pass yesterday. So we should consider ourselves lucky. After the break, we returned to the trail, which now starts climbing toward the pass. After about 700 feet of climbing, it flattens out and reaches a bridge, where we took another break. There looked to be several nice campsites by the water here, still in the forest.

Looking back down at Lyell Canyon

Creek crossing

Footbridge over the creek

After our break, we crossed the bridge, passed a large group of hikers, crossed a stream, and then soon came to an unnamed lake. There were several campsites here, and 4 other people were resting here. At this point the trees basically end and there are great views across the lake and looking up toward the pass. We crossed the lake's outlet stream just in time to see a pika scurrying away.

Outlet stream

Looking up across the unnamed lake

Crossing the outlet stream

Now began the crux of the climb. We climbed on the rocky trail, gaining views of the lake below. Numerous little streams flooded parts of the trail, but it was easy to walk on the rocks to avoid getting wet. Eventually the trail levels off and actually descends briefly to another, smaller lake. There were several people milling about here, enjoying the views. A marmot scurried about near the lake. We crossed the lake's outlet stream and headed up the final stretch. I have to admit that having a nearly full pack was draining here, but we eventually made it to the top (but not before letting a pack train descend past us).

Looking back across the lake

Heading up toward Donohue Pass

Looking back down at the lake

Stream at the top of initial climb

Mountains to right of Donohue Pass

Small lake on the way to Donohue Pass

Reflections in the lake


Reflections in the lake

Looking back down at Lyell Canyon

Though rain threatened other mountains further away, the skies above the pass itself were mostly clear when we reached the top at 2pm. We now passed the sign telling us we were exiting Yosemite, passed the small pond at the top of the pass, and stopped to rest at the southeastern end of the pass. After a food break, we started our descent from the pass.

Top of Donohue Pass

Originally, our plan was to camp at Thousand Island Lake tonight. However, the climb up Donohue Pass with nearly full packs had drained us and taken a little longer than expected, so we resigned ourselves to camping sooner tonight. Plus, we were still a little worried about rain, so the sooner we could camp the better.

The descent from the pass was not too steep, but there were lots of rocky steps that slowed our progress. As we descended, we entered a beautiful green area with little streams flowing everywhere. We started to look for a campsite, but there weren't any ones obviously visible from the trail. We met a woman hiking the JMT solo starting from Lyell Canyon. She said she'd seen us on the Mist Trail on Tuesday (we were pretty recognizable with my kids wearing masks to guard against the sun). She had hiked the Mist Trail and had day hiked to Cathedral Lakes since she'd miss those on her backpacking trip. She said she'd probably camp at or near the Marie Lakes junction tonight. We'd see her again the next day.

Descending from Donohue Pass

View to the southeast

A marmot watches us descend


In the meantime, we continued to look for a campsite. Pikas and marmots were everywhere as we continued to descend. This is a beautiful area I'd love to revisit as some point. Eventually I spied a potential site down below to the left of the trail. Jean checked it out and said it would fit our tent. After setting up our tent here, though, we found a much better place nearby - a place with several tent sites and awesome views of the area. We relocated and were very happy with the new site, which was located about a half mile before the Marie Lakes junction.

Stream next to the trail

View to the north from our campsite

View to the south from our campsite

Setting up camp

Though the nearby stream was mostly stagnant, I found a place where it flowed freely (apparently near a marmot's home) and got water from there. As we finished dinner, it started to rain (around 7:30pm), and it continued to rain lightly until about 9pm.

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