Backpacking the Ansel Adams Wilderness Day 1

Day 1

Backpacking the Ansel Adams Wilderness

Mammoth Lakes, CA


This year’s backpacking trip took me to the Pacific Crest and the John Muir Trails within the Ansel Adams Wilderness. It was such an awesome adventure and I am so excited to share the images with you all.

  • Trip planning - The what, when and where.

The planning phase was a little difficult this year due to the record snowfall in the Sierras.  I really wanted to be there when the flowers were blooming, but with the snow pack at over 200% of normal I really had no idea when the trails would be clear.  One thing was for sure, my planned 4th of July time frame wasn’t going to work at all.  I pushed my dates back to the last weekend of July and hoped for the best knowing that I would have to be fluid and hope I could grab a walk-in permit.

I scoured the internet for posts on current conditions along the trail in the area I was planning for.  Updates were hard to find early on, but information started to trickle in as we got further into July.  With less than a week left till go time and spotty information at best, I made up my mind to just make a plan and go for it.  I would try for walk-in permit for the Shadow Lake trail out of the Agnew Meadows Trail head.

  • Departure Day - Ready, set, go.

It’s 5am and my alarm clock is squealing, it’s go time.  I drag myself out of bed, get the coffee going and load my gear into the truck.  Spirits are high but there is also that old familiar feeling.  Did I remember to pack everything?  I went over my checklist, and this sure isn’t my first backpacking trip, but did I miss something?  The lenses?  The tripod?  An extra pair of socks?  I go through this every time I hit the road for the trail head.

The adventure begins as I head off for Mammoth Lakes.  Today’s drive will take me through Yosemite and over Tioga Pass.  First stop would be the Visitor Center in Lee Vining, hopefully leaving with a walk-in permit in hand.  If not I’ll have to make up a plan B on the fly.

Either I’m off to a good start or the trail is completely snowed over as their 21 available walk-in spots for the Shadow Lake Trail.  Whatever, I’ll take it.  While processing my permit the Ranger asks me where I’ll be camping each night.  I was excited to say “Lake Ediza” for the first night as I’ve been looking forward to taking photos of the sun setting over the Minarets.  His response of “Ediza is frozen over” set me back a bit.  Maybe I'll be camping on snow tonight…

On to Mammoth for a quick lunch and then hop on the Devils Post Pile shuttle bus.  If you can get past the check in booth before 7am you can drive to the Trail head.  Otherwise you are stuck riding the shuttle and shelling out $7.

  • At the Trail head – Let’s do this!

Everything is going to plan so far and I’m excited to get some miles in.  As I tighten down my waist belt the feeling of anxiety from the morning is nowhere to be found. Funny how calming being on the trail is.  I’m living in the moment.

The trail begins by slowly dropping down and then following the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River up canyon.  At roughly 2.5 miles I took the bridge over the river and began the ascent to Shadow Lake.  This section of the trail has little shade and lots of rock.  I’d recommend traversing this section early, or late in the day to beat the heat if possible.  1 mile and 700’ later I make it to Shadow Lake.

As I walked along Shadow Lake I saw a couple sitting on some rocks with their little one in their arms. I looked closer and with a questioning voice yelled out "Becky?".  “Bessie?” she replied as she looked up, a little startled and dismayed. I was amazed to run into an old high school friend in such a remote location.  It just goes to show how small the world truly is. We chatted for a few minutes then I went on my way to reach my destination before nightfall.  Ediza.

  • Halfway Point - Only uphill from here.

Continuing on I chatted up every downhill hiker I passed trying to get some insight into what lay ahead for me.  Everyone I passed assured me that there was no snow on the trail; however, they did say that the bridge below Ediza had been washed away.  I would have to ford the creek or do some boulder hoping if I wanted to make it to the lake.

I pressed on to a nice meadow on the side of Shadow creek. 

It was so gorgeous I decided this was a good place for a break.  I could have sat here for the rest of the day but I need to press on if I hoped to make Ediza before nightfall.  As told I had to boulder hop the last 100 yards or so as I didn’t feel like crossing the creek.  This was a bit difficult but let me tell you, it was completely worth it!

Ediza doesn’t have a ton of room to camp and there was a surprising number of people already set up.  With sunlight fading I made the decision to get some shots, then double time it back down to the meadow along the creek.  If I hurried I could make it before nightfall.

  • Along the Creek - Home for the night

The meadow along the river made for the perfect evening after a total of 9 miles on the trail.  I opted for some stargazing since campfires are not allowed in this area.  As I sat there enjoying the sound of running water and the cool night breeze the Milky Way appeared directly over the peaks above me.  No way!


Trail Details of Day 1:

Trail head: Agnew Meadows

Miles to Shadow Lake: 5 | Miles to Ediza: 7.5 | Total Mileage: 8.93

Elevation Gain: 2446' | Elevation Loss: 1785' | Highest Elevation: 9286'

Wilderness: Ansel Adams Wilderness

Permits: Wilderness permit required for backpacking

Other: Campfire restrictions and Bear Can required

** In order to get to the trail head you have to ride a shuttle for $7

Aerial Map of Day 1: Trail head to Ediza Lake and then to camp

Day 1 Aerial with elevation profile:

Day 1 was a huge success for hiking and getting beautiful photos. Let me know if you have been to this area by leaving a comment below. If you want to see days 2-4 make sure you subscribe to my blog.

Wishing you nothing but absolutely amazing adventures!


Images are for sale at Bessie Young Photography