Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake backpacking loop and landscape photography

Enjoying the sunrise at the base of Ritter peak as seen from the headwaters above Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Enjoying the sunrise at the base of Ritter peak as seen from the headwaters above Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

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This trip was our variation on a popular off-trail backpacking route out of Devil’s Postpile National Monument into the Ansel Adam’s wilderness. We took 5 days for lots of landscape photography and the extra weight that entails, but the trip can be made in 3 days. Though 5 is a nice pace with time for lots of exploration, and many of these locations you will have to yourself. Upon entering Devil’s Postpile, you either have to camp in a campground or take the shuttle bus in from the Mammoth Mountain lodge unless you go in and come out before 6am or 7:30 pm.We camped at Agnew Meadows, where the trailhead starts. This is a great spot, not too scenic, but far enough away from the monument and the river to allow for open spaces often enough.

We took the River trail, also called the lower trail, out to Thousand Island Lakes. This is the best trail option out as the PCT is high, exposed and has very little water along the 8+ mile route. We made it after about 4-5 hours of easy hiking and selected a spot far around on the north-west side of the lake. Thousand Island Lake can get crowded, and the farther north and west you go, the less people you see. Plus there are no trails on that side of the lake, but since the rest of our route was cross-country, we were perfectly set up.

Next we crossed over a low granite saddle to Garnet Lake and descended to a lush meadow just below Banner peak that was cut with deep, clear glacial streams. We loved that spot so much, never saw a soul and found spots to swim in that looked way better than the actual lake about 300 feet below us. Plus it was the meteor shower and there was a large flat granite bench overlooking the lake that made for perfect star watching.

Our third day found us staring at an almost vertical wall of granite and loose rock separating Garnet lake from Nydiver lake. Nathan and I had at it with no problems and signaled the rest of our group waiting below that it was not as steep as it looked. Everyone made it just fine and we descended the other side to the crown jewel of our trip, the completely untouched, unvisited Nydiver lake. Actually it is 3 lakes and a great granite cliff that looks nearly 1000ft straight down at Ediza Lake. Snow still surrounded this lake in spots and we found great jumping rocks and a few good flat spots to camp. We were so isolated, the girls walked around topless all day working on their burning man tans. This spot also proved excellent for nighttime star trail photography and photographs of the alpen-glow on Banner and Ritter peaks in the morning.

From Nydiver, we crossed a small granite saddle directly to the west and followed the most amazing glacial valley all the way down to Ediza Lake. I swear, you could not help but spontaneously burst out singing Edelweiss. This day was to prove our longest. After coming down to Ediza, we had some route-finding difficulties in the high meadow just above it crossing counter-clockwise around the lake and had to ford two steep streams and bushwhack through the brush. The better choice would have been to descend to lakeside and continue clockwise around the lake until you pick up the well-marked trail to Iceberg lake.

Above Iceberg lake was the most technical and difficult of the climbs on steep loose rock with some minor exposure. Nathan and I had to go back down and get the girls packs from them for the last few hundred feet, but we all made it to the top at 10,239 foot Cecile Lake and collapsed in the snow surrounding it.Well, ok, Monique and I jumped in that lake too.

The final leg of our day had us dropping about 800 feet from Cecile lake to Minaret lake, the camping spot for the final night.The map indicated a gently sloping glacial valley coming off the right side of the lake as you are looking downhill toward Minaret lake. Problem was, it started with a neigh unscalable 40 foot cliff.After some poking around, I found a scree field against the cliffs to the far left as looking downhill that then crossed a bench left to right and regained the glacial valley after it mellowed out. We followed this down to Minaret lake without incident and had a great night camping.From Minaret lake, you pick up the trail back to the ranger station at Devil’s Postpile.

The total distance is about 30 miles with an elevation gain/loss of about 5000 feet total.

Catching up on some reading and route planning near sunset at Thousand Island lake at the base of Banner peak in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 1 of a 4 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Catching up on some reading and route planning near sunset at Thousand Island lake at the base of Banner peak in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 1 of a 4 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Our tent is pitched on the rocks above Thousand Island lake at the base of Banner peak in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 1 of a 4 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Our tent is pitched on the rocks above Thousand Island lake at the base of Banner peak in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 1 of a 4 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Waking up with views of Banner peak as seen from the headwaters above Garnet Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 3 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Waking up with views of Banner peak as seen from the headwaters above Garnet Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 3 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Climbing the steep and moderately difficult route above Garnet Lake that connects over to Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 3 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Climbing the steep and moderately difficult route above Garnet Lake that connects over to Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 3 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Sunrise and reflection at the base of Ritter peak as seen from the headwaters above Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Sunrise and reflection at the base of Ritter peak as seen from the headwaters above Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Panoramic shot of sunrise and reflection at the base of Ritter peak as seen from the headwaters above Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Panoramic shot of sunrise and reflection at the base of Ritter peak as seen from the headwaters above Nydiver Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Getting a little high altitude fly fishing in at Nydiver lake, which is actually a complex of 3 lakes in Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 3 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Getting a little high altitude fly fishing in at Nydiver lake, which is actually a complex of 3 lakes in Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 3 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Hiking out from Nydiver Lake at the base of Ritter on our way across country to our final night at Minaret lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Hiking out from Nydiver Lake at the base of Ritter on our way across country to our final night at Minaret lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

We followed a spectacular glacial valley down from Nydiver Lake at the base of Mt. Ritter, to Ediza lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. The glacier started just a few hundred feet above me and the water was cold and pure. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

We followed a spectacular glacial valley down from Nydiver Lake at the base of Mt. Ritter, to Ediza lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. The glacier started just a few hundred feet above me and the water was cold and pure. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Some of the stream crossings and route finding became a little more difficult as we rounded the west side of Ediza lake in search of the trail to Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Some of the stream crossings and route finding became a little more difficult as we rounded the west side of Ediza lake in search of the trail to Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Paintbrush were still in bloom along the 10,000+ foot glacial valley leading up to Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Paintbrush were still in bloom along the 9,000+ foot glacial valley leading up to Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

The most difficult and dangerous climb was the steep and loose rock at the southern end of Iceberg lake heading up to Cecile Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

The most difficult and dangerous climb was the steep and loose rock at the southern end of Iceberg lake heading up to Cecile Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Snow angles in the August snow around Cecil lake, our highest lake at 10,239 feet after a difficult and long climb up from Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Snow angels in the August snow around Cecil lake, our highest lake at 10,239 feet after a difficult and long climb up from Iceberg Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

A small stream entering into Minaret Lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. The map shows the best possible cross country route down from Cecil lake to Minaret lake as a mellow glacial valley on descenders right. It starts with a class 5, 40ft cliff. The best way is to head descenders far left and descend the scree pile against the left-hand mountain base. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

A small stream entering into Minaret lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. The map shows the best possible cross country route down from Cecil lake to Minaret lake as a mellow glacial valley on descenders right. It starts with a class 5, 40-f00t cliff. The best way is to head descenders far left and descend the scree pile against the left-hand mountain base. This was day 4 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Star trails over the moonlit minarets just above minaret lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 5 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Star trails over the moonlit minarets just above minaret lake in the Ansel Adams wilderness. This was day 5 of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop.

Sunrise and alpen glow off the Minarets above Minaret Lake on our final day of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Sunrise and alpen glow off the Minarets above Minaret Lake on our final day of a 5 day cross country route that was a version on the popular Minaret Lake-Thousand Island Lake loop in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

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  • Ken ShouferMay 30, 2011 - 7:54 am

    Nice photography! You really know how to document a hiking trip. I’m hoping to backpack the Thousand Island loop this Summer.

  • Jamie GroverAugust 25, 2011 - 1:22 pm

    Thanks for the route description, and the photos. If it is possible to ask the authors about the trip, I would love to get their opinion.

    I was in the area on a similar, but reversed route in July, but with our gear at the time, a great deal of snow, and a large dog, we turned around at Ediza, and did not attempt to get between there and Minaret Lake. We suspected the possibility of the 40 foot cliff you described among other things.

    I am planning to go back in mid-september though, again with the dog, and we are trying to figure out if this same section of the route might be feasible with her, and if so in what direction. Any thoughts?

    I am even considering bringing a sling and a rope, and lowering her down that one cliff.

    Thanks in advance for any ideas. -Jamie

  • adminAugust 25, 2011 - 8:11 pm

    Hey Jamie,

    Obviously, there is no substitute for a high resolution map, but as I recall, after much searching around at the top of the cliff leading down towards Minarete Lake, we eventually found a 40 foot steep slope that we could scramble down with packs and hands and feet and no need for ropes. My guess is it would be even easier for a dog, but no guarantees eh.

  • adminAugust 25, 2011 - 8:15 pm

    PS Jamie,

    Just got a trip report from a friend who was up near Ediza and Iceberg lakes last weekend, 8-18-11, and said they were still frozen over!

  • Jamie GroverAugust 25, 2011 - 8:55 pm

    Thanks so much to both of you for those reports! -Jamie

  • AnneJanuary 9, 2012 - 2:03 pm

    Hi, great post! Thanks! Thinking about trying this route this coming August. Was there much evidence of bear activity up there? We usually stick to the north western sierras and have seen almost no bear activity the last few years. Did you carry bear barrels or sink your food? Thanks!

  • adminJanuary 11, 2012 - 2:25 pm

    We saw bear signs, but no overt activity. However, Thousand Islands Lake is pretty famous for lots of bears. It is a main stop on the large packtrains both for tours and for cacheing food for PCT through-hikers. That said, canisters are required if you cross into Yosemite National Park at any point, and we used them because we have them. However, I would probably have felt comfortable hanging a food bag from a tree most places. Just be careful. The higher lakes really showed no sign of bear activity. I would be concerned with Thousand Island lake and Minarete lake mostly.

  • bill dawsonApril 28, 2012 - 12:00 pm

    hi, inspirational photos and text. very informative too. if i can just pick your brains for a trip i hope to make aug/sep this year: did you use a pop-up tent or are there places at nydiver and TIL to peg out on. thanks, bill.

  • adminApril 30, 2012 - 7:43 am

    Hi Bill,
    My recollection of Nydiver is that there are a few flat spots where the sand is deep enough for pegs. We had a sierra clip flashlight tent, which is non-freestanding, so whether by pegs or tied around rocks, we had to stake it out somehow the whole trip.

  • Adam AllegroSeptember 24, 2012 - 10:14 pm

    These images are fantastic. Well done, and thanks for introducing me to this trail! I think I might go do it in the next couple weeks! I just got back to CA and am taking 2 months off before backpacking for a year, so looking for awesome places like this to photograph! Well done!

  • […] on the photography. For past adventures you can see our route through the Sawthooths, or our cross-country loop from thousand island lake to Minaret Lake, or some environmental photojournalism in the White Mountains or a ski trip up Mt. Shasta. High […]

  • River Trail | Can't Stay HomeJuly 17, 2013 - 10:13 pm

    […] route was based on a trip posted by a Tahoe area photographer: http://tahoelight.com/blog/2009/08/minaret-lake-thousand-island-lake-backpacking-loop-and-landscape-… While their trip took four nights, we stretched ours out into five nights.  We knew that weather […]

  • […] A group of us have been backpacking together for the last 5 years or so. We always go someplace in the High Sierra range, but this year decided to hit the Trinity Alps for a change of pace. Not knowing what to expect, I did some research online and found very few details, and even fewer of the kind of details I want. So what follows is the most detailed trip report you will find about backpacking the 4 lakes loop in the Trinity Alps wilderness. This trip report is from a photographers point of view, and from the point of view of a group of folks who like to swim in secluded lakes and are not particularly fond of seeing people from where they camp. If you get anything useful from this trip report, feel free to share. Also check out some of our high sierra trip reports such as Dusy Basin, Humphreys Basin, the Sawtooth Range, and Thousand Island Lake. […]

  • Rick WebberJuly 28, 2015 - 9:38 am

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip desc

  • Rick WebberJuly 28, 2015 - 9:50 am

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip blog, can’t get enough!! There is an extraordinary place to stay, albeit challenging to backpack in, (off trail) called ‘slide canyon’, we stayed for 3 days and ate wild pan sized rainbow trout. Nobody visits there, but on a full moon, surrounded by granite cliffs, you would think it was daylight ( at night). Most incredible place I have ever been in the minaret wilderness, thank you all for sharing the bounty of God’s treasures. We are so blessed, love you ALL !!
    I am Rikitikitavi, the mongoose in human form.
    ~~~¤~~♡☆♡~~~We r all very special!!! ^

  • David BrowneFebruary 11, 2016 - 10:55 am

    I have hiked the Ediza Lake to Minaret Lake cross-country route twice in both directions. The south side of Cecile Lake is mostly a cliff, but there is a steep slope route with a use trail on the far east side of the cliffs that presents no problems. It is obvious when you approach from Minaret Lake, but awkward to find coming from the other direction. You basically leave Cecile Lake at its far SE corner and hike in a SE direction for around 200-300 yards or so through jumbled terrain. The top of the slope is not easy to spot; it is to your right as you walk through a particular shallow bowl and is a minor break in the rocks on the right side. When you get to it, it becomes obvious as you look right down the entire slope and see the use trail, but there is no use trail exiting from the top that would make it easier to spot.

    This is a great hike. I have never stayed at Nydiver which looks wonderful, but I must second the opinion that the upland basin above Garnet is very beautiful, and it is nothing to stroll over there from Thousand Island Lake via the low saddle that separates the drainages. The hike up to Lake Catherine from Thousand Island Lake is also highly recommended. Look for small garnets in the metavolcanics found in the pendant rocks of the Ritter Range after you leave the granite of Thousand Island Lake. The following is a link to a picture of such a rock sample

    http://www.mindat.org/loc-30935.html

Fine Art Landscape Photography

Lake Tahoe Landscape Photographer

Scott Sady is a freelance and fine art landscape photographer based in Lake Tahoe and Reno. Scott specializes in Lake Tahoe landscape photography, Sierra landscape photography, Reno and Lake Tahoe stock images and freelance and photojournalism. Scott is available for freelance photography assignments in the Reno and Lake Tahoe area.