Mount Davis is an unremarkable lump of rotten talus overshadowed by the iconic peaks Ritter and Banner to the southeast, its redeeming qualities being the vast summit views of the classic peaks surrounding it, and its membership on the SPS list.
The day starts with a distressingly gentle 9-mile hike on a superhighway trail from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, followed by intermittent use trails up a grassy slope along a stream (last water refill unless you want to descend to Lake Catherine) then talus to North Glacier Pass, and finally infinite class 2 talus forever to the summit. From North Glacier Pass there are 3.5-4 miles roundtrip of talus (depending on if you take the ridge or go around it), which is almost too much talus. There’s the kind of boulder field you can gleefully bounce across, and this was not it. Nonetheless, we thought it was a pretty average Sierra summit slog (disclaimer: the party consisted of three suffer-seeking individuals calibrated for long days of cardio/physical pain. An ordinary person would potentially resent this hike). The total was 27+ miles, 14 hours car-to-car. It’s all about the journey, right? Thousand Island Lake alone could make the day, that place is magical, and Lake Catherine was so blue.
For the adventurous, it looks like there’s a more direct route from the east, but we found very little information on it aside from these unannotated tracks from a reputedly hardcore peakbagger, and a sentence on Summit Post about its 4th class nature. From the top it looked loose, with snow patches, so we begrudgingly descended the way we came.
>So how was your day?
My buddy Phil had dutifully taken a COVID test and driven in from the city to embark on a 3-day backpacking trip with me, but the smoke from the Bay Area lightning fires arrived at Mammoth the same day he and his little Vanagon did, so we resigned ourselves to a lost weekend. Miraculously the smoke looked like it was clearing Friday night, and we managed to salvage our holiday by jumping aboard Yelly’s Saturday dayhike. Mica’s foot was still swollen, so she had to stay behind ):
We arrived to the Agnew Meadows parking lot at 6:30am, where there was already no parking! probably because the shuttle wasn’t running this year due to COVID.
The first 8 miles were a mellow stroll in the woods that flew by with pleasant company and conversation. We spotted a bear and cubs at the bottom of the valley, and then a frazzled NPC who had gotten separated from his family in the dark last night and had camped alone. He was extremely enthusiastic about a pool he had found that we had to go swim in right that minute (we declined the side-quest).
As we neared Thousand Island Lake, we got our first glimpse of Banner Peak:
There was a curtain of haze in the air, but the mountain was definitely visible!
As we descended to Thousand Island Lake, the ridge to the summit came into view, although we weren’t sure which one it would be at the time:
We left the lake at the west end of Thousand Island and started up the slope. Intermittent use trails follow the Middle Fork San Joaquin River until the river peels off west to its snowfield origins, while we continued south-ish up the gully.
At the pass we saw Lake Catherine, it had the bluest water. The wind got pretty intense here and was intense for the next mile.
From here we had the option of going straight up and along the ridge, or skirting around. We tried going up directly, but we stopped after 300 vertical feet because it was terrible and loose, and we starting traversing left and up instead. The next mile of talus sucked. Somehow I had expected there to be sand on the backside of the ridge (maybe because I climbed Conness recently), but it was ENTIRELY talus.
Then we crested a local maxima and could finally see Mount Davis. We scooted down this snow patch into the gully below, which had easier terrain.
I pulled something on the top of my right foot, which hurt with a shooting pain when my foot was angled up ): I actually considered stopping here because of that and the uninspiring terrain, but Yelly was feeling optimistic. Shockingly, the talus was less terrible from here, and two more soft low-angled snow traversals helped cover distance.
We’re at the top! It’s 13:50. I inhaled a burrito. We updated Leo (who had been waiting for hours at Thousand Island Lake to meet us for the hike back) on the realities of our dramatically over-optimistic schedule, and he headed out without us.
We played the peak identification game, and it was getting hazier with incoming smoke even as we sat there. I was amazed at how close Lyell looked, and felt inspired to climb it :D
After the ritual summit selfies, we started down.
>Time to Descend
We took a slightly different way down, I descended a chute and went further west, where I was met with gentle slab (which could be scary with the wrong shoes). I had decided to wear my new Altras (King MT 2) on this hike, and I found the rubber to be sufficiently sticky (noticably not as good as actual approach shoes, but better than any other trailrunner I’ve had).
There was a woop of joy when we reached the meadow at the end of the talus. We refilled water for the last time before hitting the extremely crowded shores of Thousand Island Lake, now swelling with Saturday evening backpackers and their cute pups. I stepped over a tent stake driven literally into the middle of the trail (??).
We passed a pair of rangers with shovels, which they said was for burying human poop. Do people…not do that??
The islands in the lake had a sunset glow. Me and Phil dunked our sticky bodies into the water, it was as glorious as I’d dreamed of all day.
The smoke got noticably worse on the hike back, by the last couple miles I felt like I was going to crash a BBQ at any minute. Our spirits remained mysteriously high, even when we started hallucinating bears. Night fell, but we were rich in headlamps and made it to the truck without incident at 20:45. When we got home 20 minutes later, Marco had dinner ready!
That was a long day and I’m happy to say that we didn’t scare Phil off from hiking with us :D