Peak with easy access off the JMT, but…..
In sections, I have been blessed with the opportunity to backpack the entire John Muir Trail, completing several of the sections on multiple occasions. In my opinion the Red’s Meadow to Yosemite Valley segment provides the best mix of trees, meadows, mountains and lakes. While on our treks, we attempt to summit prominent peaks along the way.
One close peak that always escaped our grasp, primarily as a result of our interest in traveling from Thousand Island Lake to Tuolumne Meadows in a single 20 mile day was Donahue Peak, despite its fairly close proximity to Donahue Pass. In fact in our 2004 JMT trek, we planned on climbing Donahue, however once reaching Donahue Pass and realizing, now with less energy than sitting at a computer planning the trek, we still had 12 miles or so left to travel to Tuolumne decided to pass on the peak.
For our 2008 trek, I was determined to budget time to summit this peak and therefore revised the trek plan and split the 20 mile day, planning a camp below Donahue Pass at Kuna Creek at the South end of Lyell Canyon.
The Trek to Donahue Pass
Our Group consisted of 3 adults and 4 Scouts part of our Boy Scout Troop 93 in Fullerton California. The weather was crystal clear as we left our camp at Thousand Island Lake at about 8 am and begin our third day on the trail for this JMT section which began in Red’s Meadow. Progress was good as we hiked toward Donahue Pass. Donahue Peak became the dominate feature about 2 miles North of Island Pass and continued to be so until the final press to the pass itself. We stopped for lunch and to resupply water at a meadow directly below the peak (primary TR photo) as light clouds began to appear in the distance giving some concern of afternoon thunderstorms impacting not only or summit attempt but just crossing the pass considering it’s exposed location as well. Fortunately the clouds never materialized into a serious threat either for the pass or peak.
Climb to Donahue’s Summit from the Pass
We reached the pass at about 2 pm, dropped packs and contemplated whether or not to still climb the peak. Most of the boys where lukewarm on the attempt but thanks to the assistance of Andy, one of the other adult leaders all agreed to participate. His statement to them “ if you don’t do it now, you will never do it”, had a convincing ring of truth mixed with fact. How many times in other venues have we all potentially procrastinated under similar circumstances?
With only water and the 10 essentials we all moved quickly and easily toward the peak crossing three small hilly rocks before beginning the actual climb to the summit. As we traversed from the southwest ridge and onto the West, Northwest ridge line, the climb turned to fairly easy boulder scrambling. One route description I read before the outing suggested crossing along the Northern base then climbing the East Ridge line. Regardless of this recommendation the route we were on seemed very straight forward and elected to proceed up the Northwest face.
The Summit Ridgeline
Everyone made good progress but upon reaching what appeared to be the summit, we now understood the better way up was via the guide book’s East Ridge recommendation. The actual peak is situated on the far East end of the ridge line, which really is not a problem apart from the fact the upper ridge is nothing but very large rocks which makes the traverse a bit slow. Found the summit bench mark but could not find a summit register anywhere.
The view from the summit is spectacular, especially in my opinion the view to the South with views of Mt. Davis, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, thousand Island Lake, and Mammoth Mountain (photo in this section). We spent a good hour on the summit thanks to the fairly clear skies and no wind.
Descent, Return to Donahue Pass, and Camp site
I decided to descend via the Eastern ridge line, finding it far less populated with boulders and at the base of the steepest portion of the peak turned West back toward the pass. When reaching the small hills we decided to traverse along their base which turned out to be more difficult due to boulders and loose rocks. A much better option was to proceed up and over the three hills, as we did on the approach as it would have been a far easier and faster way back to the pass.
We didn’t return to the pass until after 6 pm, took only a short break, then headed down the toward trail toward Kuna Creek. After about a mile we discovered a very nice high alpine campsite well off the trail , with a good water source, so we decided to make camp. The site provided us a very nice view straight up to Mt. Lyell and its glaciers.
Donahue Peak is a perfect JMT trekker’s peak as it will only result in a few hour delay in your travel. It is well worth the few hour delay and in either direction you are heading on the JMT, your next few miles to camp, for the most part, are downhill.
I highly recommend this rarely climbed peak on your trek along this section of the JMT.