The big trip this year was a backpack through the Evolution Basin region in California’s John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. The trip was partly on trail (the John Muir Trail (JMT)) and partly cross-country. Weather was generally excellent, except for afternoon thunderstorms, the worst ravishes of which we were able to mostly avoid until the last day. It’s been a drought year in the Sierras, so there was no late season snowpack to speak of and we were thus spared the need to carry ice axes and crampons that might otherwise have been needed for safety on some of the cross-country segments.
We started at the Lake Sabrina Trailhead about 20 miles southwest of Bishop, California, and followed the Sabrina Basin Trail #31E01 up the Middle Fork of Bishop Creek,
to Midnight Lake and then went cross-country to camp at the outlet of Moonlight Lake.
From the bench at the north end of the lake, we had a great view down into the Owens Valley.
That night we were treated to an enthusiastic thunder and lightning extravaganza right over our heads but, by morning, clear skies were back. From Moonlight Lake we headed cross-country to Echo Lake and then climbed up to and over Echo Col, a 3rd class “knapsack” (to use an old Sierra Club expression) route that crosses the divide just southeast of Clyde Spires. In a high snow year we’d probably have needed an ice axes (and maybe crampons) to cross it safely but for us it was just scree and ledges.
From the Col, we had a magnificent view into the heart of the Sierras.
While the guidebooks go on at length about what it takes to climb the Col from the east, they fail to mention the seemingly endless benches and slopes of boulders and scree to the west. It took us a lot longer than expected to work our way down from the Col, past Lake 11428, to a camp near the John Muir Trail.
That night a faux thunderstorm (it didn’t actually rain) brought some color to our view.
The next morning we headed up the JMT with views of Mounts Warlow and Fiske,
to camp at Lake 11939 – our highest camp of the trip – below Mount Solomons.
The lake, calm in the evening light,
encouraged a high-altitude swim the next morning. An early morning bath at almost 12,000 feet clearly defines “bracing.”
After everyone got warmed up (including those of us who got chilled just looking at someone in the water), we went back to the JMT and followed it up to Muir Pass and its hut.
The hut was built in 1931 as an emergency trail shelter and has been a real plus for those hardy few who ski the JMT in the winter.
From Muir Pass, we dropped down to camp at the north end of Wanda Lake (with Mount McGee in the distance),
from whence we had a view of the Goddard Divide and Mt. Goddard.
From camp, we dayhiked into the Davis Lake Basin to the west,
and had a go at Mount Goddard, only to turn around abruptly about halfway up as the first peals of thunder echoed across the valley – we just made it back to camp before the rain started. Fortunately, it let up in time to cook dinner and the next morning almost all was forgiven weather-wise,
and we were on our way to another bluebird day in the Sierras.
From Wanda Lake, we hiked north on the JMT through the upper Evolution Valley, past Sapphire Lake,
and then turned northeast on a good use trail that took us up onto Darwin Bench,
enroute to Darwin Canyon and Lamarck Col. We followed an on-again, off-again use trail and cairns up Darwin Canyon,
to camp at a site with magnificent views of Mount Mendel,
and Mount Darwin (which I’d climbed almost 30 years ago – seems taller now).
After camping overnight in Darwin Canyon, we went up and over Lamarck Col,
and down on both use and real trails, past the Lamarck Lakes, to the trailhead at North Lake.
We had planned to spend our last night near the Lamarck Lakes but what had started as a passing thunderstorm at the Col had, by the time we reached the lakes, morphed into a steady 5+ hour soaking rain. A strategic retreat to a dry hotel room in Bishop, California seemed the prudent choice – the availability of hot springs and beer may also have influenced our decision. After too many years away from the Sierras, this was a very gratifying – albeit strenuous – way to stage a return. We were able to spend the entire trip above 10,500′ in some of the most rugged and awe inspiring parts of The Range of Light. Magnificent! Approximately 26 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation gain.