Day 11: MTR South Junction to Evolution Valley
Looking back on my trail experience I can only be amazed at my progression along the trail. I had to face many personal obstacles before even getting to the trail and then had more mental and physical obstacles as I walked my 200-mile journey.
Even though my worst day was Day 9, it still seemed inevitable that I would have a proper cry somewhere along the way. Day 11 started off with a lot of pain in my feet and ankles. It was the first morning that I struggled right out of the gate. The first two miles of the day were miserable, and a lot of it was due to my own personal attitude. I was tired, grumpy, grouchy, and frustrated by my body and by the trail. Every small ankle-twisting rock in my way seemed like a personal affront to my forward progress.
At mile 2 of the day we crossed Piute Creek and took a break in a nearby campsite. I honestly felt like I could not go forward any more. We were still near our lowest physical point on trail, and I believe that moment was also my lowest mental point. I broke down and had a personal pity party. I was seriously considering my options. Stop hiking for the day and mope around the campground? Head 12 miles up Piute Creek 12 to Piute Pass and an exit point? Or pull myself together and keep going?
As I’m sure you can infer, I managed to pull myself together. Dan was worried for me, but he was also a solid rock for me to lean against. He helped me bandage up my feet, got some pain killers into me, took some weight from my pack, and got me up and moving again.
The trail that morning followed along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, carving a path through the thick rocks of the canyon. As we worked our way up the canyon we were treated to beautiful views of the turbulent green waters below us. A few miles along, we crossed over the river and had a mile of enjoyably flat trail through forest and meadow.
I was certainly still suffering, but was trying not to focus on my miseries, instead enjoying the scenery as well as cruising along to music from my iPod.
At mile 5.5 we crossed the river again and took a short break at the base of a long series of switchbacks that would bring us up to Evolution Valley. As we got going again I was giving myself a pretty serious mental pep talk about taking it easy and giving myself the time needed to work my way up the 700 feet of rocky switchbacks.
I killed that ascent. While we weren’t moving ridiculously fast, we still passed another group who was obviously struggling more than me. My leg muscles felt strong and uphill didn’t hurt as much as flat or downhill. We also had some pretty awesome views down Goddard Canyon.
Eventually the trail started to level out and we walked alongside Evolution Creek for a bit before reaching a point where we would need to take our boots off and cross. We took a late and long lunch break and then thoroughly enjoyed the chance to get our feet wet in the cool rushing waters of the creek.
The next couple miles of trail were a mental challenge for both Dan and I. We passed by beautiful Evolution Meadow but then had a long gradual climb through granite slabs and thin forest. Dan was struggling with the extra weight he had taken from me. Plus, it was mid-afternoon and the heat of the day started wearing on us. The climb was hot and exposed.
We took another break beside Evolution Creek to have a hydration drink and to top up our water bladders. Finally we made it to McClure Meadow, one of the more beautifully lush spots along the trail. At that point we had a decision to make about our forward progress. Would we stop there or push on? Our decision was somewhat made for us as most of the campsites were already taken by other hikers. We decided to push on and drew some strength and calm from our amazing surroundings.
We took another break at Colby Meadow, indulging in some candy to help give us one more burst of energy for our last push. The last mile and a half of the day went surprisingly fast. Before we knew it, we were crossing Darwin Creek and scouting for a campsite among the slabs.
It turned out to be one of our nicest campsites along that section trail. We had awesome views of the surrounding peaks, a great place to hang our hammock, a stunning meadow for Dan to fish in and even deep rock pools of Darwin Creek to bathe in.
Most surprisingly, we had managed to hike 13.5 miles (21.7 km) that day. We had gone along a river canyon, through forest, beside waterfalls, along slabby granite, and past lush alpine meadows. Physically, we had travelled over 2000 feet in elevation, from 7,800 feet up to 9,940. Mentally, I had gone from a personal pity party to a celebration of my strength.
It seems that Evolution Valley is aptly named, as we certainly experienced an evolution of our own that day as we travelled to and through it.