Day 13: Evolution Lake to Little Pete Meadow
As far as passes along the JMT go, I believe that Muir Pass is my favourite. I have now had the chance to do the approach from both directions and Southbound is definitely the way to go!
We knew we would be above the treeline for most of our day so we decided to get an early start and reduce our exposure as much as was in our control. As we hit the trail, Evolution Lake was still in shade, the sun hiding behind Mt. Darwin’s impressive ridges. It stayed quite cool as we travelled above the North shore of Evolution Lake.
The sun caught us just as we crossed the inlet to the lake. We took a short break on the nearby granite, for me to do some morning First Aid on my blisters.
The climb up from Evolution Lake to the pass is quite gradual, travelling 1100 feet over 4.5 miles. It is also stunningly beautiful, for all it’s granite starkness.
We passed along and above the West shore of Sapphire Lake, which truly does deserve it’s name. The rocks and grasses we walked among were littered with White Mountain Heather, Giant Red Paintbrush and Lemmon’s Paintbrush.
We continued working our way up through the wide glacier-carved valley, passing another (un-named) lake and then climbing through the many outlet streams to Wanda Lake, a large and deep lake just below Muir Pass.
We were stunned to see fish in Wanda Lake. We had assumed it would be too high (11,400′) or too cold, as this area keeps it’s snow much later in the season than many other passes along the trail. But there they were, teasing us in the crystal-clear waters near the shore.
We worked our way along the North shore of Wanda Lake, starting to see Muir Pass quite clearly, and even making out the famous Sierra Club stone hut shelter nestled in the Pass. From our perspective on the West side, Muir Pass looks like a pass should: a lower, gently rounded notch between soaring ridges.
The approach from the shore of Wanda Lake through to the Pass was surprisingly easy, just a matter of breathing through the thin air and continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Before we knew it, we were standing at 11,955 feet!
The Pass and hut were very busy with both Southbound JMT hikers and Northbound PCT hikers. We took a good long break to relax, have a snack and socialize with the other hikers. Everyone seemed very proud of their efforts to get to Muir Pass!
Leaving the Pass, we dropped through some switchbacks and snow patches to Helen Lake. The trail ducks through a thin notch of rocks at the outlet of Helen Lake and then starts a steep drop through a gorge alongside the Middle Fork of the Kings River.
The trail was quite challenging for me, due to it’s rocky and steep nature. I can’t count how many times I twisted an ankle, or caught a tender blister on the point of a rock.
Thankfully the scenery was incredibly beautiful, with the River creating cascades and waterfalls and the gorge lined with amazing wildflowers. We stopped for a much-needed lunch break at a lake that was teeming with tadpoles, whose movements created immense ripples as we walked past.
For the rest of the day we travelled continuously downhill, working our way through switchbacks and dropping back into the tree line. As we reached the shade of the larger trees we were surprised to see a rock monster along the trail! It was a close call for Dan…
The trail levelled out a bit as we reached mile 10 of our day. Our goal for that day was to get as close to the Bishop Pass trail junction as we could, because we would be meeting friends there the next day.
As the shadows lengthened we managed to push ourselves just a little bit further, hiking past Big Pete Meadows. We really didn’t want to camp in a buggy spot and so ended up at an isolated campsite on a bench above LeConte Canyon. We were treated to a beautiful sunset and an amazing moonrise.
It was a perfect end to a challenging but awesome day.