Day 11: 8.9 miles, 114.8 cumulative, Evolution Creek to Sapphire Lake (10,966′)
Nathan and I woke, ready for another wet crossing. Evolution Creek is considered another dangerous ford, but there is an alternate “meadow” crossing that is safe. So we waded through. It was two wide tributaries of the creek, nearly crotch high and cold…but safe.
We took a break after our crossings to dry out and lay out my solar charger, taking advantage of the first sun in days. We had a relatively short day with about 2000′ of elevation to gain over 9 miles. This was to set us up for the rest of the JMT. We were about to enter the “pass-a-day” phase. Each day would feature a pass to climb. Passes are ideally climbed before afternoon thunderstorms make them unsafe. So we planned to camp close to each pass to set up early climbs each day, and to never climb two passes in one day. The second half of the JMT was also higher in elevation. But we had our trail legs now and I looked forward to the spectacular views to come.
Our first few miles continued to follow Evolution Creek through several meadows…a very pretty section. All the water we encountered was crystal clear and amazing colors. Blues and greens and occasionally an aqua blue that was the exact color of blue raspberry snow cones. 🙂
Finally we arrived at the climb up to Evolution Basin. Switchbacks would take us 1000′ up the side of the canyon. It was raining and thundering again, so we took shelter in the forest for awhile. When the thunder finally grew faint and the rain stopped we began the climb.
The Basin is well above the treeline and was spectacular, full of alpine lakes. Evolution Lake was absolutely stunning and had lots of great campsites. We had to push on however. We had planned on going all the way to Wanda Lake, but NOBO’ers had told us that it was still completely frozen over so we stopped at Sapphire Lake instead.
Sapphire Lake was beautiful. A high alpine lake, we camped on a granite slab, no vegetation to speak of. We met and chatted with E, a solo hiker. A short while later S & P, the geologists, showed up and camped by us. It was their one year anniversary, and we all shared a drink and talked until dark. Finally we were shivering so much in the cold we were forced to retire. But the sky was finally clear and the night stunning.
Day 12: 11 miles, 125.8 cumulative, Sapphire Lake to Little Pete Meadow (8860′)
The morning was cold, but the sky was blue and cloudless. We had 1000′ to climb in about 3 miles to summit Muir Pass (11,975′). Nathan and I were looking forward to it as it was not only John Muir’s namesake, but Muir Hut awaited us. It was fairly flat as we hiked on to Wanda Lake, and we had a wet crossing at the the genesis of Evolution Creek as it tumbled down from the lake outlet. Wanda was indeed still frozen over. We don’t get a lot of frozen lakes in Texas, and Nathan and I enjoyed lingering at its banks for a bit. The breeze was pushing the ice against the rocky shore and the sound of the ice breaking on the rocks was hypnotizing. Nathan played with the ice for a bit before we continued on. 🙂
The climb was hard, as all climbs were. I had discovered that climbing above 11,000′ seemed especially hard as the available oxygen dipped to only 65%. Eventually we made it. The views of course were extraordinary, and the Muir Hut remarkable. The hut was built stone by stone in 1930 by the Sierra Club as a shelter to hikers, and still stands today.
Usually hiking down the mountain after reaching a pass is relatively easy. But after Muir Pass there was at least 3 miles of snow on the south side and it was a bit tricky. There was no trail, just endless footpaths in the snow. Nathan and I crossed several snow bridges where we stepped as gingerly as we could and hoped this wasn’t the day the snow finally broke through. We crossed so many creeks that we gave up on trying to stay dry and just trudged through. It took us two hours to walk one mile downhill…
Finally we emerged from the snow into the green. There were still so…many…river crossings. But it truly was beautiful.
We encountered a lovely older couple (70’s at least). She said she would just keep backpacking until she was too old. When they crossed a river in front of us the husband held his wife’s hand in the swift current to hold her steady. All the people we met on the trail amazed me. So many stories. Hikers are a friendly bunch, and we observed many acts of humanity. Sharing information, food, supplies, conversation…even time. Stripped of the things that divide us back in the world…we were just people.
Finally we joined up with the Middle Fork Kings River and followed it’s churning whitewater to our campsite at Little Pete Meadow. Along the way we unexpectedly came upon the famous rock monster, and Nathan posed for a few pictures. S & P came along later and camped by us again. We quickly learned that our campsite was a favorite spot with the local deer…which was fine by all of us.
“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” -John Muir