Day 8: Evolution Lake over Muir Pass to Big Pete Meadow (12.1 mi.)

Aug. 4:  Today we climb Muir Passóour first 12,000 footer.  Well, almostóitís only 11,955.  And despite camping as close to the pass as possible given the size of our group, itís going to be a long haul.  Not terribly steep or difficult; just longó1100 feet of net elevation gain in 5.8 miles, mostly while walking at an elevation of over 11,000.

Iím up early and packed up by 6:15 since someone said we should try to hit the trail by 7:30 am.  The day dawns bright with a clear sky.  But itís cold with a small breeze that makes it feel colder.  Everyone has their winter hats and mittens on as we wait for hot water/coffee and the sun to clear the tops of the mountains.  Itís 8:30 by the time we finish the dishes and 8:50 when we finally set off.

For the first 1+ mile of the 5.8 miles to the top of the pass, we hike from one end of the lake to the other.  (The part of the lake we couldnít see from our campsite is much larger than the part we could see.)  Weíre walking into the wind, so itís a bit chilly, especially when it gusts.  After crossing the inlet, we head up a rocky canyon (good wind funnel), passing Sapphire Lake (beautiful) on our way to Wanda Lake (11426), where thereís not a speck of green to be seen.  To our left (east) is the Goddard Divide with the peaks of Mt. Goddard and Mt. Warlow.  We leave the shores of Wanda Lake to ascend eastward, first to Lake McDermand and then on to the top of Muir Pass (11955).  The very last bit is fairly steep and rocky.  I reach to top at 12:20 p.m.; 3 Ĺ hours for not quite 6 miles.

At the top of Muir Pass, the Sierra Club has erected a stone hut in memory of John Muir.  At 12,000 ft., the sun may be warm, but the wind makes it feel really cold.  So, everyone quickly ducks into the hut, which has a bench around its inner perimeter, to eat their lunch.  Itís no heat wave in here, but itís protected from the wind.  Before proceeding down, we brave the wind to take photos.

Wanda & McDermand Lakes Pat Descending from Muir Pass

When we cross the pass over the Goddard Divide, we change from the drainage of the San Joaquin to that of the Kings River.  The initial descent from the pass is steep and on talus.  Then, we have a brief respite as we skirt the shore of Helen Lake (11617).  (Wanda and Helen were the names of John Muirís daughters.)  At the outlet from Helen Lake, the trail and the stream, which will become the Middle Fork of the Kings River, descend steeply, sometimes intertwined, via a narrow rocky gorge which seems to go on and on and on.  One surprising thing: in some places the water looks really green!  At some point here, we cross a patch of snow. 

Eventually, the trail turn southwards into Le Conte Canyon (10,800) and we begin to see vegetation.  The trail continues to be rocky, and while not quite as steep in places, itís still hard on the knees.  About 3 pm, Pat, George and I take a break along a little lake.  Then, we start to see trees and descend via steep, stony switchbacks down several cliff faces.  We turn eastwards, descend through another steep rocky gorge, and, finally, reach flat land.  When we quit at Little Pete Meadow (8,800), weíve gone down 3,155 feet in 6.5 miles, and my knees are really looking forward to a rest day.  Itís about 4:30, so it took me 7 Ĺ-7 ĺ hours to hike about 12 miles.

Dave from MLPO hobbles into camp with 40 pounds of food in his backpack.  Somewhere up on the Bishop Pass Trail, he sprained his ankle.  Talk about dedication.  Heís walked 14 miles, about a third of it on a swollen, painful ankle, to bring us food. 

Debbie and her mules arrive around 6:45 p.m.; Vic and Harry and the other mules at 7:30 p.m.  Vic & Harry have had a very long day since they started back in Evolution Meadow.  Knowing that it was going to be late when they arrived, Debbie left Evolution Lake as soon as her mules were loaded up.  (I gather that the mules didnít like the long descent any better than we did.)

With fresh meat at hand, Debbie makes hamburger with red beans and rice for dinner.

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