Evolution Creek to LeConte Canyon
Day: 17.9 Miles
Trip: 146.3 Miles
The intensity of the Sierra Nevada landscape has been increasing steadily, since I passed into Kings Canyon National Park yesterday afternoon. The domes that I’ve become accustomed to seeing all around me are becoming less frequent, giving way for tattered ridgelines and towers of granite that stretch themselves precariously towards the sky. The aesthetic appeal of what I’m surrounded by could defy even the most creative of imaginations; I’m walking through a dream. The funny thing about living out your dreams is that you don’t always know if you’re awake or not. Pinch me.
I meet Mark and Allen, a friendly backpacking duo from Denver, at Evolution Lake. While fishing for their lunch and chatting with me, they offer to let me use their collapsible bucket to do some laundry. I’m not sure why they do this, maybe my feet stink. Regardless, I take them up on the offer and relax next to the lake while my socks dry in the sun. In an hour or so, I’ll climb through Muir Pass. Until then, I’ll sit and watch the greatest show I’ve ever seen, The John Muir Show.
All of the previous JMT Mountain passes that I’ve gone through pale in comparison to the ruggedness of Muir Pass. It takes me hours to reach a summit that’s always within sight.
The trail climbs consitantly for miles, through a landscape that offers no shaded relief from the sweltering afternoon sun. Ascending and descending Muir Pass leaves travelers vulnerable to the elements for so long that the summit hosts the only established shelter on the JMT. The Muir Hut was built by the Sierra Nevada Club in 1930 as a temporary shelter for hikers caught in storms on this section of trail. Standing inside of the hut, I can’t help but wonder how many lives it’s stone walls have protected from catastrophe.
As you can imagine, the sweeping vistas from Muir Pass are astounding. A sprawling alien landscape, spotted with the small cobalt blue lakes left behind by last winter’s snow melt, make it difficult to remember where you’ve been or where you’re going.
The landscape is so barren that you might not consider that something is living up here, something that has been watching you heave yourself up the side of the mountain for the last hour or two. Marmots inhabit the highest points of the Sierra Nevada in great numbers, and they are happy to be acquainted with you. The high elevation equivalent of a squirrel is highly social, slightly goofy, and particularly interested in what kind of snacks you’ll be having during your visit to the summit. While it’s not advised that you succumb to their begging, it’s impossible to resist the entertainment value of these furry little rodents.
It’s 8pm and everything is done. I’ve eaten, set up my tent, manicured my feet, and cleaned up my campsite. Tonight is the first night that I’ll be camping completely alone. I find this hard to believe, but there has always been someone else around when it came time to stop for the day. Ladd and Derek are long gone, and I haven’t heard a bleep from AT&T since we had lunch at Sapphire Lake. Mark and Allen said they were also going over Muir Pass today, but I have no idea when or if that actually happened. I’m completely alone in the middle of the Sierra Nevada right now. It’s a form of solitude that I’m not very familiar with, one that I’m comfortable with.