Day 8: Muir Trail Ranch to McClure Meadows (13.5 miles via Evolution Creek Crossing)
Left Muir Trail Ranch with fully bellies and said our good byes to Sarah and Carl and made rough plans to see them on Mt. Whitney in another 12 days. Hauled our heavy packs along the rock canyon trail cut into the side of canyon above the San Joaquin River and crisscrossed the fast flowing water on three bridges before taking our lunch break. Quickly dropped packs, messaged sore shoulders from the fully loaded packs, and made tuna fish burritos with nuts and dried fruit for lunch. From our lunch spot it was a 700ft switchbacked hike out of the San Joaquin River valley next to the cascading Evolution Creek. The creek crossing was a popular rest spot and we caught up with friends from the MTR hot springs and ditched shoes to ford the knee deep river. Molly and I dunked in the river and watched a man don swimming goggles and find a deep fast moving pool where he swam in place as if in one of the “endless pools” advertised in SkyMall for a ridiculous price. The trail smoothed out as we headed toward the McClure Meadow Ranger Station and we filtered the most delicious water from a spring just past the ranger station. Energy was running low in the afternoon and we spied a nice campsite across the river about a mile up from the spring. Despite nearly losing our tent poles down the river boulder hoping across the river we safely made it across and spend the remainder of the afternoon soaking up sun and dunking in the river.
Day 9: McClure Meadows to LeConte Ranger Station (16 miles via Muir Pass)
The Evolution Lakes are the epitome of what I consider classic High Sierra terrain. Smooth dirt trail winding past mirror flat high alpine lakes right on the border of tree line. Shrub like gnarled trees latch onto boulders and classic pyramid shaped peaks rise from the sides of the valley. The trailed snaked higher past tree line and toward Muir Pass, our lunch spot for the day. We met Dario, the McClure Meadow Ranger at the top of the pass cleaning the Muir Hut, a round stone structure built on the pass, and later learned that he was on his 40th season as a backcountry ranger. The drop down from pass was unlike any other pass I’ve done in the Sierras. Neither a wide basin nor a sharp headwall, but instead a narrow winding canyon cut deep into the rock. Dark marbled rock with the sound of rushing water beneath our feet slowly opened to the main valley. Kate and my roommate, Dena, is the backcountry ranger at the LeConte Station and we had told her we would arrive in time for dinner. The confluence of three canyons was visible in the distance, and we knew this marked the location of her cabin and the end of our long day and a never ending descent burned out our conversation and tired legs stiffly navigated rocky steps. An excited shout from us had Dena’s front door swing open and her hands were covered in flour already making biscuits with her friend, May, in preparation for our arrival. Cold beers emerged from her below ground food storage and we enjoyed a hot dinner of biscuits, lentils, and a delicious orange ring topped cake. Dena let us raid the extra suppliers other hikers had left at the cabin and replaced out missing deck of cards, topped off on fuel, and took photos of side trip options in a guide book. An amazing way to finish off a long day in the mountains.
We’d scheduled today as a rest day but Dena was hiking out with her friend this morning so we opted for a lazy morning and a short afternoon of hiking. Had a close encounter with the only bear of our trip when I rounded the corner of the cabin and startled a bear not more that 15ft in front of me. Cribbage, coffee, stretching on the deck, and relaxing in the sun took up most of the morning and we packed up as the clouds grew more ominous. Large rain drops soon were pelting us and turned into a heavy rain that had us and a number of other hikers hiding under the protection of the cabin’s covered front porch. We traded stories as we waited for the rain to lessen and made our move as it lightened up. Three quick downhill miles took us to the intersection for Mather Pass. The weather was starting to roll in again so we camped below the Golden Staircase in the protection of a clump of trees and hunkered down. Cooked up a salty dinner of Bearcreek Soup under the boughs of a large tree and stayed warm dry as the rain came down.
Woke to a gorgeous cloud show and ate breakfast while watching the clouds truck through the sky while speculating on what the weather had in store for us. As we neared the Golden Staircase the weather shut out our views of Palisades and I felt we had no reason to risk being above tree line in the inclement weather. We passed the time in the last grouping of trees playing cards and talking to a couple that was headed the opposite direction and lucked out as the weather cleared and the rain stopped. Trucking up the Golden Staircase gave me a nasty headache and Molly was hit with nausea while Kate danced up the switchbacks taking selfies and chatting up the CCC trail crews working on the trail …. so goes hiking at elevation, you’re pretty much guaranteed at least one bad day when your out for almost three weeks. Crested the climb and skirted along side the Palisade lakes celebrating by making myself drink lots of water, eat a energy bar, and popped a few magical Advil pills. With the Palisade lakes below us and the trail taking to the steep rocky headwall of the pass, my headache lifted as did my mood. A group of seven was hootin’ and hollerin’ on top of the pass and we soon joined them. With lunch planned for the opposite side of the pass we didn’t stay very long before dropping down into the desolate upper basin. Split Mountain, our objective for the following day, was the prominent peak visible to the East and we scouted the cross country route as we descended off the pass. The trail dropped gradually and we found a protected campsite at tree line where we ate a very late lunch and relaxed for the remainder of the day.
jmt day 12
A five thirty wake up revealed clear blue skies and we decided to attempt to summit Split Mountain. A quick cold breakfast of pop tarts before we make quick work backtracking higher on the JMT into the upper basin before cutting cross country towards Red Lake Pass. We arrived at the base of the climb by Lake 11595, a lake that truly deserves an actual name, and everyone checked in with how they were feeling. Molly was feeling nauseous and tired from the elevation and Kate was not