Day 13: In Which We Finally Ford a Creek, Climb Into Evolution Valley, and Can’t Find a Campsite at Sapphire Lake

Daily: 14.3 miles
Trip: 125.5 miles
Camp: Unnamed Lake between Sapphire and Wanda Lakes

The trail along the San Joaquin River is stark and staggering. As my brother noted, it’s like walking through a Japanese tapestry. Rock walls on both sides, constant blue/gray glacial wash pouring over waterfalls, and more of the perfect juniper trees mixed with other conifers. We walked this path as a warm-up for the climb into Evolution Valley and loved it. It was even better because the little bit of rain that had fallen last night (while we were in our tents!) had soaked the trail dust. Not that it matters. My legs are just gray-brown at this point.

The 700 foot climb up Evolution Creek Falls was made tougher by the still-insanely-heavy bear can. I ate some heavy stuff last night but my food still doesn’t fit in the can. Oh well – incentive to keep eating! The falls were cool and continuous and we were soon walking through five miles of meadows. Then we ran into something new. A creek crossing with no possibility of rock-hopping our way across it! Given that we came into the trip prepared for frequent and difficult fords, it’s about time we actually faced one! Okay, so it wasn’t difficult. But it was wet. I switched into my crocs and crossed the 40 foot wide creek without the water going much above my knees. Easy, refreshing, and a heck of a lot better than some of the freezing, risky crossings I’d read about!

Did I mention the weight of the bear can? I ask only because the climb up to Evolution Lake was a bitch! We met a pair of 70+ year-old women hiking a 120-mile stretch of the trail and one of them – Susan – was hiking the same pace as me. Bloody impressive to see her do that. Me? I suffered. But we made it up just fine and entered another world at the top. It’s cold up here. There are no trees, it’s rocky and windy and inhospitable. The peaks around us are over 13,000 feet. And, as always, beautiful.


We continued past Evolution to Sapphire Lake and looked for a campsite but couldn’t see any. We kept hiking along, looking for the sites the guides said would be at the inlet, but the trail kept climbing up away from the lake. It was a bad feeling. I’d run out of energy after 14 miles with the heavy pack. And the next campsites listed in our book were at least two miles away up on a windier, rockier and less hospitable plain. My bro took charge, looking for possible campsites while I settled down for some food & water. We talked to a couple northbound hikers about possible spots ahead and then decided to keep walking a bit.

What we found ¾ of a mile later isn’t a campsite like many that we’ve stayed at this trip. It’s not flat dirt with a fire ring and logs as seats. But there are flat spots for tents and that’s all that really matters right now. We’re surrounded by incredible mountains and I really want to take some dusk photos of the tents and mountains. But it’s cold and I’m tired, and as much as I want to see the Milky Way and the airglow, I’m falling asleep.

8pm in the tent. The iconic Muir Pass and Muir Shelter in the morning and I’m hoping the sun will come back out!

Day 14: In Which We Decide Muir Pass is Really Cool and the Deer Will Lie Down with the Green One