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Views of Mt. Huxley and Mt. Goddard from above Sapphire Lake

August 9, 2000
Wanda Lake to McClure Meadow in Evolution Valley
Some would say we have arrived ...

0630-0845 — Wanda Lake (45°F; clear, windy & cold)

          The night is punctuated with gusty winds; the sky is exquisitely clear. The stars don't get any better than this, that is once the bright moon set. Muir Pass is renown for wind, hence the stone hut. The hut has probably provided life saving cover for many a desperate traveler over the years because when there is snow up here and it is cold, the wind can be deadly. Our little stone wall provides minimal protection. At first light I linger in the warmth of the bivy and sleeping bag. After all, we are a little ahead of our itinerary and the sun will soon be up to warm us.

          Once we summon the nerve to rise and get going in the radiant sunshine there is still a brisk breeze which keeps us bundled up in our fleece. We pass some AmeriCorp kids charging off to work in low tech cotton. One girl even has an exposed belly; maybe, the belly button ring keeps her warm. We feel like wimps; but then, perhaps, the kids are just young and foolish.

          We traverse the east side of Wanda Lake and run smack dab into a most horrendous cloud of mosquitoes. This is the worst infestation of our entire trip. We hurry on down the trail swatting and flailing ... and then they are gone. Really weird and unexpected at this altitude.

          We pass a massive boy scout camp. I estimate their gear is scattered over a quarter acre. A huddled mass of scouts forms around the designated cook who is pleading for his comrades to move back and quit kicking up so much dust. Around the next bend is a camp with a couple more llamas. Later we hear from other travelers that this is a renown photographer and family. The family includes a toddler two or three years old.

0930-0945 — below Wanda Lake

          A somewhat haggard fellow comes up to us and asks if we have any extra ibuprofen. Dick is a sixty year old freelance writer attempting to do the JMT in thirteen days. He carries a homemade Jardine style ultralight pack which I mistake from the look of things to be "vintage" but Dick corrects me and proudly states he just fashioned it for this trek. Anyway, do we have extra ibuprofen! We assure Dick we have plenty of pain pills and are happy to unload some. Irene has so many they spill out of the bag and the poor man is on the ground retrieving every one.

          We find out Dick is suffering from nasty blisters. Irene says "I've got just the thing for you" and she pulls out the famous and justly popular generic MediPore bandages. These are the bandages she was furiously trying to acquire the day before we were to leave on this trip. She has had bad blistering on previous trips and was not going to leave home without her bandages. Fortunately, we have had little need for the super bandages. They are better than moleskin; they breathe to promote healing, they stay on your wet feet and last for days even under these rough conditions. They are actually designed for use on bedsores of the elderly and you can only buy them in bulk from a medical supply store. Irene gives the schpiel to Dick and cuts off a healthy supply of bandages. Dick offers us a couple bucks which we decline. I give him a card and ask him to let us know how his trip went (he does email us with "thank yous", assuring us his trip was a great success due in no small part to our generosity on the trail. In fact, Dick is the only person from the trail to contact us by email afterwards. I guess, everybody just gets right back into their busy lives ... the trail becomes another time and another place way off when).

          I ask Dick about his writing and he confides he is trying without luck so far to come up with an angle for "another" article about the JMT. Having been published by Backpacker he knows there are hardly any more unique tales about the John Muir Trail. Even being sixty years old and doing the trail in thirteen days is not unique enough. Thousands of people have trekked this trail and probably hundreds have written about it. I know the only thing special about our tale is that it is "our" tale. That is the point, I think. The trail is yours for a short time and profoundly special in that way. It is something that can't "really" be shared. It can only be experienced. We are not the oldest folks out here, we aren't the youngest, the fastest, slowest, strongest, weakest, tallest, shortest, fattest, smartest, dumbest, greenest or any other "est'. Still our trek is most unique and worth remembering. The same mountains, and streams, rocks and trees speak to each of us differently. This is why we owe so much to John Muir who is the primary reason we have this protected wilderness and why it needs to remain protected ... forever.

1000-1100 — above Sapphire Lake 37°08.194 / 118°41.905 - 11.4K' (69°F; breezy)

          Shortly after our pharmaceutical encounter with Dick we stop to rest our feet, wash up and snack. On the trail approaching is a distinguished but slow moving fellow who looks back several times. As he passes he seems to fit the description of one of two seventy year old artists who we were told were out here headed south on the JMT. We got this information from the lady who needed duct tape when I gave her my card and she realized I was an artist.

          Irene notices the old man stop at a convenient rock close by and goes off to meet him. His partner soon catches up moving a little slower. Irene comes back from giving them my card but without getting their names so I go over to introduce myself and chat. The speedy gentleman of the two is seventy-five year old painter Carroll Summers and his friend is sculptor Ronald Garrigues who is only seventy and more conversational. They are celebrating their birthdays by doing the JMT in forty-four days. They live in Santa Cruz and show in San Francisco. Ronald is more computer savvy so he takes my card; I hope he drops me a line when they finish their trip.

          What with all the morning fellowship we have not come too far. We get back on the trail about 1100 and descend along the west shore of Sapphire Lake toward Evolution Lake. The AmeriCorp crowd are camped at Sapphire but by now they are all at work somewhere on the trail. There is a photographer keeping just ahead of us probably shooting lots of pictures. A horse pack passes us with the weekly supplies for the AmeriCorp volunteers. A couple more JMTers headed south and some day hikers foretell of the upcoming popular area around Evolution Lake.

          First we must cross over the wide inlet to Evolution Lake. There must be twenty five to thirty 500-1000 lb boulders nicely spaced as giant stepping stones to facilitate this water crossing. I am sorry I didn't shoot a picture; it is incredible. Sometimes I am amazed how much effort went into building this "natural" trail. Bob Dunlap, the computer engineer had told us the JMT was originally constructed by the WPA. I can believe it; but, I can't picture the body pierced kids placing 1000 lb rocks. Maybe they use levers these days.

          Traversing the east shore of Evolution Lake we enjoy the view as if the world drops off just beyond the outlet of the lake (see above painting Evolution Lake). We rise a bit and begin to see the lower Sierra mountains on the horizon in the west. We stop briefly for a picture and one of those "calls of nature". No sooner than Irene has dropped her pants, a couple comes along the path and decides to join us for the view. I don't know what view they got but it sure was another case of lack of privacy here in the wilderness. "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." — JM

Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake fauna

1245-1415 — Evolution Lake 37°10.282 / 118°41.959 - 10.8K' (92°F in sun)

          As we approach the west end of Evolution Lake where a large crowd is gathered we notice one brave soul is swimming in the lake. We head out on a peninsula for our lunch/bath/clothes washing break. The breeze is constant and the local overpopulation is such that I forego my bath. Finally some pesky fisher people and a nosy guy waiting for us to leave so he can camp in our spot (which is against the rules because it is not more than 100' from the water) convince us it is time to move on.

          We slip over the edge and down the switchbacks into Evolution Valley. Many people consider Evolution Valley to be as beautiful as Yosemite. I don't think so. It is beautiful but not nearly as spectacular. We have been so worked up and anxious to experience this valley for so long, I think it may have suffered diminution from our over expectations.

          We pass a couple more people. One guy is looking for the turn off for Darwin Basin and Lamarck Col. We may want to use that exit someday when we revisit this region. But, I am still not sure exactly where it exits this segment of trail. I figured it would be obvious. I may have to rely on the GPS when we return (we returned to do the Lamarck Col to Bishop Pass loop in the summer of 2001. Still didn't climb Black Giant after we were discouraged attempting Mt. Spencer).

1615-1630 — Colby Meadow 37°11.118 / 118°44.085 - 9.7K' (83°F)

          Unsatisfied by her earlier bath, Irene finds a pool in the woods along Evolution Creek where she can take a quick dip. She assures me it will be quick. She is out of her clothes and in the cold creek before I can accept her challenge. She calls these bird baths. She loves the cold plunge. I prefer more tepid temperatures myself. Still, she is back in her clothes and ready to go before I can finish collecting GPS data. Of course, on that rare occasion when I participate in the cold plunge, it is a rather instantaneous event for me, as well. These alpine creeks are not conducive to lollygagging even in the dead of summer. Although this spot would make a fine camp, we choose to head further down the trail.

McClure Meadow

McClure Meadow with full moon rising

1700-1745 — McClure Meadow 37°11.271 / 118°44.748 - 9.6K' (76°F)

          A clot of campers and the marvelous meadow views alert us that we have arrived at McClure Meadows. We find a couple beautiful campsites at creek edge which do not qualify as 100' from the water so instead of setting up camp, we just have dinner. Later at Muir Ranch we buy a postcard with our dinner view from this spot (I think my panorama shot of the scene is better than the commercial product). It is a view east of the Meadow, the meander, the moon, Mendel, Darwin, Spencer and The Hermit bathed in late afternoon light (see photo above).

          With dinner done we go in search of a campsite for the night. It is getting dark now in the woods as we pass a couple potential clearings. There really aren't any sites with views so the only criteria is flat ground and away from the trail. Finally, I can't go any further because of that nature calls business. I dump my pack, grab my tissue pack and head off to find a secluded spot while Irene investigates the area for a campsite. No sooner than I am situated and underway in what I think is a secluded ditch behind some trees, along comes a twenty mule team pack train. What is a guy to do out here to grab some quality private time. Fortunately, it was getting dark, they probably couldn't read my license plate and who cares anyway, I had business to attend to. Who knew these folks would be traipsing about at this time of night? They will be making camp in the dark as will we.

1915-2130 — Evolution Creek 37°11.541 / 118°46.008 - 9.3K'

          We have come nine or ten miles. We go no further. We find a patch of semi-flat ground with a fire ring. The creek is babbling close by for an end of day wash; although, we have to put up with some mosquitoes. There is evidence of failed food caches in the trees (string rope torn and tangled) but we need not worry because we have a bear canister. Besides, we are almost out of food anyway. Irene makes us coffee to wash down our allotment of cookie (that's right, one cookie) and she tends a great little fire. I drift off and have probably my best sleep of the trip so far.

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