I realized, in looking over yesterday’s entry, that I didn’t do much to describe the trail we have been on so far. Except for the first 4.5 miles, it is all part of the John Muir Trail, so not the most remote stretch you could find, by a long shot. But the majority of backpackers are going the same direction as us, north-to-south, or as the through-hikers say, “SoBo” (as opposed to NoBo). Still, we walk for hours on end without seeing anyone else. The first 4.5 miles of the trail are heavily trafficked by horses and four-wheel-drive trucks, bringing supplies into and out of Muir Trail Ranch. Then there’s about a mile of dusty trail before backpackers can even think about making camp. The first campsites we saw are lovely, shaded, flat, and near the river. But also, they were all taken when we arrived sometime around 5:30. A short walk away, through a narrow defile between granite ridges, we found a level, shaded campsite alongside the river, and didn’t see another human until we hit the trail the next day. Then, yesterday, we walked along a well-worn trail that ran about a quarter mile away from the banks of the San Joaquin until we came to the bridge across Piute Creek, at the junction with the Piute Pass trail. There is a beautiful swimming hole right there at the bridge, and of course we took advantage of the chance to cool off before continuing. From Piute Creek, the very rocky trail runs just above the steep banks of the San Joaquin, until it levels out and moves on into quiet spruce, fir, and pine forests. We crossed the river twice (on bridges), before we came to the Big Climb. The trail climbs with many switchbacks from about 8500 feet to 9200 feet, in the space of about a half mile. Then you come out at the mouth of Evolution Valley, and smooth sailing. That gets us to last night’s campsite, along the creek in the quiet woods.
Today, we walked through McClure Meadow, which is a beautiful open park, with a meandering stream that flows slowly through the now-dry mostly-golden grasses. We stopped to talk with the ferry guys along the way, and met a young man from Santa Barbara who is a musician. I said I used to know quite a few musicians in that area, but they were mostly retired or moved away by now. But the first person he mentioned was Vince Semonsen, a friend and former river guide on the Tuolumne and Rogue rivers. Small world!
It was a long day today. The climb out of Evolution Valley to Evolution Lake just about killed me! It was a slow slog through beauty, and I felt every muscle on every step. I remember it being kind-of tough in 2014, but nothing like this. But I also noticed that when I would rest, or be overtaken by young, hale backpackers, I only needed to casually mention my age to be called “bad ass.” It does the spirit good! Everyone out here is younger than me. I reminded myself of my former neighbor, Mrs. Sephus, who would start almost every conversation with “I’m 70-something years old. Of course, my husband, he’s younger than me. I walk downtown every day to the Blue and Gold Market.” To which my 20-something self could only reply, “You’re an inspiration!” It’s been a hard year for me to try and stay in shape, what with the knee injury, vein surgery, and carrying around all this worry about my family, and my voice issues. I am getting in touch with the fact that I am just plain exhausted. But I am so, so thankful to be here. Te weather is clear and dry. No smoke today at all.
On the trail up to the lake, I stopped at a nondescript spot to take a little break, and said hello to a young man coming down the trail. He said I was close to the top now, and continued on his way. I watched him go down another couple of switchbacks, stop, and then turn around and come back up. He said he had missed the very faint turnoff to the Darwin Shelf, which happened to be right where I was sitting. He said he was camped up there, that it was beautiful, and was taking day hikes from there. He said that today, he had climbed up to the razor-thin ridge leading to Darwin Peak, and decided it was just too foolhardy to do on his own. Smart young fellow. I filed that information away, and continued the climb.
Evolution Lake is beautiful! There is a broad open flatfish smooth granite bench along the bank, and that’s where we made our camp. We had to share it with three other people, but that was okay. I took a walk over to the outlet, where the creek plunges over a lip and down into the far reaches of the valley below. It was a perfect place to enjoy the sunset, and watch the fish jumping like crazy for some recent hatch, while the bats swooped above. Many of the fish flashed red in the low sun, and though I am woefully ignorant, I would guess they were cutthroat trout—and I’d probably be right.
The alpenglow was spectacular.
Because I hadn’t slept much the last couple of nights, I accepted the offer of an Ambien, a drug I had never tried before. I slept like the proverbial dead for four hours, and then staggered out of my tent to answer Nature’s call. Then I went back to my fitful sleep until morning. I don’t think I like that drug. I would much rather just be awake and aware of the incredible shifting night sky than to be knocked out like that.
The phone says we hiked 9.4 miles. My legs think it was more like 15.