SHR Day 13 – July 15
Frazier Lake to Big Pete Meadow
Double Alpenglow Camp to PCT Camp
Passes: Muir Pass (trail)
With Snow Tongue Pass safely behind us, the final miles into our zero day in Bishop promised to be a cruise. A ton of trail miles on the JMT would let our brains run in standby mode as our legs remembered for themselves how to grind out the miles. Of course, I expected and was rewarded with plenty of spectacular scenery to keep me interested and reminiscing about the good old days on the PCT. Plus, an unlikely reunion in the backcountry somehow worked out perfectly. Good thing I went back for that pinwheel.
Golden morning light on the peaks of the Evolution region was a pretty sweet sight to behold first thing in the morning from the comfort of my quilt. Somehow we had made it through the night without getting eaten alive, and this tentless view was quite the reward. Even my struggles at making tea couldn’t bring me down. Taking initiative for once, I burned a hole in my sleeve, then spilled the entirety of our large mug onto the pine needles. With careful coaching from SpiceRack, my second attempt caused no harm, but there’s one more reason I don’t backpack with a stove. Incompetence.
By 7:30am we had our packs on to start the long traverse to the Evolution Basin. These few miles would be our last without trail for some time, so even warnings of its nastiness seemed a small threat. How bad could it be anyway? It was just walking after all, and we’d been doing a lot of that recently. Plus, the views were amazing.
Well, those miles were tough going for sure. Per the guidebook recommendation, we tried to stay around 10,900ft as rocky cliffs and ramps walloped us up and down through thickets of grabbing plant life. We pulled it off for the most part, but it was slow going. Spice overworked my already taxed brain with a bunch of riddles. My frustration with all of it built steadily, but knowing that there was trail coming made it alright. Finally crossing the beautiful cascade flowing from Darwin Bench above, we hit the JMT and joined our footprints with those of many other pilgrims. Two miles in over two hours. Oof, good to be on trail again.
After a short break, Spice and I turned on the jets, relishing the smooth trail. But then when the tread became rocky, I realized that it was harder on my feet than no trail at all. Durability, not smoothness, must have been the focus point of the trail builders here, and my soles noted every point and poke as I placed them with less care than they deserved on the pavement of jagged granite. This whole trail thing wasn’t too easy either.
Despite this newly appreciated challenge and way more people than we’d seen since Virginia Lake, the Evolution Basin reminded me of just how ridiculously gorgeous the Sierra can be. Evolution and Sapphire Lakes, ridiculous. The soaring granite walls and spires of Mount Darwin and Haskell, just totally freaking nuts. Delicate cascades braiding through grassy meadows looked worthy of the most careful landscaping. It was amazing to me to think that all this beauty was just sitting there, that it had just happened that way randomly, like the piles of talus that we’d been scrambling over for days. Even though I’d been here twice before, I was floored and already thinking of ways to return.
As we left the final hearty trees behind on the approach to Wanda Lake, I was startled to see two familiar faces coming our way down the trail. It was none other than my parents. They were deep in their own trip and our itineraries just happened to coincide. A few hours here, or a lost pinwheel there, serendipity had brought us together. Our shared lunch break was brief and got the job done. We said farewell and I watched them transform into tiny ants swallowed by a vast landscape.
At Wanda Lake, a swarm of gnats kept us out of the cooling waters and running around the shoreline. Although they didn’t bite, the tickling sensation from hundreds of hitchhikers drove Spice to wade up to her knees to get rid of them. I found humor in all of it until I swallowed a few. Above the lake, I managed to ditch nearly all of them with the help of Spice and a stiff breeze.
We were delirious from sun exposure when we summited Muir Pass a mile later. Without discussion we took shelter from the reflective inferno of sun and granite in the stone hut that sits atop the pass. A short nap left us chilled and refreshed, ready for the huge descent down the other side.
Flowing into LeConte Canyon along the JMT is a cool experience. The cliffs, lakes, and waterfalls have no end. The hiker is constantly flogged with beauty, so much that it loses meaning. That said, I was dehydrated and over it by the time we stumped into camp at Big Pete Meadow around 6:30pm. Beans and water did a lot to revive my beleaguered brain. Wild onions and Oreos practically knocked me out after a not so easy, easy day on the JMT.