Waking up to a recovered Barbara (read well fed and warm), we enjoyed breakfast as the sun rose over Evolution Valley. By 9, we found ourselves at the much-anticipated Evolution Lake. Many people that have done the trail before, have always hyped this place up. Rightly so. The glassy lake reflected the high peaks that tower above. We took a long break here to soak in the first really spectacular view that we had come across since Reds Meadow.
Up and up, we continued towards the top of Muir Pass. The hiking was, for us, a comfortable grade, and we gained the pass quickly. This is the first pass that had us above tree line for an extended section of trail. Atop Muir Pass is an emergency shelter constructed in the 1930s that provides a bit of safety for hikers caught in storms above treeline. The stout, beehive-shaped hut is an impressive bit of engineering. We luckily enjoyed a bit of sunshine as we ate lunch, but grey clouds soon drew in above us, and we quickly understood the need for this emergency shelter.
Down a descent that seemed to have no end, we hiked until almost 6. Downhill was quickly becoming harder than the uphill. I’ve always heard this from older hikers wearing knee braces… finally Im understanding their woes. Is this my invitation to the club?
There was less campsites at Palisade Creek than we were expecting, but we were eventually able to find a site tucked up near the stream junction. After a delicious dinner of pesto and angel hair, we cleaned up and started brushing our teeth.
I tried to yell with a muffled mouth full of toothpaste, pointing at the small black bear that wandered within 50 feet from where we had been eating our dinner. He looked at me quizzically as I stumbled to grab my camera, still foaming at the mouth with Crest. Just as I got the camera up to my eye, he lost interest in Barbara and me, and wandered off to the creek. We made extra sure to put all of our smellables in the bear cans that night.
The next morning we had a hefty, 4000 foot climb up to the top of Mather Pass. This eleven mile, sustained climb was a nice warm up for the day. We soaked in the sun and once again enjoyed lunch on top of the pass. As we ate, we chatted with a father-son duo that were also thru-hiking the trail. Rand and Thomas were out from Annapolis, Maryland and looked like they were having a great time. It is so awesome to see families out doing this trail. Hopefully we can do the same with our kids some day. Thomas mentioned that they were a bit short on food, so Barbara and I took the opportunity to lighten our load a bit and gave them some of the extra we were carrying. Thus our decision to finish a day early was solidified.
From the top of Mather, we could almost see the next pass, Pinchot. We boogied down the trail, feeling good and keeping a quick clip. Our original plan was to stay the night at Lake Majorie, just below the pass. Upon reaching the lake, we both had plenty of energy, so we inhaled a candy bar each and crushed out the climb up to the top of Pinchot. Two high passes in one day! On top of Pinchot, we cooked dinner and enjoyed the long rays of sunshine, as the sun began to set below the ridge. It was if we had a private seat at the nicest table on the top of the world. We continued another three quarters of a mile down the backside of the pass, and scouted a campsite on a high gravel patch at about 11,000 feet. We both were feeling fantastic and fit at the end of the day.
After a restless night of sleep- high altitude does funny things to your sleep cycle- we woke to an awesome sunrise, and a long downhill hike. This was the first morning that we would start with a sustained downhill instead of a big climb. While it was an interesting change of pace, we both agree that for us, going uphill to start the morning is much preferred.
We finished our descent at 1140. Ahead of us we had a 1700 foot, 4.1 mile climb up to Dollar Lake. Typically I lead the climbs and she leads the descents- no reason in particular, other than habit. I was feeling a bit groggy from the lack of sleep, so I asked Barbara to lead this climb. It is nice to have the person who is feeling freshest in front, as they can ‘pull’. There is a giant psychological benefit to having someone fresh setting the pace in front, when you are aren’t feeling the greatest. You don’t have to think about the pace, you just have to keep up.
On this morning, Barbara really pulled- we knocked out the climb in just over an hour and twenty minutes. We were blowing by everyone else like they were standing still- she had us hiking at 3 miles an hour, on a substantial uphill! I did my best to hang on, trying not to blow up. We really earned that lunch.
From Dollar Lake, we crossed Rae Lakes, and began the steep, punchy climb up Glen Pass. This one took us by surprise. While not the longest climb on the John Muir Trail, this one made us slow down a bit and really suck some serious wind. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, or the pre-lunch throwdown, or that we were climbing in the afternoon, but this pass caught us off guard and was much more difficult than we had anticipated. At the top, we barely paused- we still had 9 miles and it was already 3:30.
Exhausted and worn out from the steep descent, Barbara and I stopped for dinner at Bubbs Creek. As we cooked, the clouds that had kept us cool all day, began to let loose some drizzle. Against Barbara’s will, we packed up our cook kit and began climbing up the valley a bit. We were rewarded for uphill wet effort, with a beautiful rainbow that brought back out Barbara’s beautiful smile.
The morning climb up to Forester Pass took us all the way up to 13,200 feet. The air gets thin up there! Fortunately, the trail builders who created the JMT did an amazing job keeping the grades reasonable, and as long as you kept putting one foot in front of the other, the pass came fairly easily. We were on top just after 10. This was the last big climb before the finish and it felt great to climb it with such ease.
After a quick descent down steep switchbacks, we started the long flat-ish traverse towards the base of Mount Whitney. Today we had over 23 miles to cover, with over 16 of it coming after Forester Pass. Just a few quick, 7-800 foot climbs stood between us and our campsite at Guitar Lake. While the hiking was generally easy, mentally this was a tough day for both of us. We wanted to be at that campsite so bad. As we hiked, we started to make plans for the following day. After pouring over the maps, and daydreaming about showers and cheeseburgers, we settled on a predawn departure to catch sunrise from the top of the highest peak in the lower 48.
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