Sierra Nevada Backpackpacking-Evolution Valley

I’ve been eager to get back to the Sierras since the ultra-marathon I ran this May in Bishop, CA. It may be because of it’s similarity to Western Washington, but the beauty of the Sierra draws me like a magnet. I got stuck working on the Fourth of July, which pissed me off, but in turn I got Friday off and I decided to take advantage of the 3 day weekend and head for the mountains. The fact that it was 116 degrees in the shade in Vegas Thursday didn’t hurt my decision to get out of town either. I planned my route, packed up, and left Vegas around 10pm Thursday night alone. I drove for a few hours and pulled off the road a bit to catch some sleep.

Friday morning after getting my permit I eagerly headed for the trail head. I left from North Lake and took the Pauite Pass/Evolution trail at about 9:30am. The scenery is difficult to put into words and pictures only catch a fragment of the beauty. Many areas have pretty mountains and lakes, but in the Sierra they keep coming and coming. Every 30 minutes or so I stopped dead in my tracks in awe of the views. I knew I had a lot of ground to cover so I kept a brisk pace. Around 6:30 pm I caught the John Muir/PCT trail and found a campsite about a half mile down trail near the San Jauquin River. I covered about 23 miles that day and quickly fell asleep after some dinner and a candy bar (ooh bliss).
Sometime Friday my watch fell off which ticked me off at first, but ended up being rather liberating. I woke up early, around 6am and crawled out of my sleeping bag/bivy sack into the brisk morning mountain air. After digging a cat hole and taking a big ol’ crap I cooked some oatmeal and coffee, packed up, and set off again. I reached my destination of Evolution Lake after about 4-5 hours of hiking I reached Evolution Lake. This is where I planned to either turn back and retrace my steps or trust my route planning and head off trail. Of course, I chose the latter. It is amazing the difference in off trail versus on trail hiking. The manicured trails make progress quick because they are relatively flat and require no route finding. I had to stop often to double check my GPS and maps. I was averaging over 3mph on trail while off trail was around 1mph if not less. Part of this is due, however, to my unfamiliarity to the area. 

I climbed up a steep bank and saw my first goal of the day, Mt. Spencer. I tried to climb it head on but the terrain was too difficult to continue alone. I went around and caught the South ridge and bagged the peak. This is where I got really confused. My GPS and maps gave me conflicting information on which way to go. I wanted to get to a couloir between Mt. Wallace and Mt. Haeckel and bag both peaks. My description said the chute to the couloir was class 2 which is easy hiking. After much internal debate I picked what I thought was the correct chute or at least would get me to where I needed to go. The next 2 hours were some of the most miserable I’ve spent in the outdoors. The chute ended up being extremely steep and composed of the most loose scree I’ve ever been on. The elevation gain on the slope was almost 600′ in 1/4 mile which is steep. I probably climbed closer to 1400′ because I kept sliding down in the scree. Finally I reached the saddle between the peaks. By this time the sun was beginning to set and I knew I had to get down. So I passed the opportunity on the peaks even though they were each only about 1/4 mile away. I could have camped on the couloir and got both peaks but I had very little water left to drink let alone make a meal. Furthermore, the hike/slide down to Echo Lake would suck nearly as bad as climbing up and I just wanted to get it over with. I was also worried about finding a place to bivy because the terrain around the lake was very rocky being above the tree line at about 11,700 feet. On the way down I saw some smoke in the distance but I was too busy concentrating on what I was doing to think much of it. I was very relieved when I got down safely even though I had to spend several minutes getting rocks out of shoes and yes, underwear. Luckily I walked right to a campsite someone had cleared and built a wind barrier right before dark. I was so tired I barely had energy to filter water and cook some food but I was starving. The night was really cold but I was plenty warm in my bag. I was completely alone that night. I had the entire lake to myself (well I shared it with about a million gnats). Because there was hardly any soil, the only evidence anyone had ever been there was the shelter.

Sunday morning I woke early but stayed in my bivy sack because I was reluctant to give up it’s warmth. Shortly after setting out I found a use trail which I was relieved to see because I knew it would lead me out to the main trail. After the sluggish pace of Saturday afternoon getting back on trail felt like merging onto an open highway from stop and go traffic. I had about 10 miles to Lake Sabrina and it seemed to fly by. After an hour or so I saw my first person in nearly a day. I was both relieved and sad about giving up my solitude. I caught the maintained trail at Hungry Packer Lake. Talking to fellow hikers I learned the smoke was a full blown forest fire started Friday from lightning. I was safe from the fire because it was to the south. However, on Thursday I nearly decided to climb Mt. Agassiz which which was much closer to the fire, whew. When I finally saw Lake Sabrina, my exit, I stopped to take in it’s beauty and to reflect on the last couple days. After another hour and a half or so I was on pavement again. I had about a 5 mile uphill hike from there back to my car. I was totally craving a cheeseburger and I was ready to get home so I tried hitchhiking. About half way up I had given up on the decency of mankind because I had been passed by several vehicles. I was just a friendly hiker looking for a ride. When I finally saw myself in the mirror I realized why people passed me. I was pretty grungy from 3 days of dirt, sunscreen, and bug juice. At this point as my little F### You to the man I decided I was going to finish the hike under my own power. About 3.2 seconds after this decision a pretty lady with her father that were going for a day hike pulled alongside me and asked if I wanted. About 3.2 seconds later I was in the car. My faith in mankind restored (well not really because I didn’t have any to begin with) my trip was effectively over. I got back to Vegas about 4pm and it was 113 degrees. Immediately after getting our of my car I was looking forward to my trip back to the Sierra next weekend to climb a technical route up Bear Creek Spire with my friend Bruce.