“Bears are made of the same dust as we, and they breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bear’s days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart pulsing like ours. He was poured from the same first fountain. And whether he at last goes to our stingy Heaven or not, he has terrestrial immortality. His life, not long, not short, knows no beginning , no ending. To him life unstinted, unplanned, is above the accidents of time, and his years, markless and boundless, equal eternity.” — John Muir
Waking to the sound of flowing water is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Despite the cascading beads of condensation that were falling from the inside wall of my tent, I couldn’t help but pulse with the feeling that this was going to be an epic day. My legs were rising fresh, despite the fatigue that robbed them of energy on the final climb the day before. I slithered out of the tent, and retrieved our bear canisters to get breakfast started. Ever since the beginning of the JMT, I had really been looking forward to hiking this southern half of the trail. I’ve had the fortune of spending quite a bit of time in the Southern Sierra, but this was my first opportunity to do a prolonged backpacking adventure in what I consider to be one of the most dramatic and beautiful ranges this world has to offer. I’m usually one to eat slowly, and sip my coffee at an even more pedestrian pace, but I was packed up and ready to go just after sunrise on this day, ready to head towards Evolution Lake.
The climb from Colby Meadow started off with a few minor creek crossings. With the rising sun came the swarms of mosquitoes. Luckily, their numbers died down significantly as we gained elevation. We reached a series of switchbacks, and just after the sun began to dominate the horizon, we were standing on the banks of Evolution Lake. Evolution Lake is an absolute alpine stunner, which held us in it’s gaze for quite some time.
The trail skirts the eastern shores of Evolution Lake before climbing upwards towards more alpine lakes and the iconic Muir Pass. The views here are incredible, as you can see the Evolution Peaks all around you.
As we began ascending further, we ran into a group of boy scouts and their accompanying scout dads. I’m usually not one to be too chatty on the trail, but I really love seeing kids get out and enjoy the outdoors at that age. It seems that far too many people stay inside on their phones or in front of TV’s all summer, so it’s really nice to see a group out backpacking in the High Sierra. Without a constituency that sees and experiences the phenomenal power of our national parks, we won’t have a populace that’s willing to vote and pay for the incredible services and adventure they provide.
The aptly named Sapphire Lake was the next point of interest that stopped us dead in our tracks. There were hundreds of little tadpoles peacefully floating in the shallow depths of the cold blue water.
From Sapphire Lake the trail continued to gain in elevation, and the landscape continued to grow in all its desolate rapture. We were hiking with confidence through the Evolution Basin and up the west side of the valley. Our next stop was at Wanda Lake, a lake that takes it’s name from one of John Muir’s daughters. The cool desaturated tones of the Sierra granite offered up the perfect contrast for the rich and vibrant colors in the accompanying water and sky.
After leaving Wanda Lake, it was a short but lung taxing climb to the summit of Muir Pass. One of the coolest things about Muir Pass is the stone hut that sits atop the pass. We spent quite a bit of time at the pass eating snacks, taking pictures, sitting inside the hut, and fending off a chubby little marmot who has become notorious for stealing food at this exact location.
As we sat at the pass, I could see a series of huge puffy cumulus clouds beginning to form. The clouds made for a beautiful backdrop, but gave me the motivation I needed to keep hiking, as their movement and color indicated a storm was forming. I’m glad we left when we did, because being on the 11,980ft summit of Muir Pass would not have been fun in a thunderstorm. We continued downhill away from the pass, and could see the sky darkening behind us and to the left.
As we made our way past the Helen Lake Outlet towards Starr Camp, a few cracks of thunder punched the air around me. I had to put my camera away for a short while as a light drizzle began to fall, but things cleared up rather dramatically as we continued to lose elevation on the trail.
With the most difficult part of the day’s hiking finished, we settled into a nice downhill stroll and left the barren rockiness behind for the greenery of Big Pete Meadow. We continued on past Bishop Pass before finding a perfect little campsite in Grouse Meadow. At this point on the John Muir Trail, I started to get the feeling I was the deer whisper, as a group of three passed right through the campsite. Maybe it was the way I was smelling, but they seemed to be as comfortable around me as they would have been a tree. Julia and I pitched the tent, walked down to the creek to filter water, and settled in for another beautiful sunset.
“We need the tonic of the wilderness, to wade sometimes in the marsh where the bitten and the meadow hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.” – Henry David Thoreau