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Evolution Valley backpack

August 26, 2010 |  1:53 pm
McClure Meadow:web

Right hand jammed in my shorts pocket, collar of my Buzz Off shirt pulled up past my chin, and cuff tight over my left hand — which was gripping a fly rod, only fingertips exposed — I made my way down the John Muir Trail from McClure Meadow, above, back to our campsite in Evolution Meadow in Kings Canyon National Park. The tiny rainbow/golden trout hybrids, below left, were biting in Evolution Creek (hitting on every cast), and so were the mosquitoes.

Golden-rainbow:web Zzzzzt, zzzzt, ouch! The skeets paid no mind to my high-tech clothing, drilling right through it and into my shoulders — and they also found my left fingertips. Ahh, spring, er, August, in the Sierra. We'd long wanted to visit out-of-the-way Evolution Valley and finally decided to do it, avoiding big passes and opting for entry via Florence Lake, with a brief interlude at Muir Trail Ranch en route. We hiked about 30 miles in 5 days.

View Google mapGoogle map thumb Other than the meadows, we mostly managed to avoid the skeeters on our mid-August trip by sticking to breezy, higher-elevation campsites away from water. Thanks to a heavy snow year and some late-season storms, the "spring" Sierra runoff dragged into mid-summer, delaying the skeeters at higher elevations.

Getting to the trail head is half the fun. After negotiating the frightening  Kaiser Pass Road (seriously, U.S. Forest Service, the road is scary enough ... can you at least fill in the monstrous potholes?), we parked at road's end at the Florence Lake Store and took a ferry to where the trail and John Muir Wilderness begin.

Trail signs:web We eased into the backcountry by spending our first night in a rustic cabin at Muir Trail Ranch, a popular resupply point for John Muir Trail through-hikers and a five-mile hike from the lake. Usually only available for multiday stays, we managed to snag a cabin (bathroom but cold-water-only sink) and mightily enjoyed the hot spring baths (open only for ranch guests; Blayney Hot Springs are also nearby).

Days 2, 3 and 4 were spent getting to Evolution Valley. If you're thinking of taking this great backpacking hike, a few observations: 1. You'll have company, since Muir Trail Ranch is roughly the halfway point of the 211-mile John Muir Trail. 2. Use a bear canister for your food; we didn't see any bruins but they're as fond of this area as we are. 3. Try to do the switchbacks to Evolution Valley early in the day ... it can get stinkin' hot on the trail this time of year. 4. Take an extra day and hike to Evolution Basin, several more miles in. 5. Don't believe the times printed on the Florence Lake ferry ticket ($20 round-trip). We hustled a hot, dusty nine miles on our way out to catch the 3 p.m. ferry, getting to the landing 20 minutes early, photo below, only to be told the ferry driver was "too busy" taking people on a tour and would be back in 1.5 hours! We ended up hitching a ride anyway and taking part in the tour. An inconvenience when all we wanted was a cold soda at the store, but we did get to check out some nice campsites for future trips.

Florence view:web You can download a wilderness permit for this trip on the Sierra National Forest's website. I'll do another post on the John Muir Trail through-hikers we encountered. Also of note: the attached Google map is only an approximation of our route and is not meant for navigation! Use Tom Harrison's Mono Divide High Country map, or pages 5, 6 and 7 of his John Muir Trail map packet.

— Julie Sheer

Photos and Google map by Julie Sheer