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Camping In The High Sierras © 1997 -


This trip took place from July 18 to July 26. The route began at North Lake on the East side of the Kings Canyon National Park, passed over Lamarck Col into Darwin Canyon and went up the valley to Wanda Lake. At Wanda Lake I passed over a saddle to Davies Lakes -- unfortunately none of those images turned out -- and descended the drainage canyon to Goddard Canyon and the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. From there I followed standard use trail to the base of Evolution valley and so climbed up from about 8,000 feet back to 10,000 feet and eventually back into Darwin Canyon and over the Col again.

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After a hike up from 9800 feet, you come to this last sign of civilization at 11,000 feet pointing across the stream to the Col.  No more maintained trails.

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As you climb, something seems to happen to the trees.

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Those boulders are about the size of a TV set.  Once over the Col itself, which we will see in the return pictures, you gaze down into Darwin Canyon, which has been described as "austere".  This picture was taken well down at about 12,000 feet.

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Drop down to the first lake, scramble along the five lakes in this narrow canyon and drop down below Darwin's bench to come to the John Muir trail, then head uphill again to reach Evolution Lake at 10,500 feet and this campsite among the rocks.  

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There is an eighteen pound marmot -- truely the Mother of All Marmots -- that lives underneath the John Muir trail not far from here.  Turn 180 degrees from this view looking west and look east up the valley over the shank of Evolution Lake to see the Evolution range to your left. By way of perspective, the foreground boulders are the size of 30" TV sets and the lake water is 100 yards away.  

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Skirting this lake on the left, climb up through the passage along the stream in clear alpine air to Sapphire lake.  There are few campsites due to the stony ground.

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From here, the John Muir trail ascends to Wanda Lake, and then goes up even higher to 12,000 foot Muir pass.  At Wanda, I left the trail and climbed a moderately gentle saddle to look out over at Wanda Pass, which I had crossed on a previous trip.  The country becomes quite ethereal at this altitude.  From the top of the saddle I took this picture looking due south at Wanda pass -- about 1.5 miles away as the crow flies.

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Coming down into seldom-visited the Davies lake area takes a fair amount of stamina and perspiration, as what was a gentle saddle on one side becomes a steep, boulder-strewn series of terraces dropping a good 800 to a thousand feet rather quickly.  The lake itself is extraordinary in its beauty, which this photo looking back at the saddle two miles away does not do justice.

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Skirting this lake is without a doubt, a chore, but nothing like what was to come.  After crossing this lake over a wierdly narrow strip of rock that is half land-bridge, half isthmus, I came out over a genuinely gentle saddle and looked down at the lake drainage and the beginning of what became a main feeder creek to the San Joaquin river. The canyon walls became sheer cliff faces with 50-foot drops and the going became correspondingly quite rigorous.  Does not look like that from the start, now does it?

Four hours later and about a mile further as the crow flies, I setup camp on a bluff at 10,000 looking at the South Fork of the San Joaquin, unfortunately on the wrong side. That snow melt really woke me up in the morning when I waded across.

Down Goddard Canyon, a delightful place, at the base you come to a bridge, a couple park signs indicating 2.0 miles to Evolution Valley and 16 to Florence Lake. Going back up to Evolution Valley the Mclure Meadow offers an edenic spot to camp, just a hair under 10,000 feet.

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Looking west back down the valley:

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and looking east at the Evolution Range and the hump of the Hermit.

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Make good friends with the Hermit, as he will be company for many an hour.  And here is a last look at him from just above Darwin's Bench.  That trail is not maintained, but generations of hikers have worn a permanent scar in the alpine soil.

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There follows the usual scramble along the five lakes to the base of the col and the first of many looks upward.  So near yet so far.   Like climbing stairs the size of refridgerators on your hands and knees.

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Avalanches had wiped out much of the sand tracks for this year.  But finally, the notch.

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Which unfortunately proved to be the more difficult of the two notches.  Oh well. At least the view on the other side was nice:

I wound up camping just at the tip of the arm of snow on the right.  At 12,000 feet the stars burn with extraordinary intensity at night.

In the morning a couple going up and in took this picture of me.