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Camping In The High Sierras © 1997 -


This year the Mountain Sabbatical went up from North Lake over Lamarck Col, through Mcgee Canyon and Davis Lakes Pass with a leisurely return down Goddard Canyon from Lake Martha.The Region continued to demonstrate long-term trends of increasing aridity and temperatures.

First camp for duffers not planning on doing the Col in a day is usually at Upper Lamarck Lake. As we went in, a small thunderstorm dumped a load of hail and snow on our shoulders, but that ended quickly. A thunderstorm near 11,000 feet is always an impressive experience and we met several panicky folks scampering out of there, uttering dire prognostications and excerpts from Hunter Thompson's favorite scripture, The Book of the Apocalypse.

Here's camp.

The climb up the sandy valley continues to get drier as the years pass. Here is a shot from 1998 of the first snowfield of three that used to block the way throughout the year. It is entirely gone now.

The glacier itself has shrunk dramatically, with the 20 foot ice shelf that used to hang over the tarn completely gone and the glacier about 90% smaller than first encountered.

About the hike up, it remains more or less the same. A video taken from the top of the 100 Switchbacks section looking back at Upper Lamarck Lake and the drainage will be added here soon.

Here is our Editor standing this year in front of the remains of the Lamarck glacier.

Here is a shot of our Editor standing in front of the glacier in the year 2000.

And here is a shot taken a good deal further back of the same glacier taken in the summer of 1977, which was a drought year that saw little snowfall the previous winter. The dark patches in the middle and to the side consist of sand and rockfall resting on top of the snow and ice, which is fifteen feet thick at the water's edge.

The notch with the sign remains the best way over, and to get to that, you scamper up the boulders on the far left, skirt about 15 feet of ice, and go up hard to the left of the granite worm there. There are two ways over, with the preferred marked as "#1". The way at top sneaks around to the 2nd arrow and used to be the preferred way to come back. See the notes below on the route changes.

After a short grunt up and over, we see Mounts Darwin and Mendel from the pass.

Darwin's Bench To McGee: The "lake" pictured on the big waterproof maps of the entire Kings Canyon is only six inches deep now and is not really a recognizeable lake anymore per se.

Here is the lake as it once was as seen on descent in the year 2000. Its quite a bit smaller now and no more than a slightly wider expansion of the stream.

The non-maintained trail down has become over the years for the most part more and more clearly defined, losing all traces only in the rockier areas.

Along the way, we pass Darwin's Bathtub.

Descending from Darwin's Bench the august face of The Hermit presents itself.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Hermit. It can be climbed without technical equipment from the back, or southern slope.

Descent to the PCT is now so well marked, it does not deserve mention. After crossing the stream at Colby Meadow, ascend up the drier of the two drainages if you have not found the use trail until you hit the former rabbit trail that some enterprising soul has converted into a veritable freeway with stone markers every twenty feet or so.

Topping out from the brief 20 minute climb through woods, the lower portion of McGee Canyon presents itself as a well-watered alpine meadow. Please stick to the trail on this section. The correct place to cross the stream is now well marked.

Mount McGee as it tumbles down to the edge of the lake.

This waterfall allows for a refreshing, albeit chilly shower.

Camp at the first lake allows a nice view of the waterfall and the distant hulk of both the Black Giant and Mount Solomon.

Eventually, it comes time to leave this little paradise. Looking back as one ascends, reveals the larger of the McGee Lakes and its dry shores.

There are several ways out, but the easiest remains the northern, or leftmost, drainage which tops out at The Wall. Its easier here than appears. The red bracket there is around the pack leaning on a rock to provide perspective. A now clearly marked trail leads up to the left.

Looking down from the top, a much drier Lake Wanda shows itself beneath the smokey Muir Pass. LeConte Canyon generally emits a haze from the many campfires these days.

The view to the west from this same point still possesses quite a breathtaking panorama, with Sapphire Lake just below.

Click on the image below to get a fuller-sized view of Muir's Range of Light.

In descending, it is important to traverse ALL the way to the right until one hits the drainage on the other side of the tumulus. IGNORE THE DECEPTIVE STONE MARKERS JUST BELOW! Those markers are NOT for backpackers descending! They are intended to guide dayhikers ascending without packs, and will send you through a Class 3 chute of questionable safety.

Davis Lakes: Getting to the Davis Lakes from either direction requires a bit of work, no question. From Wanda, ascend the drainage at the peninsula there without too much effort, passing a small snowpatch, to the tarns on a broad talus-strewn summit saddle. Keeping the tarns to the right, descend smaller talus through a steep drainage, following the markers we have left over the years. Keep off of the big talus, as it is dangerously unstable. Its quite a 500 foot drop in less as much forward progress, until touching the edge of the flat marshland draining into the first lake. The way around is marked in this map and so are some prepared campsites.

Camp in here is likely to be windy until well after nightfall. Fortunately, there is plenty of rock to hold down the tent corners.

Getting around the lakes has become easier since somebody marked a path above some of the looser talus that sends you high again past a couple of charming little tarns to the north away from the main drainage area.

After negotiating the lake talus, there are no more difficult sections down to the San Joaquin River. This part here looks more difficult to descend than actually happens. On descent, cross the stream at any point and keep it to the right.

The trick on the descent is to stay high above the creek, taking the first opportunity to hop over the ridge to the left at the big waterfall, then keep hopping the tail-end of ridges about three or four times, following the dry drainages down.

Eventually, you come down through trees to the flat flood plain of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. A few steps from this spot, there is a flat place that allows easy walk up to the trail.

Heading up the trail higher brings the hiker to austere Lake Martha at the foot of Mount Goddard.

The descent from here through Goddard Canyon is a pleasant mixture of open meadows, waterfalls, granite traverses and channelled stream from 11,800 feet with hardly a switchback, well just a few, down down down a dizzy long way to about 8,000 feet and the Confluence of the San Joaquin and the Evolution.

Prepared camps are spaced out an even 1 mile apart along the trail, which was being upgraded and repaired during our visit. A magnificent 8-point stag wandered through and around camp without a sign of fear.

Returning via the col: After climbing from the Confluence and making the "wet crossing", one ascends into Evolution Valley proper and a series of meadows, largest of which is McClure, where the Hermit again presents himself.

Here a fisherman tries his luck at McClure Meadow.

Climbing up the drainage, a pleasant waterfall cascades down through laurel and lupine.

Here is Darwin's Bench seen from the ridge on the far left of the trail down. Folks taking the high route from Evolution Lake see the Bench from this viewpoint.

Looking up from the Second Lake, the Col is invisible behind the heel of rock to the left.

The best notch going northeast has changed at the col!

The approach remains the same over the years. Go high to the left of the tumulus of rock at the far shore of the Penultimate Lake and follow sand trails up. Near the top, the old route has changed. Where the trails used to lead one to the right of the jagged notches, the trails now guide people higher to the Old Man's Finger and a clearly defined notch -- which is quietly bypassed just below. Here is the Old Man's Finger.

The route has changed because the glacier has become less passible in becoming more steep and with almost no more snow to kick in. This route entirely bypasses the glacier in dropping you on a sand and talus slope to the west. We checked out all the notches, and this is, indeed, the best one now.

Here is a shot of the tarn taken from the Old Man's Finger notch, dated 1998. The glacier from the point of the pool all the way left outside the frame is ENTIRELY GONE.

From here, it is a gradual drop from the High Sierra to the treeline and the Pass of the 100 Switchbacks down to Upper Lamarck Lake.

PS: There really aren't 100 switchbacks, but it sure feels that way.