Evolution Lake to Muir Trail Ranch, 16+ miles
Today is Resupply Day! We are headed to Muir Trail Ranch, and we have to get there by 5 pm to get our bucket of food that we mailed from Chicago back in June. Only problem is that MTR is 16 miles from where we are now at Evolution Lake, and that’s a long way for us to go, especially under a deadline. We are hoping we’ll make it, but, if not, we’ll just camp nearby and pick up our cache the next morning.
We wake up at 5 and hit the trail by 6:40—our best time yet. It’s funny how food can really motivate people! We might have been quicker, but two handsome young bucks with antlers strolled into our campsite, and we were pretty excited to observe them for a while.
The hike around Evolution is beautiful as expected, and the early morning lake reflections are enchanting.
From the end of the lake, we start the big, long 2200′ descent to MTR. I guess if you are going to have to hike 16 miles, you’d rather it be on a descent than an ascent. The first part is the steepest as we switchback down the mountainside into Evolution Valley.
We are making good time, but just before reaching McClure Meadow, we cross paths with a South African couple, and, of course, we have to stop and chat with them. They are living in the San Fran area while he is in graduate school. They are really cool, and we wish we had more time to talk, but food is waiting. Tick, tock!
We continue on at our top pace and try not to get too involved in any more conversations with the other hikers we pass. They seem to be on a pace, too, but many ask us about the bug situation heading south. Apparently the bugs have been horrendous ahead, and these southbounders are relieved when we tell them that they haven’t been too bad so far, at least not for us.
Our next big obstacle is the Evolution crossing. There are two options. The first is crossing at the creek which is along the original trail and can be hazardous when the water is high. There is another option along a short alternate trail with a crossing at the meadow. We poll the hikers coming in the opposite direction to see what they did. Some did the meadow, while others tell us that the creek is perfectly fine. We have to make a decision without seeing the creek for ourselves, so, when the time comes, we play it safe and choose the meadow.
We come to the river crossing almost instantly, and it doesn’t look too bad, although it is about 30 feet of wading, our widest ford on the JMT yet. We change into our water shoes and set out. It’s not too bad at first, but about halfway across, our feet go numb. It’s always an unpleasant sensation when the water is so cold it burns. As soon as we get on the other side, we try to walk off the pain a little.
We notice four deer about 100 feet downstream fording to the opposite bank. They are feeding and moving upstream towards us. We sit and watch them until they pass making us really happy that we picked the meadow route.
From there, we switchback our way down the rest of the valley to the South Fork of the San Joaquin and walk along a rocky Piute Canyon trail for 3.5 miles before crossing Piute Creek on a footbridge at the border of Kings Canyon National Park and the John Muir Wilderness.
Even though yesterday was the midpoint day of our 25-day trek, today is feeling like a much bigger milestone. We are ending Leg 2 of our trek, exiting the national park (we walked across an entire national park!), entering a new wilderness and getting our next cache of food—that is, if we can get there before 5 pm!
We walk the next 1.8 miles together, but now it is already 3:30, and we still have 1.5 miles to go. We decide to split up. I give Matt the claim ticket for our bucket, the InReach and its charger, and he takes off as fast as he can to retrieve our food cache. I tell myself it will likely be 4:15 before I get to MTR and to stop looking at my watch. I use all my will power to make the time pass quickly and not look down, but, every time I do, only another minute has passed since the last time I looked.
I finally reach the sign post to MTR, and then it’s another 1/10 of a mile or so and down a steep hill to the ranch. There are loads of backpackers here going through a dozen or so food buckets of leftover trail food trying to trade up some of their food for what others have left behind. Matt is there, too, and he’s psyched because he has found some mini Tabasco bottles for our beans and some Nutella packets to satisfy his sweet tooth.
I grab our bucket and start emptying out all of the contents on one of the large tables they have set up. We only have about 30 minutes to get our food and gear sorted until they kick us out, so it’s go, go, go even though we are dead tired. Somehow we manage to get everything done—garbage thrown out, maps exchanged, headlamp batteries changed, toiletries replaced, food portioned and placed into our bear vaults—just in the nick of time.
At 5:00 pm sharp the staff at MTR politely ask us to close up shop and leave the grounds. Muir Trail Ranch gets a bad rap for this, but it is a functioning resort for paying guests who pay a lot of money to stay there and deserve a little peace and quiet. After being herded out, we head up the steep hill and take the trail leading to Blayney Hot Springs. It ends at the river, and there is a hiker campground there. It is packed. Tents are scattered everywhere throughout the rock formations, and privacy will be hard to come by tonight.
There are some natural hot springs across the river, but we’ve heard mixed reports about them. They are pretty muddy and don’t leave you feeling very clean afterwards. Plus they are really buggy. The river is wide, thigh-high and running fast, so we decide to take a pass on the hot springs, do our camp chores and climb up high in the surrounding rock formations to eat our dinner and study the next section of trail maps we just picked up. We spend the evening planning out the third leg of our journey hoping to cover the 50 miles to Red’s Meadow, our next resupply point in 4 days instead of 5. This will allow us to take a zero day in Mammoth to take care of a few things and still finish up on time.
After covering 16 miles under some time stress today, bed is calling, and we both pass out within minutes of laying down even though there are people up chatting around campfires in nearby campsites well after hiker’s midnight.