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John Muir Trail

Day 13 of 22

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Tuesday, July 28th
McGee Canyon to Big Pete Meadow
15.0 miles
2550 vertical feet (ascent)
3120 vertical feet (descent)

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One of the reasons we didn't mind not camping at Evolution Lake was that we had done it before. While it was pretty, we didn't miss the crowds this time. Still, we knew we had a long day ahead of us. It was cold in the morning, though, which meant we took a little longer to get ready, finally hitting the trail at 9:18am.

It was only about 20 minutes before we crossed the creek near the last campsites before the climb up to Evolution Lake. Just after passing the 10,000 foot sign (no campfires above the sign), we started up the switchbacks through the forest. Since it was morning, it was cooler and the switchbacks weren't too bad, climbing about 850 feet. We reached the top at 10:30am.

View on the climb to Evolution Lake

View on the climb to Evolution Lake

View to the west on the climb to Evolution Lake

View from the top of the switchbacks

After a 25 minute break just past the switchbacks, we continued on to Evolution Lake, where we arrived at about 11:20am. While I'm sure there were lots of campers there the previous night, it was now deserted. It also looked less appealing in the harsh late morning light. We followed the trail as it climbed up and down along the eastern shore of the long lake. I was only mildly annoyed that the trail went up and then down 3 times before reaching the inlet stream. This section along the lake seemed to take longer than it should.

Heading toward Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

View looking south across Evolution Lake

Evolution Lake

We rock-hopped across the inlet stream, then climbed up past some streams to Sapphire Lake. We passed a few hikers resting near the streams. We stopped at Sapphire for a food break, noting that there didn't seem to be many campsites here. (One of our ideas had been to hike past Evolution Lake the previous afternoon and camp at Sapphire).

Crossing Evolution Lake inlet stream

Pond above Evolution Lake

Sapphire Lake

Sapphire Lake

We left Sapphire Lake at 1:10pm, climbing up to an unamed lake and then on to large Wanda Lake. When we had hiked next to Wanda Lake last time, the kids were lucky enough to see a frog right next to them, on a rock in the water. There was no such luck this time; unfortunately, I have since heard that a fungus is causing a massive die-off of the frogs. The whole Evolution Valley didn't seem to have quite the same magic as last time. Perhaps it was just that we'd been there before and I was uninspired to take a lot of pictures, having done so already in the past.

Climbing toward Wanda Lake

Wanda Lake

We passed much smaller Lake McDermand, seeing the hut high above in the process. As we passed the lake, the sun disappeared behind some clouds. This was a welcome event, as it meant the climb was much cooler than it could have been. We reached the hut at about 3:15pm. The one thing I immediately noticed about the hut was a string of prayer flags above the door. They had not been there in 2013. Other than that, the hut was much the same. One door, one window, and a bricked up fire place.

Approaching Lake McDermand

Lake McDermand; hut is visible high above

Muir Hut

There were 6 people in the hut when we arrived. Most of them left and I went in to find a couple remaining, getting ready to descend. I took their picture in front of the hut and then they left just before us, heading in the same direction. We would play leap frog with them for a while.

Looking back down at Lake McDermand and Wanda Lake

We left the hut at 3:50pm, knowing we had more than 6 miles of descent to reach our campsite. I figured we could make it by 7pm if we didn't stop. Our goal was to camp at the shark camp (where a large rock has smaller rocks arranged like a shark's teeth), or perhaps in the hidden campite we had stayed at last time, just before Big Pete Meadow.

The descent is easy down to the first little unnamed lake. Then there's a tiny bit of uphill before descending to Helen Lake. When crossing the lake's outlet stream, we knew from past experience to stay on the left side of the stream. There's a visible use trail on the right side, but we knew that was not the actual trail.

Descending toward Helen Lake

Helen Lake

Helen Lake

Experience would again come in handy soon after that. After the steep descent along the outlet stream and then passing another small unnamed lake, the couple in front of us took a wrong turn and lost the trail. I immediately recognized this as the same place that we had briefly gone astray two years ago. I knew the trail went to the left and crossed a stream, and I quickly led us all back onto the trail.

From here it was just descend, descend, descend. We passed the small unnamed lake where we'd seen a ranger two years ago. From here I knew it was about 3 miles to Big Pete Meadow. As we descended past Starr Camp and other camping areas, we saw lots of tents set up, more than we'd seen last time.

Lake next to the trail

Mountain view

We descended with the creek cascading down on our right, wildflowers visible near us. When we got down to the shark camp, it was already long occupied. We kept going and started to look for our hidden camp at about 7:15pm, after 2700 feet of descent.

Descending toward Big Pete Meadow

Wildflowers and cascade

Descending toward Big Pete Meadow

Unfortunately for us, we'd somehow already passed our hidden camp, as the area apparently didn't look familiar enough to us. We spent quite a bit of time going back and forth trying to find a good site. Some were bad, some were taken. Eventually we found a use trail to a big horse camp that was unoccupied. The site is right next to a small meadow that I believe is part of Big Pete Meadow itself.

The site we found was nice, but the only problem was lots of horse manure everywhere. It was hard to find a vacant spot to put the tent down, but we eventually did. When I went to get water from a stream in the meadow, I noticed a very large camp on the other side of the hill to the south, next to the creek. In the morning we would find out that it was a CCC camp.

For now, we were just happy to have a good campsite after a long day. We cleaned up and ate dinner after the sun set, and we were all tired (ok, my wife and I were tired) from what would be our longest day of the JMT (15 miles in just over 10 hours). But the weather was good, we were dry, we had a good site, and we'd sleep and recover for the next day.

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