Evolution Basin and Beyond, Kings Canyon National Park and John Muir Wilderness, California
- Trek with only a day pack and let pack animals carry the equipment and food
- Experience one of the most magnificent sections of the John Muir Trail
- Enjoy four layover days to explore or relax
- All meals from dinner the first day to lunch of the last day prepared by packer’s cook
- Wranglers, cook, pack animals; gratuities for packer’s staff
- Shuttle by packer from Pine Creek trailhead back to cars at South Lake trailhead
|Dates||Aug 17–30, 2014|
We spend the first two days of our trip car camping near the trailhead of our wilderness hike. This gives us a chance to acclimate to the high elevation, provide an orientation to trip procedures, and get acquainted with the other trip members. We will plan a moderate day hike for the day after we first meet.
Our route in the wilderness passes through some of the most magnificent high country that the Sierra Nevada Mountains have to offer. Traveling from South Lake in the south to Pine Creek in the north, we cross three passes. Bishop Pass and Pine Creek Pass cross the main Sierra Divide, and Muir Pass crosses from the Middle Fork Kings River to the South Fork San Joaquin River. Muir and Bishop are at about 12,000 feet elevation and Pine Creek is not too far behind at 11,200 feet. Much of our route is above 10,000 feet in elevation. We follow the John Muir Trail for a considerable distance (24 miles), starting from the Middle Fork of the Kings just below Little Pete Meadow to the junction of the Piute Pass Trail on the South Fork of the San Joaquin. Dusy Basin, the Evolution country, and Upper French Canyon are three of the featured areas of the trip.
A brief description of the route follows. Refer to the Itinerary section of this brochure for a more detailed day-by-day account. Starting at South Lake, southwest of Bishop, we climb over Bishop Pass and descend to Dusy Basin, where we spend a layover day. Dropping to the Middle Fork of the Kings River, we climb up Le Conte Canyon to a camp in the upper Canyon. The next day, we cross over Muir Pass and descend to Sapphire Lake for our second layover day. We then pass through Evolution Basin to a camp at Evolution Meadow. Then we drop to the South Fork of the San Joaquin, which we follow to the junction of Piute Creek. Several miles up the canyon is the next camp. After climbing to upper French Canyon we camp and spend a layover day exploring the basin. Finally, we cross Pine Creek Pass, then camp at Upper Pine Lake with a layover day, before we exit to the Pine Creek trailhead.
A total of 12 days will be spent on the trail. Four of these are planned as layover days. On the eight moving days we will hike about 60 miles and climb 8,800 feet for averages of about 8 miles and 1,100 feet per day. Including the two days for acclimation before starting on the trail, the trip has a total of 14 days. The trip should be considered moderate in difficulty, although several days are fairly strenuous. The four layover days help to make the difficulty rating lower.
The packer will furnish delicious meals with a cook to handle all the kitchen chores including cleanup. Chairs are furnished to relax in camp. In case of rain the wranglers will put up a large tarp to sit under. A sit-down toilet with a privacy tent will be provided at each camp. Mules will carry all equipment and food except what we require during the day and carry in our day packs.
Day 1: We meet at 4 p.m. at a campground on Bishop Creek to be designated later. There will be time to get acquainted before dinner is served around 6 p.m.
Day 2: We explore on a day hike in the Bishop Creek area and have time for a trip orientation and socialization. We spend the night at the same camp.
Day 3: Starting at the Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake (9,800 feet elevation), we climb for about six miles to the pass at 11,972 feet, much of the distance through a beautiful basin of alpine lakes. From the pass a descent of about three miles brings us to our camp in the spectacular Dusy Basin. (9 miles, 2,300 feet)
Day 4: Layover day to rest and explore Dusy Basin.
Day 5: We drop over 2,000 feet in a little over 3 miles to the Middle Fork of the Kings River. Following the stream up the deep Le Conte Canyon, we climb about 2,000 feet in 4 or 5 miles to our second camp. (8 miles, 2,000 feet)
Day 6: This day’s travel is mostly above timberline. The climb to Muir Pass is about 1,400 feet and between 3 and 4 miles. We drop about 1,000 feet in 4 miles to a camp at Sapphire Lake. On the way to Muir Pass, we observe Helen Lake on the right and Wanda Lake on the left as we descend from the pass. These lakes bear the names of the daughters of John Muir. (7 miles, 1,400 feet)
Day 7: Layover. We can choose to rest or explore Evolution Basin.
Day 8: We descend along Evolution Creek, passing beautiful Evolution Lake, Colby Meadow, McClure Meadow, and finally Evolution Meadow, where we find our next camp. (9 miles, negligible climb)
Day 9: We continue our descent along Evolution Creek to the South Fork of the San Joaquin River and follow it down to the lowest point of our trip (8,000 feet) at the junction of the Piute Pass Trail. There we leave the San Joaquin and climb up Piute Creek a couple of miles to our camp. (8 miles, 800 feet)
Day 10: Climbing up Piute Creek, we reach the junction of the French Canyon Trail at Hutchinson Meadow. We follow this trail to our camp in the upper reaches of the canyon. (9 miles, 1,500 feet)
Day 11: Layover Day. Rest or explore the lakes in the basin to the east of our camp.
Day 12: We cross over Pine Creek Pass (or take an alternate cross-country route via Royce Lakes) to our camp at Upper Pine Lake. (5 miles, 800 feet)
Day 13: Layover Day. Rest or explore Granite Park, Chalfant Lakes, or Royce Lakes.
Day 14: Hike to the Pine Creek Trailhead. From there the packer will provide a shuttle back to our vehicles at South Lake. (5 miles, negligible climb, but 2,700 feet descent)
Total distance is approximately 60 miles and a 8,800-foot climb.
Note: The distances and elevation gains shown above are approximate. The planned itinerary may have to be modified due to factors such as weather and limitations for camping with stock.
Our meeting place is at a camp on Bishop Creek west of the town of Bishop. Bishop is on US Highway 395 which parallels the Sierra Range on the east side. The exact campground location will be indicated later to those signing up for the trip.
Sierra Club leaders are not allowed to make carpool arrangements for participants, but a list of trip members to contact for possible ride-sharing arrangements will be provided before the trip. If you are flying in from outside of California, the nearest large airports are Sacramento, Reno, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco. There is also a smaller airport at Mammoth Lakes.
Accommodations and Food
We will use our individual tents and sleeping bags for accommodations at wilderness campsites after the first two nights of car camping. At each camp a latrine will be dug and a sit-down toilet and toilet tent will be set up by the wranglers. Folding chairs will be provided for comfort in camp. A large tarp will be set up in camp in case of rain. All meals will be prepared and served by an experienced cook beginning with dinner on the first day and ending with lunch on the last day. The cook will also handle the cleanup after meals. A food preference sheet will furnished for trip members to fill out so that the food provided can more closely meet trip members' needs. If you have special diet requirements, let the trip leader know and he will check with the packer to see if they can be accommodated.
The overall trip rating is moderate, although a couple of days are fairly strenuous. The relatively light day pack and layover days make the trip suitable for most people in good health who follow a good conditioning program for at least a couple of months before the trip. Be aware of the effect of the relatively high elevation on your hiking ability. Refer to the itinerary for the individual day’s hiking requirements. The most difficult days involve elevation gains of about 2,300 feet in a distance of about 9 or 10 miles. Endurance is much more important than speed. Our travel on moving days is all on trails, but exploring on layover days may involve cross-country routes over a range of difficulty. These excursions are optional for trip members.
The weather is usually quite good at this time of the year in this area, but we should be prepared for wet and cold just in case. Most likely it will be fairly dry with temperatures in the 55 to 70 F range for highs, and the 35 to 45 F for lows, but be prepared for considerable variation from these ranges. Most summer precipitation comes in the form of afternoon thundershowers, with usually a clearing sky by evening.
Equipment and Clothing
A couple of months before the trip, those signing up for the trip will be furnished with a detailed checklist of required and optional personal items they should bring on the trip. These items will be very similar to what you would bring on a backpack trip, except that the generous 35 lb. limit means that you can indulge in a little more luxury. You need only a day pack to carry gear since the mules will carry everything except what you will need during the day on the trail. The gear to be carried on the mules should preferably be placed in one large duffel bag. However, it is okay to split your gear into two bags. A sturdy pair of boots -- broken in but not worn out, with good quality lug soles -- is needed. Your sleeping bag should be comfortable to about 25 F in case we get a cold spell. You can get by with a higher temperature rated bag if you are willing to wear your warm clothes to bed. A quality tent is recommended since we are camping at relatively high elevations and need to be prepared in case stormy weather catches us in an exposed location. The packer will furnish stoves, cookware, cooking utensils (including eating utensils and plates for trip members) and food. You will also have a camp chair provided. You might want to bring a mug or insulated beverage container for your hot drinks and a plastic container for lunch sandwiches. The Sierra Club will furnish a group first-aid kit and a satellite phone in case of emergency. You are expected to furnish your own basic first-aid supplies such as band aids, blister material, headache relief, etc.
There are many sources of information on the Sierra Nevada in general, and also some that relate more specifically to the area we are visiting. The same is true of maps. We will list a few of each and leave it to you to search online if you want to find others.
- “A guide to the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness." Go to http://nationalforeststore.com/ and select Wilderness Maps and then the map ($12.00 last time the trip leader checked, although REI wants about $20). This map at a scale of 1:63,360 with 80 foot contours has the advantage of showing the entire Sierra from Mammoth Lakes to the northern end of Golden Trout Wilderness in one set of two large maps at a bargain price. The down side is that, unless you want to carry the entire sheet, you either have to cut out the section we travel or photocopy it.
- National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map “Mammoth Lakes Mono Divide." This map shows most of the area of our hike, missing only a short distance at the south end between Bishop Pass and Big Pete Meadow. It is at a scale of 1:63,360 and a contour interval of 50 feet.
- The following U.S.G.S. 7.5-minute maps together cover our planned route: Mount Thompson, Mount Darwin, Mount Henry, Mount Hilgard, Mount Tom, Mount Goddard, and North Palisade. These maps may be purchased online at: http://store.usgs.gov/
- Arnot, Phil, John Muir’s Range of Light.
- Storer, Tracy and Robert Usinger, Sierra Nevada Natural History.
- Secor, R J, The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails.
- Starr, Walter A., Starr's Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Region.
- Horn, Elisabeth, Sierra Nevada Wildflowers.
- Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.
- Morey and White, Sierra South.
Since we are hiking in wilderness, one conservation focus will be on wilderness. This includes how wilderness is defined, designated, and preserved. Our contribution to wilderness preservation will be to follow Leave No Trace principles.
A second approach to conservation will be to ask each trip participant to select a conservation issue, preferably one from the vicinity in which they live, and present that topic to the group for information and discussion.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park and Inyo National Forest.