Treasures of the Goddard Divide, Kings Canyon National Park, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13130A, Backpack


  • Hike challenging cross-country routes
  • Visit spectacular lakes and remote basins of the Goddard Divide
  • Relax, climb a peak, or explore on two planned layover days


  • Great company and experienced volunteer leaders
  • All on-trip meals, group cooking gear, and bear cans
  • Permits and campground fees


DatesJul 25–Aug 3, 2013
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffNancy Mathison

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Our adventure will take us to the heart of Kings Canyon National Park, where we will explore remote lake basins of the Goddard Divide and, if we choose, venture into one of the wildest, most remote areas of the Sierra Nevada: the Ionian Basin. Spectacular lakes at the headwaters of the San Joaquin River lie in abundance along our route, while jagged 13,000-foot peaks named after famous evolutionists by Theodore Solomons in 1895 surround us, towering above. A loop trip, our route begins and ends at Florence Lake.  Along the way we will circumnavigate the Goddard Divide, visit Evolution Basin, and hike through Evolution Valley and Goddard Canyon. We will see the contrasts of dark metamorphic rock of the Goddard Divide and the lighter granites of the Evolution Peaks, and see for ourselves why John Muir called the High Sierra the “Range of Light.”


Day 1: The trip will begin with a potluck dinner on Thursday, July 25 at a campground near Florence Lake (elevation 7,328 feet). The closest major airport and town is Fresno on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. We will send you information and directions to the campground in a pre-trip letter. The evening will be a great time for us to meet our backpacking companions and relax over a meal with them before beginning our adventure. We will also go over trip procedures, give ourselves one more night to acclimate to the high elevation, and finish preparations for our journey.

Day 2: We will provide a group breakfast at the campground, then drive to Florence Lake where we will leave our cars and civilization behind to begin our wilderness adventure.  We will catch the 8:30 a.m. ferry to cross Florence Lake and begin hiking toward Muir Ranch and up the John Muir Trail/ Pacific Crest Trail to our first campsite near Aspen Meadow on the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.

Day 3: We will continue for another couple of miles on the John Muir/ Pacific Crest Trail, then our route will continue on-trail as we turn southward and climb steadily up Goddard Canyon toward Martha Lake. 

Day 4: We will complete our final ascent to Martha Lake off-trail. This will be a short traveling day of less than four miles, so we will have time to enjoy exploring the area around Martha Lake in the afternoon before dinner.

Day 5: Today we will spend a planned layover day at Martha Lake. Opportunities for exploration surround us with the close proximity of the Ionian Basin, Mt. Goddard, Scylla, Ragged Spur, Mt. Reinstein, and the many lakes dotting the nearby landscape.

Day 6: We continue our adventure by winding our way off-trail through the rocky landscape and past numerous small lakes to Davis Lake, where we plan to spend the night on a peninsula between two segments of the lake.

Day 7: We will resume our journey off-trail eastward to join the John Muir Trail. We’ll follow a short segment of the John Muir Trail toward Sapphire Lake, then head off-trail before reaching the lake to cross a saddle into the remote McGee Lakes Basin.

Day 8: At McGee Lakes we’ll take the second of two planned layover days to explore the basin, and perhaps head into the nearby lake basin northeast of Emerald Peak.  Or, we have the option to forego our layover day and travel as a group to spend the night in the lake basin northeast of Emerald Peak.

Day 9: We will hike a short distance off-trail to meet the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail in Evolution Valley, then head westward to camp along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.

Day 10: We will relish our final day in the wilderness as we return to Florence Lake to catch the ferry and find our vehicles, which will return us to civilization.



Getting There

The trip begins and ends at Florence Lake (7,328 feet) on the western side of the Sierra Nevada in California. Florence Lake reservoir resides in the John Muir Wilderness Area of the Sierra National Forest. Its location is approximately 80 miles, or three hours, east of Fresno, CA.

The closest major airport is Fresno, California (100 miles). Airports in San Francisco (281 miles), Oakland (263 miles), and Los Angeles (311 miles) require an additional 2-5 hours of driving time to the campground where we will meet on July 25. We will send a trip roster and specific driving directions to all participants well before the trip to help facilitate travel arrangements and ride sharing. 

Accommodations and Food

All on-trip meals, beginning with breakfast on our first hiking day (Friday, July 26) and ending with lunch on our last day (Saturday, August 3) are included in the trip fee. The leader enjoys planning meals that are flavorful, diverse, and at times, atypical of usual backpacking fare. We will provide a menu that appeals to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Trip members will share the responsibilities for meal preparation and clean up.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated 4 (moderate/strenuous) on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult. It is suited for experienced backpackers with off-trail experience on rugged, alpine terrain. Participation in this outing requires that you have recent backpacking experience, are in excellent physical condition, have very good aerobic conditioning, and realistic expectations for the trip. We prefer that you have previous off-trail backpacking experience as we will traverse some talus fields and rough, rocky terrain, which require good balance and a patient, tolerant attitude.  Our goal is to enjoy the spectacular country and complete the trip safely as a group.

Mileage on our seven hiking days ranges from 6-10 miles per day, with a total of over 50 miles for the entire trip. Our first three days combined will likely be our most challenging as we gain more than 3,500 feet over 22 miles with full packs, all while acclimating to the high elevation. Campsites throughout most of our trip will be above 10,000 feet. We will hike off-trail during four days of the trip. The off-trail segments will include some hiking on rough terrain with loose footing. These sections are not technically difficult (no greater than Class 2), but can be tiring and demanding. Cross-country hiking requires mental and physical stamina, and good balance.

Our hiking schedule is not rigid -- how far we get each day and where we camp depends on how we feel, the weather, and other factors outside our control. Likewise, our precise route has not been rigidly set since we will be hiking off-trail during sections of the trip. There may be portions of the route that were not scouted by the leaders before the trip -- some scouting will be required during the trip, and flexibility is important. The itinerary described here should be taken as a general plan, and the actual route and schedule may depart from it.

Known for its temperate summer weather, the High Sierra can experience sudden, unexpected spells of rain, hail, snow, heat and cold. Daytime temperatures can soar into the upper 80s, while nighttime temperatures can dip into the 30s, or lower. It is essential that you be prepared for extremes in weather conditions, and also be flexible so that we can adapt our route to accommodate unexpected conditions or events. 

Equipment and Clothing

We provide the following items: food (including all trail snacks), pots, cooking utensils, stoves, fuel, and bear-proof food cans. At the beginning of the trip you will receive one bear can loaded with group food, plus a portion of the group gear, which together will weigh up to 18 pounds. Please limit your personal gear to under 25 pounds, so that your total pack weight is less than 50 pounds, including 1-2 liters of water (2 liters of water weighs 4.4 pounds). You may bring your own water filter, or we will provide information regarding alternate water treatments prior to the trip. We recommend that you wear sturdy, fully broken-in leather boots with rubber lug soles, and that you waterproof them before beginning the trip. For shelter, we strongly encourage you to bring a tent with a rain fly -- a lightweight waterproof tarp is the required minimum. For raingear, bring a waterproof jacket and pants instead of a poncho. The leader will send detailed equipment recommendations to participants well in advance of the trip. More information regarding personal gear may be found at the following link:



Please bring your own map and compass, both for your personal safety, and to more fully appreciate our route and the inspiring landscape surrounding us.

  • The U.S.G.S. 7.5-rninute "Mt. Darwin," “Mt. Henry,” “Mt. Goddard," “Blackcap Mtn,” and "Ward Mtn" quadrangles together cover our planned route

Alternatives include:

  • The 1:47,520 scale maps published by Tom Harrison: "Mono Divide High Country,” and “Kings Canyon High Country”
  • The 1:63,360 scale map of the John Muir Wilderness published by the U.S. Forest Service

Maps may be purchased online:


  • Secor, R.J., The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails. An excellent general reference to climbing routes, cross-country routes, and trails in the Sierra Nevada.
  • Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada (published by the California Academy of Sciences), is an excellent guide to the plants and wildlife of the Sierra Nevada.


"Do something for wildness." – John Muir

The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it." – President Lyndon B. Johnson

We will venture off-trail into pristine alpine lake basins, which appear today much as they must have to the early mountaineers of the 19th century. We will share the mountaineers' stories and their visions for ensuring the preservation of this treasured wilderness for many generations to come. As a group we will diligently observe Leave No Trace principles, and invite discussion of current efforts to protect our wilderness lands.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Sierra National Forest.



Nancy Mathison took her first wilderness trip to the High Sierra in 1972 and has returned to its spectacular landscape to backpack and cross-country ski every year since then. She began participating in the Sierra Club National Outings Program in 2001 to venture off the beaten path with other backpackers who share her love for adventure and the wild, pristine beauty of the Sierra. Having led over 20 trips for Sierra Club National Outings, she has backpacked throughout the western United States and Alaska, and has hiked in Switzerland and Italy. In her other life back down at sea level, Nancy is a professional clarinetist and teaches instrumental music in the public schools. She enjoys weekly hikes in the mountains near Santa Barbara, and has recently begun to dabble with organic urban farming.


Growing up next to the Cascade Mountains near Seattle, Washington, Chris began backpacking at an early age with his father and the Boy Scouts of America, where he earned its highest rank of Eagle Scout. He has been a trip leader with Sierra Club National Outings Program since 2009, backpacking and climbing throughout the Sierra Nevada, and has adventure-traveled throughout the United States and abroad, including Belize, Peru, Switzerland, Australia and Tanzania. Chris currently lives in San Jose, California where he is a technical project manager and is working on a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He enjoys reading, photography, running and riding his bike around San Francisco Bay.

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