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Camping In The High Sierras © 1997 -


This trip took place from August 4 to August 13. The route began at North Lake on the East side of the Kings Canyon National Park, passed over Piute Pass on good trails to Muriel Lake at 11,800 feet, above Humphries Basin. We descended to the basin to rejoin the Piute trail, following it down to the confluence of Piute Creek and the South Fork of the San Joaquin River at 8400 feet. Looping around the glacial divide, we then climbed up to Evolution Valley at 9600 feet and ascended this terraced valley with its meadows and waterfalls to Mclure. Stayed a couple days there, then left the trail with great relief at 10,600, abandoning the horse-fed flies and mosquitoes almost immediately.

We ascended to Darwins Bench at 11,000 feet, and continued to climb towards Darwin Canyon. At the mouth of the canyon we climbed west to the pristine and seldom-visited lakes below Mt. Goethe. Finally, we went over Alpine Col after a difficult approach and an even more difficult -- and hazardous descent -- back to Muriel Lake, having crossed the glacial divide below the crumbling mass of Muriel Mountain.

We eyeballed the Keyhole, and determined no one should attempt that pass unless fortified by substantial experience and climbing equipment.

Alpine Col, relatively easy in itself, is not recommended for backpackers because of the laborious approaches on either side and the very dangerous talus on the northwest. I have over 20 years of climbing experience and would recommend the col for skiers in the winter only. Unlike the other cols, it is NOT a quick way in or out and the talus is far more unstable than the stuff even at Wallace-Haeckle, which has been called "The Col from Hell."

In any case, here we go.

Basic qualifications for this kind of trip: My travel companion does 1000 pushups each day.  Before breakfast.

Loch Leven

Piute Lake. 

Piute Pass is worth the views.

Camp here at Lake Muriel dropped to 28 degrees at 11,800 feet.  There are no longer trout in Humphries Basin -- they were netted out when it was thought that the trout were causing a massive die-off of the yellow-leg frog.  Turned out the culprit was a fungus.

The Matthes glaciers.

Feats don't fail me now.  This is near Hutchinson Meadow.  My friend had many choice words to say about the numerous wet crossings due to the swollen streams -- none of the words are printable however.


This is the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.

After a sojourn overnight down there where a most unruly bear has taken to raiding campers, we topped out here the next day at the start of Evolution Valley. This is about 9700 feet in elevation.

More wet crossings.  The recent thunderstorms had made the ford wider, but it never got more than 18 inches deep.  If you choose the right way. . .

The Destination after four days of walking: Mclure Meadow in Evolution Valley.

We did a layover here for a day and a night, fishing and cleaning up.

At night, the bats would scoop down to about three feet over our heads.  Big fellows too.

Did we catch any fish?

Did we eat them with wild onions?

Did we have a beautiful camp with a view?

Leaving this spot and all trails behind, we climbed up to Darwins Bench. 

After a pleasant lunch at 11,000 feet, we climbed up still more.

Here we viewed the task ahead. 

The col is behind that shoulder of rock (some 500-800 feet high) and to the left.  Getting there is all the task we needed.

We camped here and fetched water from a tarn which proved to contain tiny golden trout.  Temps dropped below freezing again, but the Perseids were amazing.

You can see my friend on the strip of land between the tarn and the far lake to get some idea of the immensity of this.

There is another lake on the other side of the isthmus here in that depression.  The lake is about a mile and a half long.

The proper way is to keep to the east side of the lakes.  Here is the col at last.  The Keyhole is in the notch at the far right of this frame.  It was about 2pm at the time this shot was taken. It was 4:30 by the time we reached the other side by going right.

One of the easier passages.

At 4:30, we finally started going up, not having changed elevation significantly since 9 that morning.

The actual col was polished off in about 20 minutes.

At 12,500 feet, this is one of the lowest cols in the Glacial Divide.  That is Lake Goethe down below. 

Another shot of the lake without the distracting foreground. You also can see that the sun has set already for the opposite ridge.  We failed to make the lake this day.

Just as the last ambient light fled, we dropped down into this dry camp where we had to melt snow for drinking water and cooking.   But it was the only place around flat enough to lay out a sleeping bag.

In the Morning I did a 20 minute circuit to try to find a way out of this rocky basin and down to the lake.  Here I am trying to figure it out still.

We made it down sometime after noon and then began skirting the lake on the western side. This shot kind of shows what we spent our time doing for about six hours.

It does not look that hard, now does it?

We practically scampered over to the Piute pass once we picked up a use trail on the north end of the lake.  By ten that evening we were eating pizza in Bishop.  The col is to the right of Muriel's knob here.

By the way, please leave pets at home. The Wilderness is no place for Fido and Fifi.  Presence of domesticated animals of any type degrades the environment and the experience for everyone.