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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 Lamarck Col and crossed the river in Evolution Valley to proceed entirely off-trail into the interior behind the Hermit, doing a complete circumnavigation of that prominent feature, while remaining well above 10,500 feet for the duration of eight days. The Sierra spring was still in full swing late into the end of August with unseasonably warm temps and the ways among the rocks in the high country are sprinkled with glowing little gems in flower.

Lamarck Col was greeted like an old friend for the seventh time.  Albeit, this friend suffers from a radically shrinking waistline, unlike some of us.

A photographer who came up looking for vistas noted, "Well that is the most disappointing thing I ever hiked 7 seven miles to see; it's positively ugly!  Where's the lake?"

Well the effect of global warming has had some effects. Here, for comparison is a photo of the same glacier taken at the same time of year in 1997.

For the Directionally Confused and Traffic Enfeebled, we include here proof positive of the true Col's location.  It is to the far left of the pic above, NOT the easier-looking notch as seen from below,  so stop annoying me with alternate routes.

Somehow appraised that one would rather look at things of beauty up there -- and not at my ugly mug -- here is the view from the top into the canyon.  This is Mount Darwin and Mendel.  Note the "duck" of three stones about 30 feet down.

Within the canyon itself there are few good places to camp out of the wind and morning comes at a late 10:00am into the steep walls, but this spot between lakes Two and Three was backed by a nice cliff and total wind protection.  As a warning to you all: never camp next to a cliff during a rainstorm of any merit.  You will certainly regret it most severely, for the protective walls of cliffs will shunt loads of water underneath you and provide marvelous conductivity for lightening.

So many go blasting through this most delightful of areas in the Sierra, with grim determination to pack in the miles and make the next determined waypoint that few pause to savor the pleasures of Darwin's Bench.  Some trips I have spent the entire time entirely on the Bench and felt quite content.

Only 3/4ths of a mile down the way, I decided to drop down yet again.  Perhaps the 75 pound pack also was a persuasion.

Scoffers may say, "Well, what is so special about that?  A pile of rocks and dwarf pines!"

It's a matter of perspective.  And a nice view from one's chosen doorstep.

Of course it helps if you get lucky fishing for trout.  Then again, it also helps if the first catch has some, er, heft to it.

Fortunately, the Mountain Goddess does provide to the Humble and the Foolish.  Here is a partial stringer that became supper.

Like with all Sierra trout it was necessary to hide behind a boulder and approach surreptitiously with calculated design with hare's ear #16 and parachute nymphs.  Many thanks to Mark, who provided hand-tied flies for the occasion.

After a restful night observing the remains of the Perseid meteors and the glory of a waxing moon, morning arrives on the Bench.  Since all the water bottles and the water pump had frozen overnight, it was time to take a nice walk.  Camp was in the dwarf pines to the right in the photo.

After a bit, the sun returns a warm glow to the rock on the Bench.

Returning almost to camp, it is appropriate to give due measure to the Hermit, who will be our constant companion for the next week or so.

And here looking down at the task ahead, that little bit of green to the right of the Hermit looks like such a simple task from here.  Simply descend from 11,400 feet to 9600 feet and climb up again.  No problem.

The descent to Evo Valley has been described elsewhere.  Once down, the intrepid off-trail hiker must cross the river. We chose a moderate log across a twenty-foot chasm above roiling water and clashing rocks.  Which put us in a manure dump for pack animals.  Departing that noisome place hastily, we worked our way along animal trails along the far side of the river for about a mile, gradually taking the high route until the drainage for McGee.  There is not the slightest trace of a trail, so one must hunt back and forth across the cascades in a steady ascent for about a mile and a half to avoid dense thickets of bracken and brush.  Eventually, one comes out onto an alpine meadow that in wetter years must be skirted for all the myriad runoff courses turning the entire area into a sump.  A pair of mule deer scampered off impatiently before the camera could be brought to bear.  Incidentally, with thousands of berry bushes clogging the drainage, the place appeared to be ideal for Bear Heaven, but no bear sign were discerned.

Working one's way through this "meadow" is a bit more work than appears.  Eventually one comes to view the next task, which is the cut behind the Hermit proper. Here we see the line of green defining the cut and the massifs of Mts. McGee and Peter overseeing all.


Getting there takes some work and then there is the ascent.  Traces of a faint trail made many years ago and long forgotten can be found by people who can read trail sign.  Be aware that the final climb to the last terrace must be done high, or the the climb will prove to be quite dangerous with a pack.  A fall here at the falls could be fatal and we could not afford the distraction of photographs for safety reasons.  This is very definitely a non-maintained passage.

Once up to 10,800 feet, however the prospects are modest and charming in a subtle way, without the grandiosity of the neighboring heights.  One could probably climb Mt. Peter in an afternoon. 

The prospects in McGee Canyon are modest by Sierra standards, but compelling.  Here is the view from camp.  The dark blots to the left of the photo at the rim of the lake are seven-foot waterfalls which provide a welcome shower on the hot day.

Camp provided a pleasant prospect over the shallow lake.  There are some trout, but they are small and wily.  Also note that there are large magpies in residence here and they will take your watch, your keys, your cutlery or anything shiny and of interest if you are not careful.

The climb around the lakes and up the drainage is a fairly straightforward process done with help of a good compass.  The old maps are out of date and avalanches have changed the look of the topography.  Use your compass while ascending for there are several routes up and out to various destinations.  In descent there is no problem finding routes as all tend to one central point.

If your choice is to rejoin the JMT near Sapphire Lake, the recommended route by Starrs and Secor, then you will be puzzled, as I was by a seeming discrepancy as you approach the mileage limit with a supposed 400 more feet of ascent still allowed.  As you round a bend on a level basin, you confront the resolution to the problem. Here is your 400 feet.

The red box to the right of the frame points at the pack left resting on a rock (click the picture to see a larger version).

Yet this obstacle is nothing to what will follow.  Nor does it match the expanse that greets the climber on ascent to 11,800 feet. This image is stitched from five photographs along a panorama of well over 80 miles and has been reduced by 50% to allow for modem-encumbered friends to download.  The original image is 245 inches long.  Lets just say the view from the top is quite impressive.

The descent is nothing short of a motherfucker.  With gradients of 45 degrees and more, we had to resort to removing the pack and lowering by fifty-foot rope and then following with hand, over hand fisting into cracks.  Ascending is perversely easier and safer as the ascendee can follow clear drainages, avoiding cliff-like structures right at the start.  Bear in mind that the climb is a full 1,000 feet up a very steep slope through loose talus. 

After landing at Sapphire lake, we marched along the JMT to Evolution Lake and our favorite spot at the head of the waterfalls.  Fell into exhausted dreams.  In the morning a walk was again in order.

Just a few feet beyond this spot the world drops away to Evolution Valley below.

Not far from this spot one can haul in quite large trout.  No, I am not going to tell you where they are to be had.  You must go off trail quite a ways. These had to be fried one at a time and cut in half besides so as to fit the pan.

 On the walkout, there remains only the curious and impertinent Mr. Marmot to inquire if accommodations have been up to snuff.

And who should I encounter on the Col on return but Peter Spoecker himself, once again  We descended together and I took this photo of his most famous reconstructed Toyota Corolla, cum hatchback.

This remarkable personage walks with a didgeridoo as a walking stick, has broken both legs in a climbing accident that left him hanging for 26 hours on a rope in a crevice, visits Bombay, India each year and survives by selling flutes and didgeridoos.  At 63 years of age he runs six miles a day and scampers up and down the high Sierra like a mountain goat.  If you want to know more about didgeridoos and Peter's music, check out didgeridooshop.