Day 7: Muir Trail Ranch to Evolution Meadow
After 6 days of getting up super early to cover some ground, we had our first chance to get some extra sleep. The Muir Trail Ranch didn't open until 8 am so we took full advantage of this extra time. It was pretty close to 8 am by the time I crawled out of my sleeping bag.
I cooked my usual oatmeal breakfast, packed up my stuff and headed to the ranch where we would finally refuel our packs with all of the items we shipped to ourselves weeks in advance. I picked up the 5-gallon bucket full of Snickers, Cliff bars, oatmeal, trail mix and freeze-dried meals and started repacking my bear canister and backpack.
I spread everything out, counted out my meals, planned my snacks and crammed as much food into my bear canister as possible. The backpacker's area quickly filled up with people all sorting their food and repacking their packs. We saw people we'd run into on the trail and we met some new people while we swapped stories about our trips. There were PCT Thru-Hikers, northbound JMT hikers and fellow south bound hikers who we'd get to know and see over and over in the coming days.
We plugged our electronics into the power strip provided by the ranch, refilled our water bottles from a faucet for the first time in days and checked out their tiny store for any other must-have items. We spent way too much time talking and hanging out with fellow hikers. It was nearly 1 pm before we finally threw on our packs and headed out on the trail. It was fun to take some time to interact with others and not be worried about covering miles.
Our original agenda had built in one extra day but we decided that we should put in as many miles as possible to put ourselves in a better position to finish on time, so we headed out. A relatively steady climb brought us to the Piute Creek about 3.3 miles east of the Muir Trail Ranch. At this point we crossed into Kings Canyon National Park.
We carried on for another 3.8 miles and took a break at Franklin Meadow along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. With barely over 7 miles under our belts I was exhausted. My feet were sore from the 21.5 miles we had covered the day before. I laid down at Franklin Meadow for a while secretly hoping the other guys would just call it a day but we were over 15 miles from the top of Muir Pass. We couldn't afford to not get over the pass the next day and hitting the pass after 15 miles wouldn't be easy. So we decided to push on about 2 miles to Evolution Meadow.
The climb to Evolution Meadow was steep. We climbed over 800 feet in one mile. The trail followed Evolution Creek which was waterfall after waterfall. It was beautiful. Once the terrain flattened out we began looking for a campsite. We spotted a beautiful spot right on Evolution Creek. Paul grabbed his fishing pole and hit the creek almost as fast as I took off my shoes and placed my battered feet in the cool river water.
We had covered just short of 9 miles. We all felt pretty good about the short day, the position it put us in to tackle Muir Pass the next morning and our position to finish our John Muir Trail thru-hike on time.
Day 8: Evolution Meadow to Big Pete Meadow
Day 8 was just like any other morning. We did our routine then hit the trail to get as many miles in as possible before the heat of the afternoon set in. Evolution Meadow was a large grassy meadow with a meandering creek and many wildflowers. We passed by the McClure Meadow Ranger Station and Colby Meadow before we hit switchbacks that took us up to Evolution Lake.
I was personally looking forward to Evolution Lake because someone at the Muir Trail Ranch had told me it was awesome, and it was. We decided to push on to Wanda Lake which was a couple miles further. I looked forward to reaching Wanda Lake to rest my feet and to hopefully do a little swimming. When we arrived at Wanda Lake the sky was cloudy and it was way too cold to get in the water. After only a few minutes of sitting by the lake we all agreed that we should push on if we were going to get over the pass before the rainstorm arrives.
At 11,955' Muir Pass offered up some amazing views. When we arrived at the top of the pass we discovered a small rock structure that was built to provide shelter to hikers who were stuck in storms. Ironically, the clouds were really beginning to congregate over our heads. Shortly after I reached the Muir Hut, it began to lightly rain. Paul, Chris and I took shelter in the hut.
Another group of hikers arrived within a few minutes and were happy to find shelter. A few minutes later another backpacker showed up and then another. We were thankful for this dry place to hang out and we waited out the storm by sharing stories of where we had camped, where the good fishing was and what we planned to eat when we got back to town.
The rain was slowing down so we decided we should cover a few miles and find a campsite below treeline. I pulled out my rain jacket for the first time this trip and quickly walked downhill hoping to get to camp soon. We wound through rocky terrain hoping to find a campsite. Once we reached the treeline the rain had completely stopped and we found an established spot just off the trail with three flat spots big enough for our tents.
We ate dinner and were in bed before 8 pm. We had covered 16.2 miles and climbed over 3200' of elevation. We felt good about being within reach of climbing Mather Pass the next day and being on pace to finish the John Muir Trail thru-hike on time.
Day 9: Big Pete Meadow to Palisade Lakes
I woke up on day nine feeling pretty good. It was a warm and sunny morning. Within the first 30 minutes of hiking we stopped at a creek running over the rocks and posed for some photos. For some reason we broke into a song and we all sang along. We had finally become really comfortable with each other or we had lost our minds minds. I'm not sure. Probably a little of both.
We dropped some elevation and passed by Le Conte Canyon Ranger Station. The trail followed the Middle Fork of the Kings River then turned and followed Palisade Creek up towards Mather Pass. The trail was relatively flat heading into Deer Meadow and we were making pretty good time.
We met a couple girls named Torey and Alana and hung out on a giant rock for a few minutes. I was thankful for a rest as the afternoon sun was becoming very hot. After about 15 minutes of talking about our mutual adventures we decided to move on. Within a few minutes we arrived at Deer Meadow. The area was a large grassy meadow where a few creeks all converged. We refilled our water bottles and contemplated spending some time in the meadow. Since the creeks weren't very deep, I wanted to push on for Palisade Lakes where I could jump in and do some afternoon swimming.
While Deer Meadow and Palisade Lakes are only about 1.5 miles apart on the map, you gain 1500 feet of elevation in what is known as the Golden Staircase. This was the last section of the John Muir Trail to be built. It's a steep staircase with tight switchbacks. For some reason I was feeling good and I took a rare lead for our group and pushed up the Golden Staircase all the way to Palisade Lakes.
When we arrived at Palisade Lakes it was beginning to rain. My plan of swimming in the lake was out of the question. I was still feeling pretty good and wanted to push over Mather Pass but the weather was not good and the Staircase had taken a lot out of us so we grabbed a campsite just below the lake.
After we set up camp it began to rain harder. I crawled in my tent and fell asleep. After a short nap the rain had passed and I got up to eat dinner and hang around camp for a while. It started to rain again so I called it a night and went to bed in my dry tent. I fell asleep listening to Paul count the seconds between lightning and thunder.
We had covered 15.3 miles and climbed 2732 feet in elevation. We now had only 5 days left on the trail and our fears of whether or not we would make it had changed to wishing we had more time to enjoy this amazing adventure.
Follow this entire John Muir Trail thru-hike:
Day 1-3 Tuolumne Meadows to Crater Meadow
Day 4-6 Boundary Creek to Muir Trail Ranch
Day 10-12 Palisade Lakes to Forester Pass
Day 13 & 14 Hiking Mount Whitney