August 20, 2014
Day 17 – Start of the switchbacks that lead up to Evolution Basin (9,940ft) to Big Pete Meadow (9,240ft) via Muir Pass (11, 980ft),
Camped just past the Big Pete Meadow creek crossing.
Woke to clear, blue skies, albeit not as clear as they had been a week earlier with lingering moisture induced haze in the air.
Having camped just below the switchbacks up to Evolution Basin, we start the climb through the trees. The morning sun falls on Hermit Peak as we reach the top of the switchbacks.
Once at the top, the traverse across Evolution Basin skirts a series of lakes along a mostly well graded uphill track with a few minor sections of switchbacks and steeper climbs.
Above the tree line the first lakes, including Evolution Lake, are ringed with low vegetation. As we climb the landscape becomes starker, rockier and monochromatic in all white granite. Streams and small cascades add a needed accent to the rocky landscape.
At Wanda Lake the trail turns to the left for the last long traverse up to Muir Pass. The track remains well graded with amazing views to our back, but approaching nearly 12,000ft seems to go on forever.
At the top of the pass is a stone hut, built as an emergency storm shelter. We cook lunch, take in the last views back towards Evolution Basin and contemplate new vistas to the south.
On the descent down the other side we negotiate the rockiest track we’ve seen on the JMT thus far. To my delight however, the geology has completely changed. Leaving the monochromatic white granite behind we enter a world of dark and sometimes colorful metaphoric rock. Small lakes and streams continue to add drama to an otherwise barren landscape.
About two miles after leaving the pass, the cliffs change back to white granite as we descend the valley back below the tree line. A steep track of switchbacks follows a cascading stream of impressive falls down to the valley floor.
Dark and brooding clouds chase us down the valley while blue skies with their white puffy cousins pave the trail in front of us. The trail levels off as we reach Big Pete Meadow, which is actually smaller than Little Pete Meadow further down the trail.
By the time we reach our campsite at Big Pete Meadow the threat of rain has diminished. By sunset the sky is nearly clear again.
We enjoy one last campfire before we climb above the fire limit and stay above it for the rest of the trip to Mt Whitney.