September 7 (~07:45 – ~19:00)
Evolution Creek crossing – before Big Pete Meadow (18.0 mi / Total: 832.9 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2522.1
Weather: Sunny with clouds and wind.
My day starts with the Evolution Creek crossing. This is usually a river of concern, chest deep with a strong current that needs to be forded with care, but this late in the season it’s only knee deep at most. I’m very glad I’m here now – I’ve done enough scary river crossings in New Zealand to know I never want to do another ever again.
It’s pretty late by the time I’m up, on the other side of the river and ready to start the day. Arriving at camp in the dark is never the best incentive to get up early the next day, so I packed up slowly, and now I’m going up in the forest again, alongside beautiful meadows. It’s a slow ascend towards Muir Pass which is 12 miles away, and sits at just under 12,000 feet.
I’m excited. This should be the first pass that really has that alien, moonlike rock look going on, and I’ve been waiting for this. Meanwhile the trail switches from smooth upward motion to steep switchbacks, and I pass more and more hikers on the way. I’m less tired these days and my legs are feeling better, more energetic, because of the shorter days I’ve been doing. I do feel my lower leg – I was afraid taking pain killers would unknowingly cause me to push through too much, and the pain never subsided during the night. I try something else – I loosen my shoe laces, and somehow it seems to keep the pain from getting worse. It doesn’t dissipate, but it’s not as urgent as before. I wonder if my shoe was the problem to begin with.
The views grow as I get higher, and I feel light with all this beauty around me, I’m revelling in it. I take lots of pictures as I progress swiftly, more and more of this pointy peak ahead of me, until I hit Evolution Lake.
It’s the first lake of quite a few – every time I move higher up, another alpine lake appears. This one is rich with shrubbery, green meadows and trees, everything vibrant with clear blue water. It’s a large lake, and the trail leads around it, sheltered by high, regal crags, and then I’m moving upwards again, and the grass lessens, the amount of rock grows. It’s happening. There are more people but everyone has their own space – it seems as though everyone is taking their time today, everyone is taking it all in, without any rush.
When I reach Sapphire Lake, I sit on the big rocks and have an early lunch. Afterwards I try and continue to move along steadily but I can’t, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of rock. The mountains only seem to be growing in size, and the rock gets more and more white. It’s so gorgeous I take pictures every few feet, from every single angle. I take so many pictures I don’t even check if they’re all right anymore. I just start taking the next one. I can’t get anywhere today but it’s worth it. I wanted to see this. I’ve been waiting for this.
When I reach Wanda Lake I know I’m close, I know I’m getting high. There’s practically no green anymore, the trail skirting around the high water level, tiny flies harmlessly swarming the edge of the lake and attaching to my legs. The mountains on the other side are covered in snow patches and the rocks are so white they hurt my eyes, and I wear my sunglasses so I can see.
Then finally I’m on top. There’s a small brick shelter which is gorgeous, although the bottom door is stuck so I can’t get inside. The mountains on the other side of the pass are even more snow covered, and grand, and I can’t believe I’m moving into such a dramatic landscape. The sun is so bright I can barely see what’s happening on my camera, but I go with it anyways. Picture after picture after picture. All those sharp mountain tops rising high above, this is a special place. I remember Triple Whammy calling Muir Pass something close to a spiritual experience, and although my feeling don’t go that deep, she sure is a beauty.
Now it’s rocks and lakes and more mind blowing sights and once I pass the lakes I turn a corner and follow the water down, quite literally. The trail itself merges with the river, and suddenly I’m not preoccupied with taking pictures anymore, but finding my way across the many rocks. Water cascades violently down the mountainside and the trail follows and it’s a challenge with all these obstacles, and then it’s a land of rock intertwined with small meadows and clusters of trees and it’s only 4 and everyone is camped already. So many JMT hikers.
Everything was so wild and now it’s a land of elves again, tents hidden in all the trees, everything picturesque, the evening approaching except for me. I pass through all the meadows and then it’s steep switchbacks down a slow rocky path next to the angry river into this grand valley. The sun has gone behind the mountains, and all I can think of is camp and food but I’m nowhere near my target destination. It’s cold now. Cold and windy and I have another 5 miles to go when I realise it’s 7 pm, and there’s no way I’m going to do that.
For a moment I’m annoyed with myself for wasting all that time taking pictures, and I resent the JMT hikers for making it seem like I should’ve set up camp hours ago. It’s useless to think like this, I’m on a completely different hike, but still. It’s about to get dark and I’m getting tired of hiking into the night. The valley is cold and there are bears here but I give up – I decide this is it for tonight. I’m setting up.