Friday July 23, 2021
Start: campsite at bridge over South Fork of the San Joaquin River
End: Evolution Lake campsite
We had a very hard night with very little sleep. We were up at 6am and out of the campsite by 7:15am. We climbed a good 800′, and then waded across the icy but only ankle-deep Evolution Creek. Then we continued to climb, eventually passing by McClure and Colby Meadows.
We ascended to Evolution Lake. When we arrived, large dark clouds were building and passing overhead. We stopped to eat a snack and it abruptly started to rain. It gave us a small shower before stopping, but the handful of lightening bolts and intensely loud thunder cracks that echoed off the valley’s walls were scary.
We hiked another mile or two with our pack covers on before setting up at the last Guthook campsite by Evolution Lake before Muir Pass at 3pm, for a relaxed afternoon.
We’ve been discussing alternate options for trail exit other than Mt Whitney since Day 2 of our JMT trip. We planned our mileage a bit too aggressively, the terrain was rockier than I remembered, and we didn’t give ourselves enough down time or flexibility to account for unanticipated troubles, like bad weather or nagging injuries.
We knew that Bishop and Kearsarge Passes were both options for cutting the trip/our miles shorter if necessary. It’s been a stretch every day to make the miles on our itinerary; we would generally be awake around 5:30am and on trail before 7am, and then hike until 7 or 8pm, with snack and meal breaks sprinkled throughout. Our longest days were deeply physically and psychologically draining and led to emotional disregulation and “bonking.”
During our brutally sleepless night last night, we ended up talking again about our end destination. We reflected that we’ve come a long way (just about 100 miles in 6 days) in rough terrain and we’re both exhausted and this pace isn’t sustainable. So we made the very difficult decision to intentionally slow down, relax and enjoy the scenery, and exit at Bishops Pass.
This 12-mile side trail will take us to a busy trailhead on the eastern side of the Sierra. We’ll reach the side trail tomorrow afternoon and the trailhead by the end of Sunday. Then we’ll hitch a ride into Bishop with one of the people leaving, or worst case scenario, we camp at the trailhead and catch the 8:45am ESTA bus on Monday morning.
It was a difficult but necessary decision, and we’ve been trying to focus on the amazing things we’ve accomplished, rather than the disappointment of not achieving what we’d initially set out to do. But we’re already talking about “when we come back”, and how nice it would be to take a week to hike the remaining 92 miles (Bishops Pass to Mt Whitney and exit out the Portal). We’ve learned a lot about hiking together, and we’ve had a wonderful backcountry adventure!