Friday, September 26, 2014

Evolution Valley

I first learned of the Evolution Valley loop from my friend Shad. It is a 55 mile route with about 10K of climbing through the southern Sierras going over three high passes (Bishop, Muir and Piute) and including roughly 25 miles on the John Muir Trail. Subsequently, I read about the route in Trail Runner Magazine and have been itching to run it for a couple of years. When my friend BJ mentioned that he was planning to run it in early July I was all in. I flew down to southern California to meet BJ and Steve in Bishop. We stopped by the local running store, Sage to Summit, to get a few last minute items and check with them on trail conditions. I highly recommend stopping at the store if you are hiking or running in the area since they are super friendly and have great advice/information about trails in the area. Based on their advice, we decided to do the loop starting at the South Lake trailhead and finishing at the North Lake trailhead. We dropped one rental car at the North Lake trailhead Friday night and got ready for an early start on Saturday morning. The distance between trailheads is about 8 miles so it is possible to do the route completely as a loop without a car shuttle, but I highly recommend NOT trying to run between the trailheads. The day of running was too long as it was without adding a long road section on top of it. My badass friend Shad ran the road section to complete the loop solo and you can read about his experience here.

The scenery on this route is unparalleled, especially if you like the Sierras. Almost all of the trail is above treeline and there are lakes and granite everywhere. For me the day was incredibly difficult. I don't know how much of it was the altitude and how much was lack of fitness. The trailhead is at about 9,000 feet of elevation and we stayed between nine and twelve thousand feet the entire day. The climbs were very sustained with 8-12 miles uphill (or downhill) in a row. It ended up taking us almost 20 hours to arrive at the north lake trailhead. I highly recommend this route, but be prepared for a very difficult 55 miles. You can read another writeup on the route from Leor Pantilat here.

The route map
LeConte Canyon

Approaching Muir Pass

Helen Lake

Steve topping out at Muir Pass

Descending from Muir Pass

Black Giant

Sapphire Lake

Evolution Lake

Evolution Valley

McClure Meadow

Joaquin River

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