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Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

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Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby jawcar » Fri Jun 24, 2016 11:21 am

Hello all, and thank you in advance for reading and replying.

My GF and I are currently planning to do the Evolution Loop first week of August. From North Lake, over Lamarck Col, and then down, around, and out through Piute Pass. In four to five days.

My question: Is this too much for us?

We are both mid 30s and in good shape and have been on a few serious backpacking trips. But we are not great with ascending steep faces and serious scrambling. If anyone is familiar with the "Class 3" scramble out of Coyote Gulch in Escalante in Utah, that rattled us both.

The many of you who've climbed between Lamarck Lake and Darwin Bench, what do you think? What particular parts of trail do you think would strain us?

I've researched and read up on the trail and I am concerned about the ascent from Upper Lamarck to the plateau below the Col. A little concerned about the last few meters of the snowfield right below the Col. And finally I wonder if I'm underestimating the talus field on the Darwin Bench side of the col, which i understand to be strenuous, but not scary or dizzying.

Again, I appreciate everyone's views and replies.

(And those who would lean towards answering "yes," I'd love to hear an alternative!)



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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby BigMan » Fri Jun 24, 2016 11:53 am

I share your fear of steep off-trail terrain, and I've done this hike.

I don't recall anything scary between Lamarck Lakes and tarn below the Col. Class 1 all the way.

I found the snow patch on the eastside of the Col to be a bit nerve-racking because I had very little experience on snow, but once I began ascending and creating solid kick-steps I felt fine. However, about a third of the way up I ran into hard ice and had to turn around and descend before scrambling up the snowfree rocky section to the left (as you're facing the Col). I felt a bit uneasy descending the snowfield but it was easy and short. The scramble up the rocky section was tiring but not scary or exposed.

The descent down towards Darwin Lakes was also easy. Almost 100% class 1.
Last edited by BigMan on Fri Jun 24, 2016 11:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Jun 24, 2016 11:53 am

The snowfield may or may not be an issue by August. Plenty of people go over and there usually is a beaten path in the snow. It can be icy early morning, so do it after 10AM or so. I once just waited until another party went over and followed their fresh tracks. I actually think it is harder when the snow has nearly melted, vs when it is all snow. Once the snow melts, it leaves gritty dirt on rock and steep scree.

The west side descent is all a matter of route finding. There is a faint use-trail down the entire route. Find this, and there is little "scrambling" or even talus. Miss the use-trail, and you can get into some gnarly stuff. The traverse past the lakes has some talus, but it is flat. If you find the use-trail it is not too hard. If not, you can get hung up on some short cliffs that may require 10 feet or so of class 3.

The pass is steep, and if you had to do it in a rain, it could be slippery. I would not suggest it if this is your first time doing off-trail travel. If you have some off-trail experience and are competent at micro-route finding, you should be OK.

In August the climb up to Lamark Col can be horribly hot which along with the altitude, can make getting to Darwin Bench in one day very difficult, if not fully acclimated. There is no shade for most of the way. There is a creek that is fed by the snowfield on the Col. It may dry up by late August. Last year the tarn below the Col even was nearly gone. This year should be better. As long as there is water, there are many places you can camp on the east side, if you choose to do so. The descent on the west will stress your legs, so if you are beat by the time you get to the tarn, it may not be a good idea to descend without a rest.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby BigMan » Fri Jun 24, 2016 12:06 pm

WD raises a great point about how strenuous it can be.

I hiked from Lower Lamarck Lake to Darwin Bench on Day 2, before getting acclimatized, while carrying about 35 lbs on my back. And I rushed to get over the Col before the potential afternoon storm. That was a very tough day.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby maverick » Fri Jun 24, 2016 12:17 pm

You wrote this in your intro:
My primary anxiety at the moment is finding the trail and making it over Lamarck Col (from North Lake), and also doing the loop in only 4 days with my SO who is game but slightly less experienced than me.


You indicate that you are a level 2 backpacker and that your SO is less experienced, as in my previous answer to you, this trip may be over your head, not only Lamarck Col itself, but also trying to complete this trip in 3 nights (4 days).
Have you done a crosscountry pass before? Have both of you been to high elevations previously? Ever have altitude sickness?
Please read the following and give us more information about your, and more importantly your SO experience: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=4205
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby balance » Fri Jun 24, 2016 12:45 pm

Greetings jawcar

You've picked a great place to travel. The lakes just over Lamarck Col are a favorite of mine. You might want to explore the upper basin, and spend some time there.

Here's what happened on my Lamarck Col trip. When I got my wilderness permit at the kiosk/park service building, there was a nice, sort of bewildered elderly couple just ahead of me. The young college kid working in the office suggested going up over Lamarck Col to these people, so they got a permit and headed up that way. They were wearing brand new boots without a scuff. Their sleeping pads strapped to their brand new packs were literally in the original plastic wrap with the price tags still on.

I'm shaking my head laughing to this day. I'm sure they never made it past the long slog of suncups on the way to the Col. That college kid must have had something like vengeful feelings towards his grandparents or something. No doubt he's now working in Washington DC managing a large project for the federal government.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby jawcar » Fri Jun 24, 2016 1:37 pm

maverick wrote:You indicate that you are a level 2 backpacker and that your SO is less experienced, as in my previous answer to you, this trip may be over your head, not only Lamarck Col itself, but also trying to complete this trip in 3 nights (4 days).
Have you done a crosscountry pass before? Have both of you been to high elevations previously? Ever have altitude sickness?
Please read the following and give us more information about your, and more importantly your SO experience: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=4205


Thank you very much for your reply to this and my other post, Maverick. I appreciate your advice and will consider it carefully.

Both of us have backpacked at altitude before (I in the Sierras, her in Peru) and did not have acute/noticeable altitude sickness. We nonetheless plan to take at least a full day of acclimation near North Lake before setting out and we have a campsite booked for that day. And in fact the itinerary I'm leaning towards now is four nights: the first night near Upper Lamarck to further acclimate after a short hike in, and then three on the loop.

Neither of us have hiked a cross country pass and this is my primary concern about the route. We have traveled cross country and picked our way along use trails in other areas, but I am very wary about going in unprepared.

I would tend to say that I am more Level 3 than Level 2. GF is Level 2 for sure. I think we are capable with cross-country terrain. But not experts, and I have not hiked in the Sierras for about 10 years.

Of course it's hard to be sure when discussing this over the internet. My goal is to be as close to 100% prepared as possible and to mitigate my anxiety. I am not too stubborn to abandon this route if it becomes clear that it has a significant likelihood of being a bummer for us. If you can take the time to elaborate on your thoughts and concerns i will definitely appreciate it.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby maverick » Fri Jun 24, 2016 2:00 pm

Read this: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=14113&start=12&hilit=lamarck+col
There is a lot of info in the above thread, also Phil Arnot's book "High Sierra" has a good description of the route. Taking a day to acclimate at Lamarck Lake is a good idea, the eastern side will be rocky and unstable without the snow, the eastern side gets a little confusing for a lot of new people because of all the numerous ducks and use trails descending into Darwin Canyon, choose one and descend. LC gets quite a bit of usage, so the likelihood of others either going in or coming out is possible and can be helpful.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby Hobbes » Fri Jun 24, 2016 3:14 pm

Lamarck isn't technical, but it is strenuous - hitting 13k out of the box is tough. I wouldn't worry about either the ascent from N Lake or the descent down to Darwin. Daisy makes the essential point - it's steep, hot & long(ish). I wouldn't attempt to drive to the TH & hike the entire distance the same day, especially during the afternoon.

If you took your time and camped by either of the lakes your first day, then you'd have a nice pleasant morning to make the ascent. It shouldn't take you more than 2-3 hours, so if you left early, you could be up & over before 10. Once at the top, it's fairly straightforward getting down. You can see exactly where you're going, there's no cliffs or steep sections to down climb, and there's a use trail, complete with switchbacks, all the way down.

Since you'll have your car at the TH, if you didn't like the approach, or didn't want to deal with Darwin bench, there's nothing stopping you from turning around. Everyone here has done it - either weather, conditions, motivation, interest, you name it, it's no big deal to head back out the way you came if you're not feeling the groove.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby SSSdave » Fri Jun 24, 2016 4:20 pm

Climbing the snowfield at Lamarck Col can be dangerous after previous winter snow has melted off leaving hard glacial ice that is beneath. (Although the drought may have melted much of that ice?). But that won't be the situation this summer early August as there is more snow so what you will likely find is big suncups. As WD noted, if so don't climb it early morning when icy. Otherwise read and study Maverick's discussion link. But yes one can get in trouble going over the col just like one can on many other class 2 Sierra routes if one does not use a map, doesn't do their homework, and simply visually follows use paths since not a few of the latter were made by fools.

A common mindset of many backpackers hiking up from trailheads going over Sierra Crest passes is to not bother stopping anywhere along east slopes as though such is uninteresting. That of course is a stupid attitude as in fact areas east of the crest are often more scenically spectacular than what one will find to the west. Four days would be too much a beater so minimum 5 days for that loop with 6 or 7 much better.

LC is about 3800 trail feet above the trailhead so unless one is in really good shape, the wiser strategy is to NOT do the hike in one day but rather more leisurely in two. And most that go over that crest then intend to hike down to the lowest lake or Darwin Bench that is not a picnic either as it requires up and downs over some large boulder talus areas.

A superb place to camp the first day as long as it isn't windy is at these cross hairs at 11650:

http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=37.20573,-118.64830&z=15&t=T

Water is readily available nearby just below in meadow seeps. Great views down toward Upper Lamarck, out to the Owens and White Mountains, as well as the craggy crest areas northwest. Then the next morning you can continue on in good morning light, the modest 1200 feet to the col while fresh and strong. Up at the top views at say 9am looking down Darwin Canyon with Darwin and Mendel at left will look far better under that early morning front lighting than if one were viewing back lit in the afternoon. And your whole descent through that valley of patter noster lakes will be that much better early. Highly recommend camping second night at Darwin Bench versus say Evolution Lake or down in forested hole that is Evolution Valley where one cannot see much above.
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby jawcar » Mon Jun 27, 2016 8:39 am

Thanks all for the great replies!

I will continue to research and try to prepare myself. We have a few backup plans if we decide not to take the Col. First among those is looking to be an out-and-back into Evolution Valley from Florence Lake.

Thanks again, all!
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Re: Is Lamarck Col Too Much For Us

Postby Backpackingmom » Tue Jun 28, 2016 12:58 pm

Hubby and I hiked out from Darwin bench over Lamarck Col a few years ago (I know its the opposite direction from your planned route.) I thought I would reply and second what another poster said - it was strenuous for me. That being said, I was about 48 years old and have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I successfully made it over the Col from Darwin Lakes. Lots of big boulders to get around and it was tough! But I survived. I was sore for days afterwords!!!! Happy Trails :)
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