TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

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kylekuzma
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TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by kylekuzma » Sun Jan 10, 2021 1:55 pm

I highly recommend reading this trip report on my blog where I include all of the photos and videos. You can click on the link here: https://medium.com/travel-yung/evolutio ... 2ba11a9318
However, if you only care about the text, it is below.

One question i have for anyone who can help is to check out the picture i attached which is from our hammock spot and to let me know if i labeled those peaks right. Just curious
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I had read for years and years that Evolution Valley is one of the premier destinations in the Sierra and thus had long planned to explore the region but to no avail. Finally, amongst my four ‘Summer of Covid’ hikes, I was geared up and ready to jaunt around the area with one of my best friends since high school, Michael Faso. This would be another hike where I was bringing a beginner into the backcountry and dialing up the difficulty to — at times — uncomfortable levels. I’ve already written a few posts about how this isn’t always the best idea, but Michael was serious and he had put a little bit (read: not enough) of effort into the training so we went ahead.

Day 1: North Lake campground to 1.5 miles before Lamarck Col

Both of us desired to play our hike by ear, and so we decided to wait until we were in the backcountry to make specific route plans. We had a permit for Lamarck Lakes, and that was about it. We had read plenty of trip reports and spoken with a few friends who had gone into the area, and figured we would make it up as we went depending on how we were feeling.

We started up towards Lamarck Col on Wednesday afternoon, aiming to hike for a few hours until sunset so we could acclimate and make the summit early morning the following day. This trip was sandwiched between the small fires in August and the major fires that consumed the state in early/mid September, so although we didn’t encounter horrible smoke, it was immediately clear upon starting our hike that our views would be hazy for the majority of the trip. Although not incredibly difficult, the hike from North Lake to Lamarck Lakes is a steady incline, and given that it was Michael’s first time hiking with a pack on, he was understandably slow. I made a mental note of how beautiful Lamarck Lake was and will definitely consider it for a beginner’s day-in-day-out.

Once we passed Lamarck Lakes, the trail becomes noticeably steeper, and i knew we needed to find a place to camp before Michael became worn out. After an insanely steep push which is around the 5 miles marker (like, it’s some of the steepest USFS trail i’ve ever encountered), we found what seemed to be the last traces of grass before the trail becomes a moonscape and decided to make camp. We could hear trickles of water in some of the cracks and after setting up our stuff, we were able to find some, alleviating some of the stress we were feeling about not having enough water for tomorrows push to the col. We concluded a tough afternoon, Michael was tired but accomplished, and we both were happy to get to bed just as it started to get dark.

Day 2: Approx. 1.5 miles before Lamarck Col to Darwin Bench campsite

Michael and I were up early knowing that we were going to have some slow walking and heavy breathing on our way up to Lamarck Col. Distance-wise i knew it wasn’t bad, but again bringing a beginner up a slightly-sketchy 12,800 foot pass means slow going. The approach to the Col — or actually, all of it since we had left upper Lamarck Lake — was not very fun to look at unless you like the austere moonscape feel that i’ve found common in the eastern sierra above 11,500 feet. The starkness of the landscape plus the yellow light of the morning and the haze from the fires made for some otherworldly photos.

We reached the top of Lamarck Col at about 9:30am. The push towards the top isn’t steep, but it’s sandy in places and there’s the perennial snow patch that make things interesting. We were thrilled to be at the top and be done climbing for at least a full day, and we both relished in the view of Darwin Canyon. It was beautiful, grey, and austere as i had expected, with nothing except the deep blue lakes and and granite boulders in the shadows of the Mendel and Darwin. We settled in for a 15 minutes snack.

Upon finishing, we proceeded down the steep side of Lamarck Col into Darwin Canyon and made our way into Darwin Bench. Up to this point, our speed was noticeably slow, but i still felt confident about being able to get down into Evolution Valley to camp. This plan quickly deteriorated as Michael effectively blacked out — his face with that ‘lights on but nobody’s home’ look — during our walk down into and through the canyon. I really do give him credit though as getting this far with a pack on is no small feet for a beginner: the altitude, the exhaustion from summiting a pass first thing in the morning, and the tediousness of boulder hopping through the talus in Darwin Cyn will take its toll on anyone. Nonetheless, he was really slowing dofwn it was clear that we weren’t going to make it much further.

It was at that moment that i realized that thankfully we didn’t need to go much further. I realized we could change up our overall plan and turn the hike into a basecamp+day-hike trip and hit two birds with one stone. First, it would allow us to see 4 different parts of the region that i wanted to explore (McGee Lakes & Evolution Basin in one loop, Evolution Valley & Lake 11092 in another). Secondly, with me carrying the day pack, Michael could hike with no pack on and actually enjoy his surroundings (and also get him into proper shape for the return walk).

We got deeper into the stunning yet tranquil Darwin Bench and stopped for lunch. I can see why this place has such a good reputation: it’s quintessential High Sierra within that sweet spot between 10,500' and 11,500'. Not too many trees, gurgling creeks with small and large waterfalls, ponds + small lakes, and grey and brown boulders. It’s seriously the best. We sat and calculated that we had enough supplies for 3 full days, so with Michael in the condition he was in we made the choice to start looking for camp and enjoy ourselves a super long afternoon of relaxation. We found a great site not too far from the trail, close to a few beautiful ponds/waterfalls and a perfect hammock spot that had views of at least six peaks including Goddard deep in the distance. We spent the rest of the day enjoying camp and resting our legs.

Day 3: Darwin Bench Campsite -> Lake 11092' -> Evolution Valley -> Darwin Bench Campsite

I was excited to hike for a full day again and especially excited to be able to do what i figured was going to be an epic day hike. Most importantly, today i would finally get to walk through Evolution Valley which i had been waiting to do for years. Both Michael and I woke up early to a crisp and beautiful morning and got a relatively early start towards Lake 11092'. This 3-ish mile traverse above Evolution Valley was really fun: it had all the good kinds of scrambling and route finding and the views of Evolution Valley were incredible. Every now and then we would be greeted by an opening that would give us a 180 degree view of the valley, with views of McClure and Colby Meadows and also the bend in the valley that eventually meets up with Goddard Cyn. We got a bit delayed on the approach to the lake due to some micro-terrain, getting caught in a few ravines and trying to avoid having to climb another small mound. We ended up getting to the lake at about 10:15am and hung out for about an hour…snacking up and playing cards and soaking in the view.

The hike down into the valley is pretty self-explanatory. We basically just followed the outlet, which was a beautiful stroll listening to the rushing stream beside us. We didn’t see any use-trail until we got to the steep part whereas then we were able to find some tracks to follow down into McClure meadow. We made it down in about 45 minutes or so and once we were there we had no choice but to stop again for another 30 minutes because McClure Meadow and Evolution Creek are impossible to just pass through. Over the course of about 30 minutes we swam in the creek, snacked some more, and chatted up a few JMT hikers that we saw rushing through what seemed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Image for post

We packed up and hiked again for another 40 minutes or so just to arrive at Colby Meadow where we stopped *again* to eat lunch. I usually am the guy who hates taking multiple breaks so close to each other but had no problem here as Evolution Valley is stupidly beautiful and there is no reason one shouldn’t try to take it in as slowly as possible.

Eventually we got to our turnoff which would lead us back to our campsite. One really cool thing that happened on this part of the hike was that while i was filling up some water, i smelled onions and noticed that DIRECTLY under me were fresh, wild green-onions. I knew that these grew throughout the Sierra but had never been able to find any myself. I picked a few for us to be able to add to our dinner.

Probably the most profound view of our entire trip came during sunset of this third day. As we had the previous night we wandered off from camp to catch the sun set behind the mountains and for the light to do it’s thing. Michael’s sandal had broken so he turned back, but about 400 yards from our camp was an absolutely incredible view — that also had a small spot for a tent — of Evolution Basin. It was a spiritual moment: a perfectly perched view on a cliff with the colors of the sky — orange, pink, and magenta, reflecting all around me.

Day 4: Darwin Bench Campsite -> McGee Lakes -> McGee Pass -> Evolution Basin -> Darwin Canyon Campsite

I didn’t have any expectations for this second day-hike/loop but it ended up being my favorite day of the trip. Interestingly enough, i hadn’t considered McGee Lakes much in the planning process but i mentioned where i was headed to a friend and he insisted we try to make it out there and i’m glad we did.

We got a started around 8:15am and made it down to a wide section of Evolution Creek by around 8:45am where we crossed with the water about ankle deep. We then started our ascent up McGee Canyon, following the outlet and staying on whatever side Secor had said to do in his book. I’m not much for off-trail bushwacking through narrow canyons (i dont like the damp feeling in the air), but something about McGee Canyon felt *wild*. Maybe it was the route finding mixed with the intensity of the rushing outlet…who knows? Regardless, it felt like a true wilderness experience even though we were maybe 1.5 air miles from the JMT. We pushed on up the canyon, occasionally getting a new angle of the Hermit to inspect which had easily become our favorite rock/mountain in the region. Some of the views with the outlet with the Hermit in the background are out of a fairytale.

After about an hour we were out of the trees and the canyon opened up into an absolutely gorgeous grassy area, with Mt. McGee in the background. Michael and I couldn’t help but laugh because by 9:30am we were already overwhelmed with how beautiful this day was. How could it keep getting better and better? We paused again for a few minutes to take in the view, slowing up our pace to an easy stroll so we could really soak it in. This has to be one of my favorite areas in Kings Canyon (i feel like i say that every time i take a hike), and i made a note on my Pocketearth App to come back here and camp.

We made it to the first McGee Lake around 10:20 after a few short climbs and again were shocked by how pretty the area was. This was some rich country: huge beautiful lakes, tall granite peaks in every direction, waterfalls, flowers, and not a soul around. We strolled around for 40 minutes or so until we got to the last lake which we thought was the most beautiful. We contemplated jumping in and after evaluating the classic “This lake is too beautiful NOT to jump into, right?” argument, we ended up doing the old fashioned Sierra baptism: jumping in naked and screaming at the cold water and rushing out as fast as we could. We’re happy we did bc it gave our muscles the needed boost to made it up McGee Pass which was slowly coming into view.

McGee Pass would be Michael’s first off-trail pass (Lamarck is now trailed) and it really wasnt too bad ascending it from the McGee Lakes side. After an unhealthy amount of caffeine and a decent amount of cursing at ourselves, we were done climbing after about 35ish minutes and then found ourselves looking down on the beautiful Sapphire Lake. The way down to Sapphire Lake was much steeper and a much bigger pain in the ass than the way up, and of course Michael and I chose just about the worst way down, but we made it without any mishaps.

We were now walking through Evolution Basin which I was just as excited to walk through as I was Evolution Valley. It did not disappoint at all. Sapphire Lake and Evolution Lake are genuinely stunning and aside from all of the JMT hikers we were now passing (them giving Michael a “WTF?” look due to him being pack-less 30 miles from the closest trailhead), it was a splendid afternoon. We took it slow so we could take in all of the beauty, strolling around and taking lots of breaks, with our main lunch break being on the shores of Evolution Lake (which i could really sit next to all day).

We made it back to our camp by about 4pm and packed up so we could move it deeper into Darwin Canyon, shortening the following days push to the car. The highlight of this part of the hike was being able to see Darwin Bench during golden hour where the entire region bathes in gold and orange as the sun does it’s magic on the boulders and granite. It’s shockingly beautiful and is difficult for me to capture on my camera. At any rate, we made it to the first lake in Darwin Canyon, setup camp, and proceeded to have one of the worst nights sleep ever due to the hurricane style winds that threatened to blow Michael and I back into Evolution Valley 3 miles down the trail.

Day 5: Darwin Canyon Campsite -> Car

Not going to spend much writing about this day mostly because it was miserable. I was impressed with how fast we were able to make it up Lamarck Col, but it was still a pretty big pain in the ass, and the walk all the way down to the car was brutal on our feet, knees, and ankles. It also gave me a much better appreciation for our hike up on Day 1 as i really didnt notice how steep some of the trail up to Lamarck Col was until I was walking down it.
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Last edited by kylekuzma on Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.








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Lumbergh21
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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by Lumbergh21 » Sun Jan 10, 2021 8:43 pm

Thanks for the report. Sounds like I was there with a couple of seasoned hikers just after you. We saw the mushroom cloud that was the start of the Creek Fire from the top of Lamark Col. We didn't realize how big it was going to get, so we pressed on. It was so smokey in Darwin Canyon the following morning that we decided to cut out McGee Lakes and just head south on the JMT after exploring the unnamed lakes above Darwin Bench. Our lunch at Evolution Lake was our last relatively smoke free time in the Sierra. The next two nights as we hiked down to the Bishop Pass Trail and out were probably the worst I've ever experienced with ash falling like snow. The only fishing we got to do was at Lamark Lakes and Darwin Lakes. I hope to get back and hike to McGee Lakes and Davis Lakes someday.

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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by wildhiker » Sun Jan 10, 2021 11:09 pm

Thanks for the report. McGee creek and lakes is the only part of your trip I haven't done, and after seeing your photos,
I need to go there!
-Phil

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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by kylekuzma » Mon Jan 11, 2021 9:22 am

wildhiker wrote:
Sun Jan 10, 2021 11:09 pm
Thanks for the report. McGee creek and lakes is the only part of your trip I haven't done, and after seeing your photos,
I need to go there!
-Phil
Glad i could help Phil. I've definitely used some of your reports for my own adventures, including one im planning this summer to the Lyell Fork of the Merced region.

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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by davidsheridan » Mon Jan 11, 2021 8:47 pm

Excellent TR KyleKuzma.

I liked your writing style and the creative butterfly loop route you took. Seemed like a great way to explore with an excellent basecamp location.

Highlighting the McGee section I really knew nothing about.

Glad your friend persevered. Did you convert him into a Sierra-for-lifer?

Thanks again and congrats on great adventure.

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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by kylekuzma » Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:46 am

davidsheridan wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 8:47 pm
Excellent TR KyleKuzma.

I liked your writing style and the creative butterfly loop route you took. Seemed like a great way to explore with an excellent basecamp location.

Highlighting the McGee section I really knew nothing about.

Glad your friend persevered. Did you convert him into a Sierra-for-lifer?

Thanks again and congrats on great adventure.
Thanks David. I really enjoyed the basecamp as well and found it to probably be the best way to explore the region. I'm definitely going to recommend it to those that ask me for advice in the future.

Michael is definitely a Sierra-for-lifer now. I knew he always was...he grew up going to Yosemite yearly and always showed appreciation for the Sierra's beauty. His only barrier was taking the time off work and getting his body right which he's now willing to do. We will likely do another trip this summer.

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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jan 12, 2021 12:12 pm

I was not that clear from your report, but there is a very good trail from the lower lake in Darwin Basin down to the PCT. Did you use it?

With a few more days you could also "base camp" at McGee Lake and a lake in Evolution Basin. There are many great day-hikes from these two locations. From Darwin Basin, day-hiking to the upper lakes towards Alpine Col is also very scenic. Fisk is a wonderful scramble/climb.

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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by kylekuzma » Tue Jan 12, 2021 3:36 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Tue Jan 12, 2021 12:12 pm
I was not that clear from your report, but there is a very good trail from the lower lake in Darwin Basin down to the PCT. Did you use it?

With a few more days you could also "base camp" at McGee Lake and a lake in Evolution Basin. There are many great day-hikes from these two locations. From Darwin Basin, day-hiking to the upper lakes towards Alpine Col is also very scenic. Fisk is a wonderful scramble/climb.
Yeah sorry i didnt make that clear. We took that trail in and out except for when we went to Lake 11092.

Yeah im definitely going to have to come back to this area. I'd still like to explore Goddard Canyon, Hell For Sure, and Martha Lake

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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by LMBSGV » Tue Jan 12, 2021 9:04 pm

I really enjoyed your report, photos, and video snippets. Darwin Canyon, Darwin Bench, Evolution Valley, and McGee Lakes are among my favorite locations in the Sierra and one of the most stunningly beautiful. Your vivid, eloquent descriptions did them justice. I am more and more appreciating the concept you used of finding a beautiful base camp location and having the opportunity to explore further in the day due to not being burdened by a full pack. Thanks for sharing!
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Re: TR: Evolution region butterfly loop (Evo Basin, Evo Valley, McGee Lakes, & Lake 11092) - August 2020

Post by CAMERONM » Tue Jan 12, 2021 9:57 pm

Great photos and report, very inspiring! Glad you could make it out just before things got bad.

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