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Splendor Hiking The High Sierra

Take the finest mountains in the world, add high-country meadows, glacial valleys, alpine lakes, pine-and-hemlock forests, and what do you have? A recipe for backcountry bliss.

10. Evolution Basin Loop

John Muir Wilderness

30 miles (MOT); 3 TO 5 days

Many John Muir Trail hikers count Evolution Basin as one of the highlights of their trip because of its massive granite peaks and crystalline lakes. Find solitude in this region by going cross-country from Upper Lamarck Lake across the top of Lake Sabrina to join up with the under-hiked Table Mountain Trail back to South Lake. Begin the hike at South Lake by crossing Bishop Pass. Drop into LeConte Canyon, cross Muir Pass, and revel as you hike down Evolution Basin. Leave the trail just below Evolution Lake and claw your way up steep grass and rock bands to Darwin Canyon, then navigate through large talus over Lamarck Col (take care to reach the true col, just to the right of Mt. Lamarck). Below the col, follow the east-trending drainage (not the creek), then pick up the social trail to Upper Lamarck Lake. Continue to North Lake if you’ve arranged a shuttle or wish to hitchhike.

Lamarck Col is relatively popular by off-trail standards, but if you’re a solitude-loving hiker willing to tackle a couple of miles of real bushwhacking, leave the trail near Upper Lamarck Lake and cross a saddle to reach the inlet of Lake Sabrina. Cross the creek on a log upstream a ways, then bear toward neglected Table Mountain Trail and follow this back to near South Lake.

Getting there: From Bishop, take a downtown road (CA 168) past the world-renowned-to-climbers Buttermilk boulders to the end of the road at South Lake. Maps: Tom Harrison Maps Bishop Pass; Forest Service John Muir & Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wildernesses; USGS Mt. Abbot, Mt. Tom. Contact: Inyo National Forest.

11. Arrow Creek Basin

Kings Canyon National Park

30 miles (MOT); 3 to 5 days

This is one of the few A-to-B hikes on our list, but the views are intensely beautiful. Cross Taboose Pass, descend to Bench Lake, then wander cross-country over a saddle southeast of Arrow Peak. The hiking is relatively gentle, and the moderate elevation (10,800 feet) makes the basin ideal for exploring gnarled timberline country as well as flowered alpine meadows. The basin feels like an island above the forests. The drop-off down the Muro Blanco is impressive, but for real sightseeing, scramble Arrow or Window Peaks. Tens of thousands of John Muir Trail hikers have admired these mountains, but few have seen—let alone scratched—their backsides.

Getting there: Taboose Creek Road leaves US 395 just south of Poverty Hills and a dozen miles south of Bishop. Maps: Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; USGS Mt. Pinchot, Aberdeen, Fish Springs. Contact: Inyo National Forest.

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