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During my summer as a volunteer wildlife technician in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, I spent my days trekking with a pack full of tracking equipment to survey animal populations. After my work was done, I’d jump in the nearest river, cook, then bear-proof my camp. At night, I’d comb through maps by headlamp, creating my ultimate ticklist for the parks. At the top was Evolution Valley—as a wannabe biologist, I fell in love with the name. It was also one of the last areas explored by early park pioneers.
Theodore S. Solomons and E.C. Bonner explored this area in 1895 while scouting a hiker’s route along the crest of the Sierra (it would eventually become the John Muir Trail). They came across a congregation of stunning peaks lining the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, and they altered course to the glaciated valley beneath them, finding clear lakes, dwarf meadows, and jagged sky-stabbing peaks. Solomons christened these mountains the Evolution Group because “I could think of none more fitting than the great evolutionists, so at-one in their devotion to the sublime in Nature.”
I never made it that deep into the backcountry that summer. But the Reader Leader contest was all it took to get me planning again. Here’s how I did it:
Day one Take the Piute Pass Trail from North Lake Campground, 20 miles west of Bishop, and hike six miles gaining 2,000 feet to make camp near Upper Golden Trout Lake (no camping within 400 feet).
Day two Continue on Piute Pass to reach the JMT (and enter the national park) at mile 17.4. Reach a footbridge over Jeffrey pine-lined Piute Creek, and camp on designated pads nearby.
Day three Descend 7.3 miles on the JMT into Evolution Valley, then add an easy 1.2 miles to camp by Evolution Lake.
Day four Rest and explore. Get surefire solitude in McGee Canyon (south about .5 mile back). Or bag flattopped Mt. Darwin via the class 3 West Ridge.
Day five Leave the JMT, taking the switchbacks above Evolution Lake to access Darwin Canyon and a class 2 scramble up and over Lamarck Col to Upper Lamarck Lake, 2,100-feet below. Camp, or finish the last 2.7 miles to the trailhead.
Map Mono Divide High Country ($10, tomharrisonmaps.com)
Contact (559) 565-3766; nps.gov/seki
-Text and mapping by Madelyn Rios
- Distance: 57.7
Location: 37.227218, -118.627392
This loop begins and ends at the North Lake trailhead. On day 1, take the Piute Pass Trail from North Lake Campground, and hike six miles gaining 2,000 feet to make camp near Upper Golden Trout Lake (no camping within 400 feet).
Location: 37.232097, -118.647323
A switchback climb below the Piute Crags, followed by traverse leads to Loch Leven.
Location: 37.23108, -118.65376
The trail skirts the northern shore of Loch Leven.
Location: 37.235898, -118.66848
Location: 37.23887, -118.684187
Crest Piute Pass, then drop down toward Summit Lake.
Location: 37.2444, -118.712953
Campsite 1: Upper Golden Trout Lake. Day 2: Continue on Piute Pass to reach the JMT (and enter the national park). Reach a footbridge over Jeffrey pine-lined Piute Creek, and camp on designated pads nearby.
Location: 37.244113, -118.716549
You’ll find other good campsites on this knoll.
Location: 37.26227, -118.76431
Continue straight at the 3-way. The trail on the left leads to Lower Honeymoon Lake.
Location: 37.266915, -118.780446
Continue straight at this 3-way in Hutchinson Meadow. The trail on the right leads north into French Canyon.
Location: 37.260528, -118.795509
Cross Pinnacles Creek.
Location: 37.251374, -118.806882
Cross Pemmican Lake’s outlet creek.
Location: 37.244132, -118.817697
Cross West Pinnacles Creek.
Location: 37.239554, -118.827524
Cross Turret Creek.
Location: 37.225715, -118.833447
Cross a bridge over Piute Creek.
Location: 37.225369, -118.832425
Campsite 2: Just past the footbridge over Piute Creek, set up camp on these designated pads.
Location: 37.225284, -118.832295
Day 3: From camp, descend 7.3 miles on the JMT into Evolution Valley, then add an easy 1.2 miles to camp by Evolution Lake.
Location: 37.217897, -118.825132
John Muir Rock rises directly to the east.
Location: 37.213583, -118.816624
Hike through Aspen Meadow.
Location: 37.192801, -118.795252
Turn left and cross the South Fork San Joaquin River.
Location: 37.183685, -118.72855
Campsite 3: Colby Meadow. Day 4: Rest and explore. Get surefire solitude in McGee Canyon (south about .5 mile back). Or bag flattopped Mt. Darwin via the class 3 West Ridge.
Location: 37.177336, -118.707514
Leave the JMT, and follow the drainage up to Darwin Canyon.
Location: 37.18448, -118.704856
There are possible campsites on Darwin Bench.
Location: 37.187744, -118.689585
Campsite 4: Darwin Canyon. Ahead, tackle a class 2 scramble to Lamarck Col.
Location: 37.18692, -118.68777
Location: 37.190345, -118.667564
Crest Lamarck Col, then drop down the backside.
Location: 37.19933, -118.659811
Turn right and hike east.
Location: 37.205278, -118.646121
Turn left and descend to Upper Lamarck Lake.
Location: 37.212285, -118.645992
Pick up the trail on the eastern edge of Upper Lamarck Lake. Follow it 2.1 miles back to the trailhead.