PCT 2019: Day 132, Tentsite near Muir Trail Ranch to Sapphire Lake

As the present now will later be past

Sapphire Lake and Mt. Huxley in Kings Canyon National Park

One of the things I like about thru-hiking is it often feels as if I'm walking through time. This has been particularly true on the PCT and yesterday was a good example of that.

I walked through a valley carved by glaciers and next to lakes left behind by those glaciers. The mountains I passed recalled the names of people who are linked to our country's history.

DateSunday, September 15, 2019
WeatherLightly overcast with a high temperature in low 60s
Trail ConditionsContinuously uphill with two rocky, steep sections
Today's Miles15.0
Trip Miles1981.2

These are threads of our past. They aren't always historically momentous, but if you know where to pull them, you sometimes find rich connections to times long ago.

One such example is a mountain I walked near yesterday. It was linked to a man that was linked to a hotel that was linked to the San Francisco earthquake. All I had to do was find the thread and pull it.

I found another such thread at Muir Ranch Trail. I learned legendary movie stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard stayed there not long before her death in a plane crash. This may not have been a significant historical event, but it's still fun to know about it.

Pulling on these threads of human and geologic history adds to the already-rewarding experience of walking through nature.

Returning to the PCT after leaving Muir Trail Ranch

Our campsite for last night was four-tenths of a mile from the PCT. It was also near the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.

Four days ago, the PCT followed the middle fork. It would follow another fork of the same river system today for most of the morning.

Bridge over Piute Creek in Kings Canyon National Park

After a short hike back to the PCT, the trail continued about two miles to Piute Creek. This is where the trail left John Muir Wilderness and crossed into Kings Canyon National Park.

As with Yosemite National Park, John Muir played an influential role in the creation of Kings Canyon. He wanted to protect giant redwood trees that grew here. It became a national park the same day as Yosemite in 1890.

Originally, the park was named to honor U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant, who had died five years earlier. Then after the park was expanded in 1940, it was renamed Kings Canyon. Administration of the park was combined with neighboring Sequoia National Park in 1943. That arrangement is still in place.

After World War II, a proposal was made to commercialize Kings Canyon as a tourist resort in the same way Yosemite and others had become. Those development efforts failed, in part, because Los Angeles officials mounted a doomed attempt to secure permits to build dams and power stations in and near the park.

Most of the park today remains remote and wild. It is the least visited of the major parks in the Sierra, with fewer than 700,000 visitors in 2018. In the same year, Yosemite attracted more than four million visitors.

The South Fork of San Joaquin River

After crossing Piute Creek, the trail dropped to follow the South Fork of San Joaquin River more closely. The river would be in constant view for the next 2.7 miles.

I stopped along the river at 9 a.m. to heat water for coffee and oatmeal. I don't often eat oatmeal for backpacking breakfasts, but this was an adjustment I had to make with my MTR resupply.

A bridge over the South Fork of San Joaquin River

Near the end of that section, the trail crossed the river on a sturdy, steel bridge. The bridges located in the Sierra are all well-constructed because they must handle the weight of horses and stand up to strong water currents during the snow-melt season.

Another bridge over the South Fork of San Joaquin River

The trail made one more crossing about a mile farther up the river. This bridge was wooden but also solid.

The trail then turned to begin a climb, going up 780 feet in the next 1.5 miles. It was steep but not difficult.

In the middle of the climb, the trail began following Evolution Creek.

A waterfall on Evolution Creek

A small waterfall appeared near the end of the steepest part of the climb. In the next half mile, the climb became much less steep.

An easy crossing of Evolution Creek

A little farther upstream, the trail crossed Evolution Creek. The water was wide here but shallow, and it was not difficult to cross.

Signs nearby warned this stream was dangerous to cross when snow is melting. An alternate trail route was provided for when that happens.

I was able to cross so easily it was difficult for me to picture what conditions can be like here in the spring. Most likely, the water would be icy cold, rapid, deep, and treacherous.

The trail runs through tall lodgepole pines

This area was filled with tall lodgepole pines and other large trees. It was a peaceful section to walk.

Horses from Muir Trail Ranch

I had to pull off the trail at one point to allow a team of horses to walk by. As they passed, I recognized the woman who rode the lead horse. She was one of the employees I saw yesterday at Muir Trail Ranch. The other horses were carrying large packs, most likely to resupply a backcountry work camp or ranger station.

The woman paid no attention to me as she rode by. She was sending a message with a satellite receiver. Perhaps texting-while-driving laws don't apply to people on horseback.

McClure Meadow

Soon after the horses passed me, I arrived in McClure Meadow, a broad and grassy space. Evolution Creek ran through the middle of the meadow, and a cabin for backcountry rangers was tucked away among trees at its edge.

Straight ahead and about two miles away stood The Hermit, an impressive mountain standing 12,328 feet high.

When explorer and surveyor Theodore Solomons named this mountain in 1896, he described it as “a colossal, sugarloaf-shaped buttress of fractured granite stood sharply up, the advance Guard of the host of peaks presently to be described, yet so conspicuously separated from them as to suggest the name The Hermit.”

As Solomons noted, The Hermit stood at the start of an impressive range of mountains.

A climb on the PCT and JMT

At the end of McClure Meadow, the trail went through a forested area before entering Colby Meadow. From there, it began another steep climb. This one went up 942 feet in 1.6 miles.

Going up the trail, I tripped and fell. I somehow hurt my foot doing this but was able to walk off the pain.

Approaching Evolution Lake

In the middle of the higher valley, which was at 10,874 feet, Evolution Creek pooled into a substantial lake.

Standing above were mountains of the Evolution Group, named to honor men who made discoveries in or promoted the theory of evolution: Herbert Spencer, Alfred Wallace, Thomas Huxley, Ernest Haeckel, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, John Fiske, Gregor Mendel, and of course, Charles Darwin.

Evolution Lake

When I arrived at the lake, I began to look for Bluejay. We had talked of possibly stopping here, but it was a little early to stop. The time was only 4:30 p.m., and I didn't think she was here. Still, I wanted to be sure.

When I met a German couple walking northbound I asked if they had seen someone fitting Bluejay's description. They told me she was "one kilometer ahead."

Stepping stones across Evolution Creek

The trail crossed Evolution Creek over a long line of flat stepping stones that were carefully laid out as a bridge. About 10 minutes later, I found where Bluejay was camped, which was on a ledge just above the trail and near Sapphire Lake.

Mt. Mendel and Mt. Darwin

From our campsite, we could see Mt. Mendel and Mt. Darwin standing above the lake and reflecting the warm colors of the setting sun.

alpenglow on Mt. Huxley

Nearby, Mt. Huxley was also catching the last of the evening's alpenglow.

These mountains were named for the titans of natural science exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries. They would have been the leading influencers of scientific thought when the Sierra was first visited by the explorers who named the mountains.

None of the scientists had a direct connection with the Sierra Nevada. Yet being surrounded by their namesakes made an unlikely connection to history. I had pulled another thread from these mountains.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.