Day 5

Lake Italy Trail Intersection to Evolution Lake

Gorgeous Marie Lake from Seldon Pass
Gorgeous Marie Lake from Seldon Pass
The morning of day five was delicate.  Jason Wasn't feeling well, combined with the situation of his broken trek pole.  Meanwhile there was the very real chance that my food cache hadn't yet arrived at Muir Trail Ranch.  If my resupplies weren't there we would have no choice but to stop and wait till they arrived the next day, blowing our nine day attempt out of the water.   We were starting to feel the fatigue of so much on our minds and over a hundred miles on our and feet.  

Each day to help pass the time we would count people along the trail.  For example, we might count how many people we passed were wearing hats.  This was the first morning that we were so preoccupied that we didn't care to play our little game.  (The results of our days of counting are in the 'Training & Stats' section.)

For the time being Jason duck taped the hell out of his trekking pole using a stick as a splint.  We planned on seeing what we could find at Muir Ranch, hoping they might have a spare pole lying around.  I tried to do my part in giving him my poles for the start of the day, and in doing so learned just how much I've evolved to rely on my poles, especially when descending.  The jury is still out for many people on whether trekking poles actually benefit a hiker, but I bought off on the technology after many years of scorning them.  And, did I mention, after many years of knee pain.  Using poles properly on descent does alleviate pressure on the knees.  As an avid distance runner I've run up to 50 miles without poles just fine, but I often have stiff and sore knees the next day.  Poles help lighten the load on my feet on every big down step, especially with weight on my back, and any wear I can save I'll take – life is short.  The purist in me hates the idea of relying on a technology, and inexpensive one at that, just to do something as simple and pure as hiking. But this purist’s knees are placing bets on mechanical advantage for now. 

The bear proof shed.  You food waits for you here.
The bear proof shed. You food waits for you here.
We stopped at a sign around Rosemarie Meadow.  It was made out of old wood and it was difficult to make out which way the arrows pointed.  Signs are a funny thing in the backcountry, you develop a fondness for signs, and every time you arrive at one it feels like a tiny victory.  A few precious words and an arrow show the way, marking the difference between where you want to be and getting lost.  We trust them, they are our guides.  They become welcome sights for the weary traveler, sometimes revealing good news or bad.  Your eyes learn to seek out their silhouette; with so few man-made objects in the wilderness their form starts to jump out at you.  And the avid hiker can identify their location, as each park and national forest has their own distinct shape and material.

We tried to take it easy going over Seldon Pass. Marie Lake stunned us in its beauty, little nooks and crannies everywhere, and private islands.  I waved to waking campers and felt a wash of warmth and camaraderie.  I daydreamed about returning here one day with others.  Down Seldon Pass the little lake of Sallie Keys appeared picture-perfect as the yellow sun rose behind it, and the straight trail lined with trees felt like a city park.  Feng shui in nature like this is special. 

The descent was brutal with Jason’s broken pole.  The looming uncertainty put me in an intolerable mood, I was mad at the world which meant I was mad at Jason – I just wanted to get there.  Finally we made it down the cutoff trail and arrived to learn our fate...
Muir Ranch is an oasis in a desert.  Pass through a wood gate and you are greeted with a green grassy meadow with lazy napping dogs, staffed by friendly college students.  They have a sundries shop, charging stations, and rooms for the night complete with a tour of the grounds.  They had large tables, communal food bins, even a trekking pole corral so you don't lose your poles. Surprisingly the one necessity they don't provide we're bathrooms, which proved a burden for my bladder. 

I handed in our check tags to retrieve our two buckets and watched eagerly as the girl vanished into the holding shed to see if my cache was there.  She returned with two buckets!  ALAS!  We let out a huge sigh of relief, exhausted from the anticipation.  My bucket had arrived that morning she said.  Everything was on schedule.  Unfortunately, the guy who arrived after me was not so lucky - his bucket had missed that day's cutoff and would arrive the next day.

Jason and I had both mailed ourselves 15 pounds of food, enough for five days and some extra, and after four days on the trail we had some major sorting to do. The ranch's setup for sorting through food couldn't be more perfect.  They have huge tables for spreading out gear all arranged under sun tents.  Sorting through the food I had packed for myself weeks earlier I winced at the bowling ball of food. It felt impossibly heavy and I whined at the thought of adding the weight to our then-empty 12 pound packs.  Give-and-take bins for hikers made it an easy decision to cut a few pounds of food knowing it wouldn't go to waste and another hiker would use it.  In fact, the bins were so overflowing with extra food and supplies that veteran hikers knew to save their pennies and simply resupply out of the free bins.  

Jason asked one of the girls working at the bucket shed if someone there could help him fix his trekking pole.  To our amazement we met Pat, the boot mender.  At 84 years old, Pad is everything I hope to beat that age.  Still mobile, and sharp as a tack, she said she prides herself on being able to repair most people’s boots, but rarely had she worked on broken trekking poles.  After a lot of analysis of the break in the pole she hobbled over to her shed to see what she could find, emerging with a near perfect metal pipe and some string to tighten it. The pipe worked out great.  Pat explained the extensive process in getting all the buckets to bucket shed, estimating that each bucket was touched by a minimum of 15 people en route, the last of which crawled overland on a WWII era Mercedes Grog.

It was a busy place, with hikers arriving and leaving every few minutes.  There was every type of backpacker you've already met before on the trail – the solo young man finding himself during his break from school. The thirty-something rough and tumble female who can hang with the guys.  The leather skinned middle aged guy who’always got a story to tell.  Or the engineer who hikes in button down shirts. These are my people.  I felt like I had met all of them before and could sit down and have a conversation with any of them.  At the same time we felt alienated from this group - many of the hikers all seemed to know each other.  Almost all of them were solo and had been moving at the same pace for days, if not weeks.  That aspect of the trip was a loss to us; we hadn't been in lock step with anyone on the trail thus far. 

Before leaving we threw our packs onto the scale to behold our new burden.  Fully stocked with food and water for the rest of the trip, my pack was 28 pounds.  Jason’s was 29. One guy’s was 70. 

After an unanticipated three and a half hours at the ranch, with our feathers on our back, we made way to the intersection with Piute Pass Trail, which would finally be on familiar ground.  The monotonous stretch along the river tortured us, and the added weight on our feet made them scream.  Our foot pain became so bad that we decided to do the inevitable – we took ibuprofen.  Once we took the first pill we knew we'd have to take one every day for the rest of the trip. 

Stream crossing at Evolution Meadows.  Feels so good!
stream crossing at Evolution Meadows. Feels so good!
We dreaded the long climb to Evolution Lake and it looked doubtful we would make it by nightfall putting us short of our goal.  At the Evolution Creek crossing we opted for the cold water crossing to soak our feet.  We were entertained by a party of three middle aged couples who also made the crossing.  Jason looked at the ring leader of the group, a gray haired woman with pigtails and a brimmed hat, and commented I was looking at the future me.  Everyone in the group was friendly and lively, they reflected a life of travel and adventure in the outdoors.  I want so much to be them at that age.  For one of the men, now 53 years old, this was a reprise of a hike he did with his dad at the age of 11, when he hiked it with a wooden framed backpack.

Talking to the group was energizing.  They were amazed at our objective and at the pace we were setting.  It was different now on day five than back on day one and two, when people merely wished us luck on our goal – now we were doing it.

It was getting late and we still had nine miles to go, up.  We didn't want to get off pace, we agreed one day of having to pitch tent in the dark was worth it to stay on track, so we pushed on.  We hiked miles along the Evolution Meadows, glowing gorgeous golden in the setting sunlight, the last of the day’s warmth.  I was jealous of the hikers we passed, bundled up for the night, eating warm meals, at amazing campsites along the grassy lakes of Evolution Meadows.  Fly fisherman waded in the water to catch dinner.  The sun reflected off their lines creating silvery whips above their head as they cast their flies.  I wanted to be them – no timeline, no schedule, no hurry. 

The sun was nearly down as we arrived at the bottom of the switchbacks that would lead to Evolution Lake.  One last caffeinated gu and we were off.  The mountains were purple as the sun set behind the horizon, and we burned our inner diesel, hiking at a sustained pace we didn't think was possible.  Heavy packs not even felt, tired feet not registered.  We were in a tandem zone when we needed it most.  We looked at each other and giggled in astonishment, exclaiming about this unbelievable, limitless energy.  ‘This is what it’s all about!’ we said. 

A very pink Evolution Lake
A very pink Evolution Lake
We arrived at Evolution Lake in the dark.  A friendly camper helped point out some campsites he saw earlier which ended up all being taken.  We threw down randomly and discovered to my horror we were 70 feet from another bivy.  In the morning we apologized, and the guy was tremendously forgiving.  It’s a shame we didn't have more time to enjoy the grandeur of Evolution Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the inner Sierra, reserved for the hearty ones who make the trek.  The sky that night was more full of stars than any former in my life, complete with a shooting star.  Cursing our ever-constant push on, we declared to come back to Evolution again to enjoy what’s here

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