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Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast

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JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 20, 2014 08:27PM
Day 8: July 22, 2014

We'd had a nice warm--and rain-free--night at McClure Meadow. Today would be a long day, and we wasted no time eating and packing; soon we were on the trail heading towards the switchbacks that would carry us up to Evolution Basin. Well, the always-improving views carried us up the trail, at least.



We took the climb slow and steady and eventually reached the top, where we took one last look at Evolution Valley and its meadows, which appeared much smaller from above than they had seemed while in them.



At Evolution Lake there was a cool breeze, which we took advantage of to dry our gear, which was damp from dew--hopefully from the fact that we camped near a meadow and not an indication of general humidity.



Evolution Basin is understandably popular--its inviting lakes are surrounded by rugged peaks that seem to be almost within arms' reach. Old Dood refers to this as "angry granite", and its rough, fractured nature certainly contrasts with the smooth, polished granite of Yosemite's domes or the Emigrant's canyons. Still, it's hard to be angry when surrounded by it.



Despite Muir Pass' elevation of almost 12,000', the climb to its summit from the north is very gradual--and deceptive, as the pass is not visible until Wanda Lake.



After the long detour around Evolution Lake, we had to climb above Sapphire Lake.



To the south loomed Mt. Goddard and the Goddard Divide.



We stopped at Wanda Lake for a swim and bath. The lake had a surprising number of frogs...



...and large tadpoles.



After our afternoon soak/swim, we started the final climb to the pass itself. This portion of Evolution Basin is especially desolate, in places appearing to be of only rock and water.



Along the trail we encountered a family--or two--of what we believe were (rock) ptarmigans. (Interestingly, these are also known as "snow chickens" in the U.S.--but we all know that the Sierra Snow Chick-on has pink plumage; perhaps the Twinkie and pizza deficiency here results in the muted coloration...)



The final approach to Muir Pass can seem to take forever--the stone shelter is visible from miles away, but it's hard to determine just how far away it is... until you can see others resting near it.



We had a snack and spent some time chatting at the summit.



As with most of the JMT, we could have easily spent more time here, but we still had the long, steep drop into LeConte Canyon facing us, so we were soon heading towards Muir's other daughter's namesake lake, Helen.



Muir Pass is one of the more asymmetrical passes--the north side consists of white granite and large lakes in a broad, gentle valley, while the south is a steep drop that follows a tight, convoluted route through dark metamorphic rock. Who says there's not variety in the Sierra Nevada? In the distance we could see the dark peaks of the Palisade group, where we'd be the next night.



We hiked almost nonstop down LeConte Canyon, but the trail is rough and it was hard to descend quickly despite the downhill grade.



It also didn't seem quite right to be rushing through this section, but we wanted to reach camp before darkness overtook the canyon. Eventually we turned the "corner" near Starr Camp and could see where the canyon turned to the south--our destination, Big Pete Meadow, was here.



In 2010 JKW, A, and I had reached a small, marginal campsite between the trail and river just as it got dark. It was pleasant enough--especially since this was before the rock monster took up residence near the camp.



All the campsites below Starr Camp, including the trailside campsites at Big Pete, were unoccupied, but I vaguely remembered better camping just past the trailside spots. We found a use trail that headed to a wooded packer's site near the meadow which still had sunlight hitting it. We started to unpack here, and we marked where we'd left the trail and radioed back to P and the H party who were behind us. After I returned to camp from getting water, A had found an even better campsite nearby: a flat sandy bench on open granite. So, being campsite snobs, we relocated. P showed up a bit later at our relocated site, but the H party later called in that they were stopping at Starr Camp.

Although the sun had dropped behind the tall mountains to the west, we enjoyed a comfortable dinner--the temperatures were still very mild.

Unfortunately, we'd experienced some gear failures--M's sleeping pad wasn't holding air, so she was borrowing my Z-Rest at night (I still had my X-Therm!). P had run out of fuel and her sleeping pad had failed too, and, combined with a few other minor issues, decided that night to hike out at Bishop Pass instead of Kearsarge as originally planned. She had hiked strong, and we would miss her.

We were treated to another clear night. There had been no rain, nor significant clouds, for two days.

Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 20, 2014 09:44PM
Dang, probably one of my most favorite days. Sure.. we packed up wet, but in no time at all, we were dried out while having our snack at Evolution Lake. And then from there? Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. M had never seen it before and she was ecstatic! I had seen it before, but was also in piggy heaven. Angry granite? I just can't bring myself to think that way about it. I really do appreciate and like very much all kinds of scenery. But I LOVE granite and water. And the granite and water at this altitude makes for scenery I just can't seem to get enough of...

When we first hit the lake, not many were there, then just as we were leaving a HUGE group wandered by. Some school groups I think, more than one big group at any rate. We ended up leap frogging them a couple of times as we moseyed through Evo Basin, but when it started to go up towards Wanda, we passed them one final time and never saw them again. Kinda fun.. M and I are both easily twice or more the ages of the boys in the large hiking party, but we were literally bouncing across a rock hop crossing and skipping up the trail as they were obviously taking a much -needed rest along the side of the trail. Again, conditioning, not absolute age, makes the real difference when hiking - especially at altitude.

Wanda Lake... A had picked an area to soak her feet where the frogs liked to hang out. 20' from her, I was sitting in the water on rocks, surrounded by tadpoles. They kept coming over to visit! Amazing number of little amphibians! I did not take a full swim, though I was sorely tempted, but the wind was strong enough I didn't really want to. Sitting in the water was good enough...

There were two families of ptarmigans we crossed on the way up to Muir Pass, and they had very little fear of us. The babies were so cute! I usually don't like stopping while hiking, but I had to stop and watch the little fellas. I'm bird-crazy.

At the top of the pass, M drops her pack and starts dancing around, she's so happy and thrilled with the scenery. Folks that were already at the pass commented on her energy saying they had had to sit and rest for a bit after making the pass. Yah, might be her third backpacking trip, and she was concerned going into it, but it just proved me right - she had nothing to worry about in terms of strength or endurance!

A calls her beau, E, with our satellite phone to order up treats, since he offered to haul goodies in when he hikes in at Kearsarge. The call is longer than I expect... and days later I find out there was some planning going on I wasn't privvy to at the time! smiling smiley

It's a gorgeous day, the folks at the pass are fun, but we do have to get a move on... And though we were expecting the Le Conte Canyon campsite to be the worst of the trip, with taking the time to go a bit further and explore, we found an utterly lovely spot! Thank you Basilbop for finding the main turn off, and A for scouting further for real treat! The canyon is no longer on my s-list for sites! There were a number of truly lovely spots up higher, but we had to make the miles to make the days because we just didn't have the time or the amount of food necessary to take shorter days. Frankly, we all prefer long days anyway. If you can swing shorter days, go for it! It's no wonder the North Lake-South Lake loop is so popular - it's fabulous.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 21, 2014 07:20AM
Awesum! But lookie those sad crocks... M's crocks look so much more fun... tongue sticking out smiley

Where'd ur buddie go?

ok... chick-on bomb time ... tongue sticking out smiley



Tanks for all these.. super jealous of the SHR portion u dooz... crying



Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 21, 2014 12:59PM
Dendragapus fuliginosus

http://naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/maps/CA_maphtml/b134.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sooty_grouse

The sooty grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) is a species of forest-dwelling grouse native to North America's Pacific Coast Ranges. It is closely related to the dusky grouse (Dendragapus obscurus), and the two were previously considered a single species, the blue grouse.



http://www.davidsenesac.com
Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 21, 2014 02:05PM
I did not check Basilbop's reference to the bird before today. Based on what I remember and have read today, including my Audubon bird book, I believe it is a white-tailed ptarmigan. I'll see if I can find more pictures, I begged him to take as many pics as he could. Sooty grouse pics don't match up, especially the male's coloring., from what I recall...

Definitely were happy in high-altitude alpine conditions, not forest. Just below Muir Pass...



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/21/2014 02:07PM by JustKeepWalking.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 21, 2014 04:19PM
For ewe:

Ptarmigan in Jack Main Canyon


Sooty Grouse? near Washburn


Blue Grouse near Taft


Chick-on and a Turkey near Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha Cherry Bomb


tongue sticking out smiley



Chick-on is looking at you!
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 24, 2014 03:29PM
Here is another shot of the bird with the winter plumage (crouched behind the rock at the right of the photo). I believe that the one on the left is the pink breasted blue-eyed booby:

Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 21, 2014 03:32PM
You might be right. Says though native to far North America, ie Alaska, the snow quail (another grouse family species) was introduced somewhere into the Sierra in the 1970s. Mostly east of the Sierra Nevada high areas is another species the greater sage grouse. Sooty grouse that we used to just call blue grouse are of course common in the Sierra. Very interesting birds because of the weird low pitched sound the males make and that when some are approached maybe unexpectedly, they just keep still without immediately flying off. Because of that I've taken some pictures from just a few feet away while whispering softly to them.



http://www.davidsenesac.com



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/21/2014 03:33PM by DavidSenesac.
Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 21, 2014 09:09PM
Okay, read more about ptarmigans than I ever thought I would. I like birds, don't get me wrong, so not really a hardship, but I'm a play-with-a-parrot-person, not a "birder" who is keen to spot subtle differences in the wild.

But, after rooting through the full set of pics Basilbop took, I've found several that match the desscription for a "white-tailed ptarmigan" perfectly from most sources. And a pic of a male that matches a male one site (assuming the site is accurate.) One source though has a picture that doesn't match the word description. But most definitely we have at least one white-tailed ptarmigan pic. And since they were families, one of the two families was a white-tailed ptarmigan family. Possible the other was a rock ptarmigan (and no willow ptarmigan to confuse matters further). I'll upload a pic tomorrow, but it's gonna take time, cuz they aren't already uploaded. Sigh.

Anyone a true ptarmigan-afficianado? Chirp now... More tomorrow.
Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 24, 2014 01:24PM
I'm almost certain that is a ptarmigan--Alaska's state bird. As Chick-On's picture shows, the birds adapt to the snow. The birds are so docile that while there is no limit for hunting, ethics for hunters generally ask for self limits because they just don't run away.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 24, 2014 03:00PM
Quote
chicagocwright
I'm almost certain that is a ptarmigan--Alaska's state bird. As Chick-On's picture shows, the birds adapt to the snow. The birds are so docile that while there is no limit for hunting, ethics for hunters generally ask for self limits because they just don't run away.

I remember the first one of those I saw...pulled out the camera from 50 yards away and took a picture...crawled on my belly 10 yards closer and took another. Needless to say, a roll of film later I was taking pictures from about 5 feet away.
avatar Re: JMT '14 - Day 8 - Into the Mouth of the Beast
August 25, 2014 11:45AM
Quote
basilbop
perhaps the Twinkie and pizza deficiency here results in the muted coloration...)

I've always heard Twinkies could cause weird mutations.
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