Echo Col Loop (John Muir Wilderness) 6/12-Aug-2012

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The big trip this year was a backpack through the Evolution Basin region in California’s John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. The trip was partly on trail (the John Muir Trail (JMT)) and partly cross-country. Weather was generally excellent, except for afternoon thunderstorms, the worst ravishes of which we were able to mostly avoid until the last day. It’s been a drought year in the Sierras, so there was no late season snowpack to speak of and we were thus spared the need to carry ice axes and crampons that might otherwise have been needed for safety on some of the cross-country segments.

We started at the Lake Sabrina Trailhead about 20 miles southwest of Bishop, California, and followed the Sabrina Basin Trail #31E01 up the Middle Fork of Bishop Creek,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Along the Sabrina Basin Trail

to Midnight Lake and then went cross-country to camp at the outlet of Moonlight Lake.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Below Moonlight Lake

From the bench at the north end of the lake, we had a great view down into the Owens Valley.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The Owens Valley from Moonlight Lake

That night we were treated to an enthusiastic thunder and lightning extravaganza right over our heads but, by morning, clear skies were back. From Moonlight Lake we headed cross-country to Echo Lake and then climbed up to and over Echo Col, a 3rd class “knapsack” (to use an old Sierra Club expression) route that crosses the divide just southeast of Clyde Spires. In a high snow year we’d probably have needed an ice axes (and maybe crampons) to cross it safely but for us it was just scree and ledges.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Echo Col (arrow)

From the Col, we had a magnificent view into the heart of the Sierras.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The central Sierra Nevada from Echo Col

While the guidebooks go on at length about what it takes to climb the Col from the east, they fail to mention the seemingly endless benches and slopes of boulders and scree to the west. It took us a lot longer than expected to work our way down from the Col, past Lake 11428, to a camp near the John Muir Trail.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

View from our camp near the JMT

That night a faux thunderstorm (it didn’t actually rain) brought some color to our view.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Threatening skies

The next morning we headed up the JMT with views of Mounts Warlow and Fiske,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Mount Warlow (L) and Mount Fiske (R)

to camp at Lake 11939 – our highest camp of the trip – below Mount Solomons.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Mount Solomons

The lake, calm in the evening light,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Calm on the lake

encouraged a high-altitude swim the next morning. An early morning bath at almost 12,000 feet clearly defines “bracing.”

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

It seemed like a good idea at the time

After everyone got warmed up (including those of us who got chilled just looking at someone in the water), we went back to the JMT and followed it up to Muir Pass and its hut.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The Muir Hut (arrow) on Muir Pass

The hut was built in 1931 as an emergency trail shelter and has been a real plus for those hardy few who ski the JMT in the winter.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The Muir Hut on Muir Pass

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The Muir Hut plaque

From Muir Pass, we dropped down to camp at the north end of Wanda Lake (with Mount McGee in the distance),

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Wanda Lake and Mount McGee from Muir Pass

from whence we had a view of the Goddard Divide and Mt. Goddard.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Mount Goddard (arrow)

From camp, we dayhiked into the Davis Lake Basin to the west,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Clouds build over the Davis Lake Basin

and had a go at Mount Goddard, only to turn around abruptly about halfway up as the first peals of thunder echoed across the valley – we just made it back to camp before the rain started. Fortunately, it let up in time to cook dinner and the next morning almost all was forgiven weather-wise,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The clouds dissipated overnight

and we were on our way to another bluebird day in the Sierras.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Early morning at Wanda Lake

From Wanda Lake, we hiked north on the JMT through the upper Evolution Valley, past Sapphire Lake,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Sapphire Lake; Mount Huxley on the left

and then turned northeast on a good use trail that took us up onto Darwin Bench,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

The Hermit from the Darwin Bench

enroute to Darwin Canyon and Lamarck Col. We followed an on-again, off-again use trail and cairns up Darwin Canyon,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Darwin Canyon

to camp at a site with magnificent views of Mount Mendel,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Mount Mendel

and Mount Darwin (which I’d climbed almost 30 years ago – seems taller now).

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Mount Darwin

After camping overnight in Darwin Canyon, we went up and over Lamarck Col,

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Down the east side of Lamarck Col

and down on both use and real trails, past the Lamarck Lakes, to the trailhead at North Lake.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Down into the Owens Valley

We had planned to spend our last night near the Lamarck Lakes but what had started as a passing thunderstorm at the Col had, by the time we reached the lakes, morphed into a steady 5+ hour soaking rain. A strategic retreat to a dry hotel room in Bishop, California seemed the prudent choice – the availability of hot springs and beer may also have influenced our decision. After too many years away from the Sierras, this was a very gratifying – albeit strenuous – way to stage a return. We were able to spend the entire trip above 10,500′ in some of the most rugged and awe inspiring parts of The Range of Light. Magnificent! Approximately 26 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation gain.

Echo Col Lake Sabrina John Muir Wilderness California

Track shown is approximate

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