We knew we would be above the treeline for most of our day so we decided to get an early start and reduce our exposure as much as was in our control. As we hit the trail, Evolution Lake was still in shade, the sun hiding behind Mt. Darwin's impressive ridges. It stayed quite cool as we travelled above the North shore of Evolution Lake.
The climb up from Evolution Lake to the pass is quite gradual, travelling 1100 feet over 4.5 miles. It is also stunningly beautiful, for all it's granite starkness.
We passed along and above the West shore of Sapphire Lake, which truly does deserve it's name. The rocks and grasses we walked among were littered with White Mountain Heather, Giant Red Paintbrush and Lemmon's Paintbrush.
We were stunned to see fish in Wanda Lake. We had assumed it would be too high (11,400') or too cold, as this area keeps it's snow much later in the season than many other passes along the trail. But there they were, teasing us in the crystal-clear waters near the shore.
We worked our way along the North shore of Wanda Lake, starting to see Muir Pass quite clearly, and even making out the famous Sierra Club stone hut shelter nestled in the Pass. From our perspective on the West side, Muir Pass looks like a pass should: a lower, gently rounded notch between soaring ridges.
The approach from the shore of Wanda Lake through to the Pass was surprisingly easy, just a matter of breathing through the thin air and continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Before we knew it, we were standing at 11,955 feet!
Leaving the Pass, we dropped through some switchbacks and snow patches to Helen Lake. The trail ducks through a thin notch of rocks at the outlet of Helen Lake and then starts a steep drop through a gorge alongside the Middle Fork of the Kings River.
The trail was quite challenging for me, due to it's rocky and steep nature. I can't count how many times I twisted an ankle, or caught a tender blister on the point of a rock.
Thankfully the scenery was incredibly beautiful, with the River creating cascades and waterfalls and the gorge lined with amazing wildflowers. We stopped for a much-needed lunch break at a lake that was teeming with tadpoles, whose movements created immense ripples as we walked past.
As the shadows lengthened we managed to push ourselves just a little bit further, hiking past Big Pete Meadows. We really didn't want to camp in a buggy spot and so ended up at an isolated campsite on a bench above LeConte Canyon. We were treated to a beautiful sunset and an amazing moonrise.
It was a perfect end to a challenging but awesome day.