Muir Trail Ranch to Evolution Basin

Approximately 14.4 miles. Cumulative: 121.5 miles.

The author on day eight of his solo hike of the John Muir Trail.

The author on day eight of his solo hike of the John Muir Trail.

Another lazy morning. I knew I couldn’t get in to Muir Trail Ranch to get my re-supply until 8:00 a.m., so I was in no hurry to get moving. Plus, it was Father’s Day.

I had a little breakfast and had a little time to kill. I was near the Blayney Hot Springs, so I guess I could have gotten a hot soak, but that’s not really my thing. They’re supposed to be muddy, and I’d be getting dirty enough without taking an extra mud bath.

So walked down to the MTR gate, sat down on a rock, and waited. 8:00 came and went, and there was no sign that anyone was coming to open the gate.

At about 8:45, getting restless and wanting to put some miles on the trail, I noticed a second sign past the entrance gate, but I couldn’t read it from where I sat. So I took a picture and zoomed in. Turns out it said:

Hikers: Ring bell for service.

Signs at the Muir Trail Ranch entrance.

That sign in the background was hard to read from where I sat outside the gate.

The bell in question was on the other side of the gate, so I guess you were supposed to open the outer gate yourself, so I did, then walked over and rang the bell.

I waited a few moments before a nice lady came to help me out. She opened up the massive steel door of a solidly built stone building where they kept all the re-supply buckets. I was pleased to see that mine arrived with no trouble. I’d already started my hike when I got the confirmation email that it arrived.  I’d never sent a five-gallon bucket through the mail before, so so I wasn’t completely confident it arrived. But it did.

She sat me down at a picnic table, and I started sorting through all the stuff I’d thought I’d need halfway through the hike. I had packed all sorts of foodstuffs. Some of it, like the re-packed freeze-dried meals was essential. Other stuff I didn’t want (I just didn’t like eating beef jerky, for example) and still other supplies I no longer needed after my stay at Vermilion Valley Resort. My initial plan had been to stop at Red’s Meadow, skip VVR entirely, and re-supply here at Muir Trail Ranch. But when Red’s Meadow turned out to be closed, VVR became a must-visit.

But the bucket did contain most of my meals for the next seven days, so I jammed the bear canister full of food I thought I’d eat in the days ahead.

Horsehsoes in a five-gallon bucket.

A bucket of horseshoes. MTR is a working ranch. With horses and stuff.

After I’d sorted through the food, taken what I wanted, and repacked what I didn’t, I was ready to get going. But no one was around, and I didn’t want to leave a bucket of food out in the open. I also wanted to buy a canister of fuel for my Jetboil stove. I was on my last full canister of fuel, and I’d been planning on buying another here a their small store.

I played fetch with the dog for a little while, then, when I hadn’t seen anyone for a little while went up to the nearby house where I could hear people talking. I knocked, someone opened the door, saw I was a hiker, and everyone sitting in the kitchen (about five people) freaked right out.

One guy quickly stood up and scrambled over to block the doorway. I had no intention of going inside, but he was making sure I stayed outside where I belonged.

“What are you doing here?” he asked me.

“Um, just looking to let someone know I’m done with the bucket and wondering if I can buy some fuel.” I held my hands up in an apologetic gesture. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.”

He nodded. “Okay, she’ll be out there in a minute.” He jerked his chin back toward the hiker containment area.

I nodded in return, thanked him, apologized again, and went back to playing with the dog. Not long after this encounter, the woman who’d been helping me came out and I gave her the bucket back. I left all the extra food I’d sent along for her to put into their hiker barrels. I’m sure someone put it to good use.

I was there only two days after they opened for the season, so their the store wasn’t up and running yet. I was still able to buy a canister fuel, though, which is all I really needed (of course I forgot all about a poop shovel). Then it was time to go, and I was really happy to be getting back to hiking.

Later in the season, usually starting at the end of June (but it varies depending on the time of the season), they offer tents and cabins for hikers to stay in. This includes dinner, breakfast, and a lunch for the trail. If this is available, it would be a worthwhile stop to recharge, especially if you didn’t visit VVR … just don’t go near the house! But seriously, I do recommend a stop there, at least for your re-supply needs.

I was back on the trail by 9:20 a.m., later than I would have liked. I made the mile-and-a-half jaunt up the cut-off trail and was back on the John Muir Trail by 10:00. From here it was all uphill all the way to Muir Pass, nearly 20 miles down the trail. Considering the late start, I didn’t think I was going to get that far today.

Almost immediately after re-joining the John Muir Trail, I crossed the bridge over Piute Creek, which meant I was leaving Sierra National Forest behind and entering King’s Canyon National Park — and the Evolution Valley.

Field Notes book and Kings' Canyon national Park trail sign.

Entering Kings Canyon National Park with my trusted California Field Notes trail journal.

For much of the first six or so miles of this hike, the trail runs along the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. In places it raged by in great torrents of roiling whitewater and roaring falls. In others it flowed slow, quiet, and crystal clear.

The clear water of the South Fork San Joaquin River.

The clear water of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River.

After negotiating a couple of bridge crossings across the San Joaquin River and squeezing myself past a few closed stock gates, I had to resist the urge to check out Hell for Sure Pass up Goddard Canyon. Instead, I continued on into Evolution Meadow and the beginning of breathtaking Evolution Valley.

Stock fence on the John Muir Trail.

A stock fence. No horses allowed yet this time of year.

Before I knew it, I was at the famous and notorious Evolution Creek crossing. This crossing can be so tricky, the Forest Service has established an alternate route through Evolution Meadow when the water is really high and flowing fast. There’s a sign that lets you know which path you should take for both optimal safety and lowest ecological impact. I didn’t remember to take a picture of the sign, but fortunately, the Internet exists, and Cyclopshiker took a photo in 2009. Anyway, it told me to ford the creek.

Evolution Creek Crossing.

Evolution Creek. Less than two feet deep, but the flow was still very swift in the middle.

Now there are a few good guides and safety tips on how to ford a river. After my experience with the Bear Creek crossing the day before, I was hesitant to go with bare feet, but upon considering my options, I was going to go for it again. This crossing was more difficult than Bear Creek. The water was only about two feet deep, but it flowed fast and strong at the center. I slipped a few time (but didn’t fall), and, again, I’m going to recommend water-friendly sandals for this sort of thing.

On the other side of the creek, I had a snack before continuing to amble along the Evolution Valley and take in the sights. They were were spectacular. The trail here climbed steadily, but it was manageable.

A short distance after the McClure Meadow Ranger Station (which I totally missed), I came across a trio of hikers, two men and a woman. They were in their mid-sixties. One of the men was carrying two packs — and they weren’t small packs, either. Turns out the woman sprained her ankle earlier in the day, so he took her pack. It was impressive.

From here, the trail started to get a little steeper as I worked my way toward the Evolution Basin (there’s a theme here in case you hadn’t noticed). During this climb, I managed to bang my head on an over hanging branch (again), so now I had matching lacerations on my forehead.

The author, with another laceration on his forehead.

Another blow to the head.

Then, the Evolution Basin. As spectacular as the Evolution Valley was, the Evolution Basin was even more stunning.

Panoramic view of the Evolution Basin.

Panoramic view of the Evolution Basin.

Seriously. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this place is. And I’m not a good enough photographer (I’m sure you’ve realized that by now) to capture it in photos. But this place was majestic, easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen with my own eyes.

Mt. Mendel and Mt. Darwin in the Evolution Basin

Mt. Mendel and Mt. Darwin in the Evolution Basin

The sun was getting low, so I found a campsite above Evolution Lake and set up camp. I sat outside, eating dinner as the sun set behind the mountains. Once the sun disappeared behind the ridge, the win started to pick up and the temperature dropped quickly. It was going to be a chilly night, so I retreated to the relative warmth of my tent.

Setting Sun in the Evolution Basin

The sun sets behind The Hermit in the Evolution Basin

As I started to drift off to sleep, I realized I didn’t really encounter much in the way of mosquitoes today. I was very thankful of that. But soon that would be a different story.


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Written by Tom Fassbender

An amateur hobbyist, expert generalist, and outdoor enthusiast who recently traveled around the world with his family.

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