The expectations for this day were high, because we were heading up into Evolution Basin, often touted as the most beautiful stretch of the JMT. A steady morning climb got us to the lower meadows near a ranger station, where we gave our names and permit info to the ranger on duty. He told us that the hike was just going to get better from that point forward, and he wasn’t kidding! The hike up to Muir Pass (11,955’) was turn after turn of breathtaking high alpine beauty, and the trip began to take on a “real adventure” quality as we got deeper into backcountry areas that aren’t frequented by day hikers.
Our stop at the pass summit was brief, because we still had a good number of miles left to make our target, but we descended the gorgeous, Mars-like Helen Lake area fairly quickly, energized by the surroundings and the sunny day. Partway down Le Conte canyon, we came across a fellow female hiker who alerted us to an enormous black bear crossing the trail ahead of us! We had been planning to camp nearby, but the sight of the bear pushed us further down the canyon. Turns out this effort was in vain, as that night, we had to scare a smaller bear out of our camp. Lucky for us, at least one of us is a light sleeper and it didn’t make off with any of our stuff!
Continuing deeper into Kings Canyon, we descended in the morning and then began the long approach to our next challenge: the Golden Staircase. Built in 1938, the Golden Staircase is the way hikers get from Deer Meadows up to the Palisade lakes, climbing 1500 feet up a nearly vertical, south-facing canyon wall. It was a hot afternoon, and we took a couple of breaks in the shade of boulders on the way up. By the time we reached Upper Palisade Lake and found a camp, we had almost lost the sun, but the light of dusk on the ridge of Mather Pass and its surrounds were beautiful. We took our bear bag hanging efforts to a new level, based on the previous night’s experience.