Landscape Photography on the John Muir Trail, Part 1: North Lake to Evolution Valley

One of the cool things about making a blog is you can start it whenever you want. Today’s actually day two of this track. And yesterday day one, to be honest with you, it got off to a little bit of a Rocky start. First, we were stuck in road construction traffic for about two hours dropping off a car at our Southern trail head. And then we got stuck in thunder and hail and rainstorms on the way up to place called Paiute pass. So it took us a hot minute to actually get the trip going, but a new day is done and we were both incredibly stoked to be here because the trip that we’re doing, it’s one of the more famous multi-day treks here in the Sierra, partly because it passes through three incredibly beautiful high country basins, the Humphreys basin evolution basin, and Dusy basin. And I can’t wait to check them out at today’s starting off on a pretty bright note already. I walked out about a mile from camp to some wonderful Meadows and waterfalls that are overlooking the glacial divide. And even though there weren’t any clouds in the sky at all this morning, I still was able to get a couple of nice shots and I’ll show them to you here.

And by the time we arrived at our camp last night, it was basically already sunset, which meant we had just enough time to do a little bit of quick photography before slamming some food into our faces, jumping into our tents and going to sleep, which makes today the first full day of the Trek. And it’s going to be a long one. I think we have 20 or 22 miles to go to make it all the way up to evolution base. And so it’s still early. It’s only about six 45, which means it’s time to head back to camp, grab some breakfast, start getting some trail miles under our feet.

Well, the morning started off beautifully. We were having a lovely descent down from our campsite at Tomahawk Lake. When all of a sudden in the middle of the forest tragedy struck. So what, what happened uh, first morning? So first morning we’d get up early. She’d sent rise. Supersite to be out, pack up. Our camps are heading downhill and we’re doing this not very steep cross country, route down, kind of stick for foresty area with a lot of little pine cones. And I’m walking down like this and all of a sudden my feet about, and I’m on my poles. They bolt snap. It will you survive without any poles I would today, I would not have survived on the polls. Steep going up steep, going down my old man body. Well looking pretty solid chinks to be solid.

Well, all I got to say is I’m glad I’m wearing wicking underpants because the swag is definitely starting to form this marks, the end of our descent for the day, we’ve just come down about four hours of walking nine miles through pie Canyon. And we started in the high Alpine zone, the Sierra Tundra almost. And as we dropped lower scenery kept changing. We kept coming by the Creek, which grew larger and larger and larger. And the vegetation changed from Alpine conifers to aspens, to Manzanita, to Cedars, Jeffrey Pines, and the weather just kept getting hotter and hotter and hotter. Now it’s lunchtime, but after lunch, we cross this bridge and we start our climb back up to evolution Valley evolution basin about another 10 miles to go yet today in that direction, a couple of cruisy miles later, and we find ourselves here and what’s special about this place is that, that Valley up there, those gigantic Bluffs of rock in between them lies the entrance to one of the most fable, the most hallowed valleys in all of hiker dub a place.

So wondrous it’s rumored to be the most beautiful Valley on the John Muir trail. It’s the evolution Valley. Will it live up to the hype? I don’t know, but we’re about to climb up there and find out, well, we just passed our seven of actual hiking time today coming up on 14 miles, I have to admit I’m feeling a little fatigued, a little fatigued. We still haven’t even done half the track. We’ve only got two days left. So we really need to keep pushing and try to crank out another five, six miles, three hours of hiking today. 

We came to conquer, but we go for kind of defeated. So here’s what happened. We climbed up into the evolution Valley. It was a long, hot sloggy climb. Although we did pass some beautiful waterfalls and wonderful creeks and really is just a beautiful area, but we got to a place called McLaren meadow. We looked at each other and we realized that we were both wrecked done for the day. There’s no way we could carry on another five, six, seven miles up into upper evolution basin. So we basically did a 16 mile day today, plus whatever we hike this morning while doing photography. And that puts us approximately 25 miles into the walk, which means we still have 30 miles to go. So that’s a 15 mile day tomorrow and a 15 mile day, the next day and the way I’m feeling right now, I don’t think we’re really up for it. So what we’re going to do instead is take a little bit of a shortcut through the high country. We’re going to go up past a place called Darwin bench overload, Mark Cole, and back down to North Lake. It should shave about 20 miles off the trip, although we’ll still be out the same amount of days. And even though it means we won’t be able to get into upper evolution based on this trip, the nice thing is it means we can call it a day here in McClair meadow with incredible views in every direction.

Well, just about sunset time, add insult to injury, kind of bloody nose. I think the first time ever in the back country, who knows what that’s all about. Anyway, the conditions out here right now are really lovely. There’s almost no cloud in the sky, unfortunately, but there’s an incredible reflection here in the river. And there’s just the SURPI warm light, bathing all the mountains, looking up the Valley here. So here you can see the composition that I’ve got to set up. I got this little grassy guy breaking up the reflection over here. So there’s not just a pure reflection shot. And the continuity, the reflection over on this side to give the connection to the background and you can see how these two mountains are relatively balanced in the frame in terms of where the peaks are. So that’s something that I like to do a lot when I’m composing is just use a little bit of horizontal symmetry there. And in terms of settings, I’m shooting at about 26 millimeters and a barely far away from that little bank. So I think F 11 should be sufficient to give me enough depth of field there ISO 64 and a shutter speed of a 10th of a second.

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