<-- Map of summer 2017
     climbing roadtrip 
     (click to enlarge)
JULY
9-12
2017

EVOLUTION TRAVERSE
Route: (IV, 5.9)
1. Peak 13,360 (13,360')
2. Mt. Mendel (13,710')
3. Mt. Darwin (13,831')
4. Peak 13,332 (13,332')
5. Mt. Haeckel (13,418')
6. Mt. Wallace (13,377')
7. Mt. Fiske (13,503')
8. Mt. Warlow (13,206')
9. Mt. Huxley (13,086')


Category: California      Trip Report #247
Partner: Casey Andrews
Rock Type: Granite
Elev: 12,000-13,000+ ft 

"To climb for miles and never leave the skyline." - Peter Croft

Click to enlarge and see peak labels. (I had originally just labeled the 9 peaks of the Evolution Traverse, but Paul Decker had fun identifying all of the peaks on the horizon for me, so I have posted that version here. Thanks Paul!)

INTRO

The Evolution Traverse traverses the 8-mile ridge that hooks around the Evolution Basin, staying on the crest for virtually the entire distance. Peter Croft was the first to complete the Traverse in its entirety, in 1999 (this was his third attempt, the first being in 1997 with Galen Rowell). In his guidebook The Good, The Great, and The Awesome, Peter Croft notes: "This is the best traverse I have done. It's nice and long, it has a distinct beginning and end, and the rock is much better than any of the other big traverses I've encountered....I began at the first hint of dawn and spent all day on this great spine of granite, coming closer than ever before to the ideal traverse. To climb for miles and never leave the skyline." 

Every summer I seem to find myself down in California/Sierra for a couple of weeks, seeking out good rock. And every time I think about doing the Evolution Traverse, yet finding a partner for it has been a crux. Finally, in July 2017, I met Casey Andrews, who was also psyched to do the Traverse. So we got our permit, packed up, and headed in. We spent one day hiking in, the next two days on the Evolution Traverse (with a bivy on the ridge), and the last day hiking out. It was a phenomenal trip that had it all: spectacular position and views, heads-up route-finding, sections of great alpine climbing, athletic challenge, and awesome partner.

When researching the Evolution Traverse, I gleaned beta from google and from Croft's guidebook. As several of these sources mention, there is no way to give a "pitch-by-pitch, foot-by-foot" description of the route, and indeed part of the challenge of the Evolution Traverse is figuring it out as you go. But as my contribution to the beta pool for this route, here are two potentially-useful sources of route information: (1) An annotated map of the route printable at 8.5x11 size and (2) A table showing our times on the Traverse to give a sense of how long it took a reasonably-fast onsight party to complete the traverse in a 2-day style.



MAP WITH NOTES  STATS 

Also, here are some
RANDOM NOTES ON STYLE / GEAR:
  • Soloing/Belaying/Simulclimbing: We soloed almost all of the route, roping up only for rappels (we made 10 of them over the course of the Traverse, 7 of which were between Darwin and Peak 13,332) and for three short (<20 ft) cruxy sections (located on the ridge to Mendel, 13,332, and Huxley) where we made a quick belay. We did not do any simulclimbing whatsoever, but instead put on rock shoes for three longer sections that had more sustained 5th class (the section of knife-edge ridge between Darwin, the first half of Warlow's NE Ridge, and the first half of Huxley). It is a pain to simulclimb on a ridge, and soloing made climbing more enjoyable and faster.
  • Rope: We brought a 60m 8mm rope. On several occasions on the route, we encountered a difficult area of downclimbing; sometimes we would try to downclimb, sometimes we would backtrack along the ridge looking for an easier option, and sometimes (if there was a rap station already there), we would rappel. We rappelled a total of 10 times (7 of these times were between Darwin and Peak 13,332). Many of these rappels were 20-30m, so we were glad to have the full 60m length of rope. Given that we only belayed for a few short sections, we could have gotten away with a thinner rope I suppose, but I personally would not bring a shorter rope unless you plan to downclimb more or spend time scoping out different ways on the ridge.
  • Rack: We brought a single set of cams from BD 0.4 to 3, 6 alpine draws, 2 long draws, and a handful of stoppers. We only used the gear on three occasions, for the three short (<20 ft) cruxy sections where we made a quick belay. And even then we only used a couple at a time. Next time I would bring fewer cams (maybe only a 0.75, 1, and 2) and fewer alpine draws (maybe just 3).
  • Tat & leaver biners: We brought some extra tat, a few leaver biners, and the handful of stoppers in case we needed to fortify any of the rap stations. We found all of the rap stations to be in good shape with reasonably new tat on them, so we never needed to use any of our tat. Next time I would probably still bring a bit of tat and leaver biners, but not the stoppers, as almost all of the stations were on nice horns or boulders.
  • Approach shoes vs. Climbing shoes: We wore approach shoes for most of the traverse. We wore rock shoes (and were glad to have them) for three locations: the section of knife-edge ridge between Darwin, the first half of Warlow's NE Ridge, and the first half of Huxley. Rock shoes made it much more comfortable to solo these sections, avoiding the pain of ridge simulclimbing.
  • Timing/Snow: Mainly just because it was when I was in the area and not due to any preference or planning on timing, we did the Traverse in early July during a higher than usual snow year. So there was some snow on the approach and on the ridge. It was never more than just an annoyance for travel, but the big benefit was that we were able to find a bivy site on the ridge near a snowpatch and melt snow for water (with a Jetboil), avoiding a 500' descent to the lake below Haeckel. The temperatures were warm enough and most gullies clear enough that we felt no need for crampons or ice axes.
  • Number of days: We devoted 4 days to the trip: one day approaching Darwin Bench (~8 hours hiking), 2 days on the Evolution Traverse with a bivy midway (2 full days, 13-15 hours each), and one day hiking back out to car (~6.5 hours). This was a reasonable way to break down the trip, and I would not have wanted more or less days.
PHOTOS!

The rest of this page contains photos from the Traverse, broken down by section. What a great trip. Enjoy!
 
Approach: Trailhead to Camp in Darwin Bench
2nd/3rd; ~10 miles, ~3,600' gain, ~1,600' loss; ~8 hours
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
8.    
9.    
10.    
11.    
12.    
13.    
14.    
15.    
16.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Hot on the east side. Time to head to the mountains!
2. View of Lamarck Col from the parking area for Lamarck Lake.
3. The trailhead is at the North Lake Campground, so you have to hike the road for about 10 minutes from the hiker parking area.
4. The first part of the approach follows a trail to Lamarck Lakes. After that it is cross-country.
5. About an hour into the hike, Casey discovered that his car key had fallen out of his pocket. We left a note, hoping that one of the many hikers that would be on the trail would find the key. Given that Casey had no spare key, we were a bit worried of the fiasco that would ensue after our trip if he did not get his key back, but we tried not to think about it.
6. Hiking up towards Lamarck Col (out of view still but behind the saddle in the photo).
7. Flowers in the sand on the approach.
8. The final climb up to Lamarck Col. Like most snow I've encountered in the Sierra, the snow was not steep or hard so merely a wet sun-cupped annoyance.
9. The view west from Lamarck Col, looking down Darwin Canyon. Mendel and Peak 13,360 (the first two summits on the Traverse) are above the 5 lakes.
10. A pretty meadow of shooting stars on the descent into Darwin Canyon.
11. Alpine columbine.
12. 
Alpine columbine.
13. A pretty spot for a short snack break.
14. Hiking alongside the lakes towards Darwin Bench. At every lake, we had the choice of going along the left (south) or right (north) side. The trail (if not snowcovered) goes on the right (north) side of the lakes. We occasionally found it easier to go on the left (south) side due to snow. (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
15. We established our camp at the head of Darwin Bench, about 10 minutes from the start of the Traverse. Peak 13,360 is in the background of the photo.
16. A view of Darwin Bench. The cloud on the horizon ended up materizing into a thundershower and it rained on us for about an hour. I crawled into my bivy sac and Casey (who had only a questionably-waterproof tarp) crawled under a boulder.


Start of Traverse to Summit of Peak 13,360 (#1)
3rd/4th; 5:52-8:20am (travel time: 2:28); 11% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
Photo descriptions:
1. 5:45 am: Leaving camp to start the Evolution Traverse, which starts at the toe of the ridge in the background.
2. There are several options for the first section, but pretty much head up the ridge and keep it 3rd/4th.
3. We headed up just left of a big gully. In some trip reports I had read, people have headed up right of the gully, which also works, but has a cruxy section downclimbing the thing right of the notch in the photo. Going left seemed like an efficient line.
4. Continuing upward.
5. On the ridge. There are several ups and downs getting to Peak 13,360.
6. 
Rappel #1 (of 10). We ended up having to do a rappel into a notch. We could have avoided it by backtracking and going low on loose class 3 terrain, but there was a rap station and a rappel seemed quicker at this point. We were glad to have a 60m rope for this rappel.
7. The summit of Peak 13,360.

Summit of Peak 13,360 (#1) to Summit of Mt. Mendel (#2)
Up to 5.6; 8:22-11:17am (travel time: 2:55); 24% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
Photo descriptions:
1. On Peak 13,360, looking at the start of the traverse towards Mendel.
2. A short (5.6 ish) vertical hand crack that we both soloed.
3. Further on the ridge between Peak 13,360 and Mendel.
4. 
Belay #1 (of 3). Another short crack (5.6 ish). This one was wider (fists) so seemed a bit harder than the previous cruxy crack section we encountered on the traverse between 13,360 and Mendel. Casey soled up it, but I asked for a quick belay. 
5. Rappel #2 (of 10). We encountered a section we needed to rappel. We did not look for ways to bypass this or downclimb it, since the rappel was quick and easy. We were glad to have a 60m rope for this rappel. 
6. On the summit of Mendel.

Summit of Mt. Mendel (#2) to Summit of Mt. Darwin (#3)
Up to 5.8; 11:30am-1:28pm (travel time: 1:58); 33% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
8.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Looking towards Darwin from near the summit of Mendel.
 (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
2. 
Rappel #3 (of 10). About halfway between Mendel and Darwin, we rappelled a steeper section (probably downclimbable at 5.8, the rating for this section of the Traverse).
3. Rappel #3 (of 10). 
A photo of the tat at the rappel. We found all of the rap stations to have recent enough tat that we did not feel the need to fortify any of them.
4. Easy blocky terrain.
5. Nearing the summit of Darwin. Storm clouds are brewing on the horizon and we were starting to hear thunder and feel a bit of spitting rain. We were not sure whether we should look for boulder to hide out under or just keep going....
 (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
6. Casey on the flat summit of Darwin. This is a possible place to bivy (especially with the large early-season snowpatch), but it was only 1:30pm and we wanted to get to at least halfway on the Traverse before bivying. Plus, we did not want to be on the summit of Darwin if a thundershower moved in, so we decided to just keep going and hope the thundershower passed by to the west of us (which it did, thankfully).
7. Pleasant sandy terrain and purple skypilots on the summit of Darwin.
 (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
8. The summit block of Darwin (5.7).
 (Photo by Casey Andrews.)

Summit of Mt. Darwin (#3) to Summit of Peak 13,332 (#4)
Up to 5.9; 1:40-6:50pm (travel time without break: 4:30); 53% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
8.    
9.    
10.    
11.    
12.    
13.    
14.    
15.    
16.    
17.    
18.    
19.    
20.    
21.    
22.    
23.    
Photo descriptions:
1. The start of the ridge from Darwin to Peak 13,332. This is the most rugged part of the route and routefinding is a challenge. Our stress was increased a bit by the thundershower to the west, but we took our time and navigated this section without issue.
2. A bit of annoying steep snow as we went left around the Darwin summit block.
3. 
Rappel #4 (of 10). This rappel station was right on the ridge, and was followed by 2 more rappels, spaced about 30m apart. There might have been a different way to go here, but this worked and prevented any 5th class downclimbing.
4.
Rappel #5 (of 10).
5. 
Rappel #5 (of 10). Looking up at Casey on the rappel. We were to climber's left of the ridge at this point. 
6. 
Rappel #6 (of 10).
7. After the third rappel, we decided to climb this easy crack system back onto the ridge.
8. Back on the ridge, looking up at what we avoided. I think some parties just downclimb the ridge and find it to be 5.9. Notice the blue sling in the photo - another rap station...
9. 
Rappel #7 (of 10). This rap station was right below the blue sling in the previous photo. 
10. Rappel #8 (of 10). After Rappel #7, we scrambled along the ridge for awhile. Then we made another rappel to avoid downclimbing a steep section. 
11. 
Rappel #9 (of 10). And then a bit more scrambling followed by another rappel. This one got us to the Croft Golden Triangle (seen in photo), which is about halfway between Darwin and Peak 13,332. (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
12. 
Rock Shoes #1 (of 3). After all the rappelling we were happy to just do some climbing. We put on our climbing shoes and soloed the remainder of the ridge to Peak 13,332, which is some of the best ridge climbing on the route, involving lots of exposed 4th and low 5th class right on the ridge crest. This starts with the Croft Golden Triangle, pictured in the photo. 
13. Steph soloing the Croft Golden Triangle. 
(Photo by Casey Andrews.)
14. Looking down a gully to the west below the Croft Golden Triangle. You could bail here if you needed to. There are better spots to bail later on in the Traverse. But for Casey and me, everything was going well and weather looked okay and we were having fun, so we never entertained the thought of bailing.
15. Casey enjoying the exposure.
16. Steph on the exposed ridge. 
(Photo by Casey Andrews.)
17. Some fun low 5th climbing.
18. More fun ridge climbing. This section really does have the best ridge climbing on the Traverse.
19. Steph looking back at the ridge we just traversed from Darwin. It had been 3.5 hours since we left the summit of Darwin (includes a 30 minute break). 
(Photo by Casey Andrews.)
20. Belay #2 (of 3). A steeper section of ridge. Casey soloed this, but the first move was a bit cruxy, so I felt more comfortable with a belay, so we did a short (~15') belay.
21.
 
Rappel #10 (of 10). We rappelled one more time to get past a steep downclimb. This ended up being the last time we rappelled on the Traverse.
22. The final section of climbing to the top of Peak 13,332. We had put our approach shoes back on by this point as the terrain was a bit easier.
23. On top of Peak 13,332. In the photo, Casey is looking down to the east for a possible bivy location.

Peak 13,332 (#4) to Bivy just below Peak 13,332
3rd; 6:50-7:00pm (travel time: 0:10); 54% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Looking down the ridge from the top of Peak 13,332. We ended up bivying at the snowpatch close to the ridgecrest. This was about 10 minutes scramble down from the top of 13,332.
2. Bivy right on the ridge.
3. I had to build out a spot for my head and make a windblock, but this was a comfortable spot and I slept well.
4. Casey on his bivy boulder. We melted the snow for water as we enjoyed the evening light show. This photo also shows the lake that is the closest water to the ridge once all of the snow melts. It is about 500' below the ridge and a popular bivy site.
5. Evening light on Haeckel, the next peak on the Traverse.

Bivy just below Peak 13,332 to Summit of Mt. Haeckel (#5)
4th; 6:15-8:23am (travel time without break: 2:00); 63% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
8.    
9.    
10.    
11.    
12.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Mt. Goddard to the southwest. We saw this peak almost the entire traverse, so it probably has a great view of the Evolution Traverse...

2. Morning shadows as we left our bivy spot in the morning sun (6:15am).
3. Looking down the ridge from our bivy spot. Class 3 all the way to the base of the NW Arete of Haeckel.
4. Pretty purple sky pilots. We saw a lot of sky pilots on the Traverse.
5. Crossing a snowfield as we make our way over to Haeckel. Since it was early in the morning, the snow was still firm, but we carefully made it across. Under the conditions we had, it would not have been worth having ice axes just for short sections of snow like this. (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
6. We encountered some tricky 4th class getting around this bit of ridge. It might be best to just stay high on the ridge.
7. The classic NW Arete of Haeckel, which is a nice line up solid 4th class. Some people hike in to just do this route. 
(Photo by Casey Andrews.)
8. Casey enjoying the steep and solid 4th class terrain.
9. Further up on the arete.
10. On the summit! 
11. Steph on the summit, looking at the ridge we just traversed from 13,332. (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
12. The snowy basin to the west. 2017 had more snow than usual for July in the Sierra.

Summit of Mt. Haeckel (#5) to Summit of Mt. Wallace (#6)
3rd; 8:39-9:29am (travel time: 0:50); 67% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Looking down the ridge towards Wallace. This section was 3rd class and was the quickest time (50 min) between two summits on the Traverse.
2. A lake beginning to melt out.
3. Climbing out of a moat. During a normal snow year, there would be less dealing with getting around snow. But even so, the snow was merely an occasional inconvenience and didn't create any hazards or slow us down too much.
4. The blocky 3rd class ridge to the top of Wallace.
5. At the summit block of Wallace. It counts to just touch it, right? =)


Summit of Mt. Wallace (#6) to Summit of Mt. Fiske (#7)
3rd/5.5; 9:29am-12:01pm (travel time: 2:32); 78% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
8.    
9.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Descending from the top of Wallace. The Traverse takes a sharp right to the west at the end of the ridge in the photo and heads west to Fiske (summit of Fiske is outside the right end of the photo). The distance between Wallace and Fiske is the greatest distance between any two peaks on the Traverse, but it involves a lot of pretty easy terrain (although not all easy) so it didn't take any longer than some of the other peak-to-peak times.
2. This section is definitely the chossiest section on the Traverse. 
3. Enjoying a rare moment of mentally checking out and walking for a bit. For much of the Traverse, you have to be pretty focused and careful, so it was nice to get a bit of a break before the final push to the end.
4. Looking towards Fiske from just after the point where the Traverse took a sharp turn to the west.
5. A short (and firm) snowpatch to deal with.
6. A jenga pile.
7. Some interesting fractured blocks we climbed around on the ridgeline leading to Fiske. This photo was taken shortly before the short 5.5 section of ridge.
8. On easy terrain again leading to Fiske.
9. Call girls in the summit register. Too bad there's no cell signal from the top of Fiske.

Summit of Mt. Fiske (#7) to Summit of Mt. Warlow (#8)
low 5th; 12:45-2:33pm (travel time: 1:48); 86% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
Photo descriptions:
1. The ridge to Warlow. The descent from Fiske is easy but the ascent of the NE Ridge of Warlow has some low 5th sections.
2. 
Rock Shoes #2 (of 3). Some blocky terrain on the NE Ridge of Warlow. We had put our climbing shoes on for this part.
3. As we got higher on Warlow, the terrain steepened and became harder. As suggested in the Croft description, we cut right.
4. 4th class climbing after we cut right.
5. On the summit of Warlow. One more peak to go!
6. The Muir Hut at Muir Pass far below to the south.
7. View of the snowy upper Evolution Basin. Wanda Lake is still iced over.

Summit of Mt. Warlow (#8) to Summit of Mt. Huxley (#9)
5.5-5.7; 2:38-4:38pm (travel time: 2:00); 95% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
8.    
9.    
10.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Looking down the ridge towards Huxley, the final peak in the Traverse.
2. Further along the ridge. Getting to the base of Huxley is mostly 3rd class.
3. Nearing Huxley.
4. 
Rock Shoes #3 (of 3). Although you can take 3rd class gullies to the top of Huxley by dropping down left, we kept with the theme of the Traverse and climbed the clean ridgeline. This was 5.5-5.7 climbing. We put on climbing shoes for this.
5. 
Belay #3 (of 3). Due to the exposure, we belayed this short section. The climbing was probably 5.7ish, but there was a move where you had to trust a foot smear.
6. Nearing the top of Huxley. There are some really giant blocks of granite on the ridge.
7. On top!
8. The summit register on Huxley was filled with Evolution Traverse entries. I scanned through them hoping to find someone I knew, but I found a guy named Alex that I certainly know of, from his camp-to-camp solo of the Evolution Traverse in 2008.
9. Our summit register entry. I always wish I could come up with something more clever to write, or at least remember to put my hometown....
10. The call girls made it to Huxley as well!

Summit of Mt. Huxley (#9) to Summit of End of Traverse in Evolution Basin
3rd; 4:55-5:56pm (travel time: 1:01); 100% complete
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
8.    
9.    
10.    
11.    
12.    
13.    
14.    
15.    
Photo descriptions:
1. Starting the descent: hiking northward from the summit of Huxley.
2. The beta we had said to descend the second gully on the left. This was the first gully. It looked doable but was not the second, so we moved on.
3. Looking down the second gully. This is the one we descended. It was 3rd class and went fairly quickly.
4. Lower in the gully.
5. Hiking down into Evolution Basin after exiting the gully. (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
6. Hiking down in to Evolution Basin after exiting the gully.
7. Looking back up at Haeckel.
8. We had to cross this river to get to the trail (JMT). It is probably more of a stream later in the summer....
9. Not wanting to get our feet wet, we waded in bare feet. Cold!
10. Midway through the river.
11. The trail was snowcovered. So much for avoiding wet feet. (Photo by Casey Andrews.)
12. A chilly Evolution Basin, with Haeckel glowing in evening light.
13. The trail crossed to the other side of the Basin above Evolution Lake. This time we did not bother taking our shoes off.
14. Steph crossing. 
(Photo by Casey Andrews.)
15. Alpinglow on peaks above Evolution Lake. Just after Evolution Lake we left the main trail and headed up to Darwin Bench where we had camped the first night and left our extra stuff. It got dark for the last 30 minutes but we found our camp pretty easily thanks to Casey's excellent navigation skills.

End of Traverse to Camp in Darwin Basin to Trailhead
2nd/3rd; 3:39 back to camp; 6:13 camp to trailhead
Photos:
1.    
2.    
3.    
4.    
5.    
6.    
7.    
Photo descriptions:
1. One of the 5 lakes in Darwin Canyon on the hike back up to Lamarck Col.
2. Hiking up to Lamarck Col.
3. Never-ending suncups. But not as bad as the boulder fields.
4. A view out past Lamarck Lakes and towards the valley (Bishop area).
5. Casey crossing the stream at Lower Lamarck Lake.
6. Casey's key at the trailhead sign!
7. I think Casey was more psyched that he found his key then that we had just completed the Evolution Traverse! =)