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Backpacking the North/South Lake Loop: Goddard Canyon to Sapphire Lake

Day 3 - North Lake / South Lake Loop

Day 3 - North Lake / South Lake Loop

DAY THREE on the North Lake/South Lake Loop

The trail up to Evolution Valley starts off with a 1,000 feet of switchbacks that dig in right away!  The switchbacks follow the waterfall that is Evolution Creek flowing out of the valley – and some of the views are breathtaking.  As you top out, you then hike along the creek – watching your map to see how close you are to the famous “Evolution Creek Crossing”.

Bishop Loop Day 3 Details
Distance: 10.9 miles
Time: 5-8 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Gain/Loss: +2,696’/-135′
Dogs: No
When to go: Late July-Early October
In a normal summer, it’s a semi-wet rock hop across the creek.  Earlier this year in 2017, there were JMTers and PCTers going in chest and even NECK deep across.  We had read and heard beta that it was now knee deep – so we were hopeful that was true.

After hiking about two miles, we reached the crossing. The creek didn’t look too deep, but it was running a bit faster than we’d like.  There was a solo hiker camped about 25 years upstream, and where he was camped looked like a perfect place to cross.  We walked over and started to change our shoes, and had a nice chat with our new friend – he agreed it was a good spot.  Knee deep at the outset, and then quite easy after that – we were across in seconds!  Evolution Creek, done!

Evolution Creek Crossing

As the trail opens up and enters Evolution Meadow, it’s an incredible view!  And, the views just keep getting better and better as you approach McClure Meadow.  It’s hard to believe this hidden gem of a valley sits right in the middle of the High Sierra.  Absolutely breathtaking!

McClure Meadow

After you pass the McClure Meadow ranger station, the valley opens up to Colby Meadow – another spectacular view.  Evolution Creek continues to wind through the valley and our anticipation grows as we know that the climb up to Evolution Lake is coming – and that the views looking back as we climb will be incredible!

McClure Meadow

A series of switchbacks take you up and out the West end of Evolution Valley – and you have to stop every few minutes and look back over the expanse of the Valley.  It’s simply amazing.

Looking back on Evolution Valley

Finally, you top out above the tree line at the west end of Evolution Basin and the huge expanse of Evolution Lake.

At 10,852 feet, this giant lake has a short round section on the northwest end and a long center section that runs west to east – the trail goes all the way around the north side of the lake – and it’s quite a distance.

Panorama of Evolution Lake

This north side trail had several snow fields to cross and the beautiful blue sky began to give way to some pretty ominous monsoonal storm clouds.  At the southeast end of the lake is a great water crossing with large rocks that is really fun.


The trail continues to climb gently to Sapphire Lake at 10,966 feet.  By this time, we were feeling rain drops and small hail – so we felt that the additional 500 vertical foot ascent to Wanda Lake was out of the question for today.  It was time to pitch camp at Sapphire Lake before the big rain or hail would hit.

Sapphire Lake

We found a flat spot off the trail with close access to lake water and we set the tent up quickly.  I wanted to try a few fishing casts, but the wind was too strong.  Soon after, the hail started to pelt us and we took shelter in the tent.

When the hail finally stopped, we hopped out and had a quick dinner. We layered up as it was pretty cold, and invited a couple of other hikers to join us at the camp spot we had found.  Mark and Brian were childhood friends from SoCal on their first backpacking adventure!  They were already 9 days in from Mammoth and looked happy to find some other folks to get them off the trail before the weather hit.

Sapphire Lake camp

By the time we finished eating, the rain arrived.  We hunkered down in our tent for about an hour of pretty decent rain.  Everything stayed dry and soon it would be a calm, clear and cold night at Sapphire Lake.

In the morning, we would make our ascent of the iconic Muir Pass!

Goddard Canyon to Sapphire Lake Trail Map & Elevation Profile

Download file: NL-SL-Loop-Day-3.gpx


Originally hiked Tuesday, August 22, 2017.

Continue to Day Four: Sapphire Lake to Little Pete Meadow


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