Le Conte Canyon and Muir Pass form a sort of bottleneck, with few reasonable on- or off-trail alternatives connecting the territory north and south of the Palisades. Thus I was forced to spend a day doing a “commute” along the JMT, including the interminable 4,000-foot climb up Muir Pass, to reach the next region of unclimbed peaks west of Evolution Valley. Roper’s High Route travels through Palisade and Dusy Basins on its way to Le Conte, but I skipped this scenic section, having spent a good deal of time there on dayhikes.
After packing up, I made my way down some steep, stepped slabs on the east side of Cataract Creek, then picked up the old trail on the west side where the canyon levels out. This trail stays on that side all the way to Palisade Creek, though a fire near the creek junction has obliterated the last part with fallen logs and thorny bushes. After crossing a convenient log bridge, I was dismayed not to find the JMT, which for some reason strays well above the creek. Making my way west and slightly uphill through a bog, I finally found it.
After two days of cross-country travel, I was bored and frustrated by the miles spent on a mostly-familiar trail, and used hours of my precious iPod charge to help the time pass. Feeling drained, I actually stopped for lunch just below the ranger station, consuming (among other things) a trail mix burrito. Truly, the Hunger had set in.
Between eagerness to be done and a resurgence of the horrid “face flies,” I hardly stopped between lunch and the Muir hut. I suppose this section of trail was scenic, but it was also hot, familiar, and uphill, so I was mostly focused inward. I had initially planned to camp at Davis Lakes, tag McGee in the morning, then descend west to the Goddard Creek trail. However, an old-timer I met just below the pass recommended camping at McGee Lakes instead. Since it looked like I could still climb McGee from that side, I followed the JMT to where it switchbacks down to Sapphire Lake, then popped over the ridge to the west, following bits of use trail to a decent campsite near the base of McGee’s northeast ridge.