Evolution Traverse | Tom Grundy | Part 1

Evolution Traverse – Tom Grundy

The Evolution Traverse (or Evo) is an 8 mile section of ridge connecting 9 peaks in a sort of “J” shape from Mt Stephen J Gould through Mendel, Darwin, Pk 13332, Haeckel, Wallace, Fiske, Warlow, to Huxley. Most of the ridge is over 12,000 feet with many of the peaks over 13,000. Although all the peaks were climbed earlier the traverse was conceived and pioneered by Peter Croft and Galen Rowell. Peter did the first solo in 1999. Since then there have been numerous ascents especially recently including multi-day trips, winter trips, car to car and as fast as under 18 hours car to car.

I was part of a half-hearted car to car “reconnaissance in force” attempt in 2012 with Sean and Kim but we bailed after Darwin because we were unwilling to go for the guaranteed suffering. Sean later went on to do a sub 18 hour c2c send in 2016. After looking down at the ridge from Darwin I knew that there was some sketchy terrain and I have been wary of this goal for years. This year I decided to give it a try with Robert Wu. He suggested a car to car attempt but I knew I’d have a better chance if I camped at the start. I was still scared of it and looking at the AAC “Accidents in N American Mountaineering” didn’t help. A period of unsettled weather set our start back a few days but we hiked in on Friday Sept 15th hitting the start of what was supposed to be a cooler dry spell.

We had been up over Lamarck Col in the dark earlier this year on our Goddard day hike and Robert had come over during the Sierra Challenge. It was a bit slower with overnight packs, but we were still traveling pretty light. We set up camp near the toe of the ridge and ate dinner as the sun set and the temperature plunged. Our dinners were pretty uninspiring, especially Robert’s barely cooked quinoa and beans. I was very glad I opted for my warmer down bag. We went to bed early because it was cold and we were going to get up soon to start in the dark.

panorama from Lamarck Col looking across Darwin Canyon to Mt Darwin, Mt Mendel, and Mt S J Gould

Robert and his less than inspiring dinner

sunset from Darwin Bench

The alarm went off at 3 am and we started getting ready in the frosty dark. There was no moon. The stove died before the water boiled so my oatmeal was lukewarm. It might have helped speed up our departure though. We left at 3:45. It was cold and dark but we started warming up as soon as we began moving uphill. We didn’t really know the best route and we started up a ramp system to the left of the cleft and had to zig-zag a bit across the face to avoid seriously difficult or dangerous climbing. It took a long time to get up onto the ridge and then we had to go up and down over a series of notches along the way up to Stephen J Gould (an informal name for the first peak). It was starting to get light before we made it and I saw the sunrise at 6:35 from the summit. One down 8 to go.

Robert getting ready to go

sunrise from Mt S J Gould

Mt S J Gould summit posing

view on to Mendel with Darwin barely visible in the notch and Fiske, Warlow, and Huxley off to the right

I had done this section before in 2012, but I didn’t remember many details. We dropped down to the notch and then had to climb back up towards Mendel. There were a few bits of real climbing but it was mostly easier scrambling. We got to the summit of Mendel around 8:40.

Robert climbs up one of the handcrack sections

view of the ridge from Mendel to Darwin

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!