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Evolution Traverse

5.9, Trad, Alpine, 12000 ft (3636 m), 5 pitches, Grade VI,  Avg: 3.8 from 61 votes
FA: Peter Croft
California > High Sierra > 08 - Bishop Pas… > Mt Darwin


This route is considered the best of all the traverses in the Sierra. Whether or not that is true: It is a great, long, and sometimes intimidating outing.
The rock is mostly excellent, with a couple loose spots in between, better than on the Palisades Thunderbolt to Sill part.
Getting down from Darwin is the most dangerous and difficult part of the climb, with either a manky rappel or a 5.9 downclimb. (edit: People in the comments say there is a 5.6 way, we rapped)
The number of pitches you belay greatly depends on how comfortable you are soloing 5th class. Simulclimbing is not a good idea.
The Mendel headwall is 5.6, a very nice crack is the crux. The most challenging section from both a technical and route finding point of view is the traverse between Darwin and 13,332. There's an obvious manky 5.6-5.9 down climb right below the summit block, which you can avoid with a short rappel. From here depending on which way you go you will encounter down climbing/traversing up to 5.9. There are a number of ways to go up Huxley, but most people have encountered climbing up to 5.7 or 5.8.
Water is a problem, unless you go early in the season, which is recommended if the snow year was not big. The closest water source is a lake a few hundred feet below Haeckel.
Good bivy spots are not abundant. The top of Darwin is excellent, and around Haeckel there are a few. After the descent from Darwin you can drop down the ridge a little, and find reasonable spots.


Walk to Darwin Bench over Lamarck Col. From there start the traverse at the toe of the buttress.

For more detailed information refer to the Croft Guidebook, the Good, the Great and the Awesome.


If you plan to rap and belay, take 1 60m rope, a set of nuts, 4 or 5 cams from .5-3 inches. It is important to take a lot of slings and some cord for the rappels.
Good approach shoes should do it.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

golden triangle after Darwin
[Hide Photo] golden triangle after Darwin
Labeled panorama of Evolution Traverse, as seen from summit of Huxley after completing the traverse, July 2017.
[Hide Photo] Labeled panorama of Evolution Traverse, as seen from summit of Huxley after completing the traverse, July 2017.
Truly awesome! One of the best traverses in Cali!
[Hide Photo] Truly awesome! One of the best traverses in Cali!
base camp at Darwin Benches
[Hide Photo] base camp at Darwin Benches
Labeled panorama of Evolution Traverse, as seen from summit of Huxley after completing the traverse, July 2017. (more labels than other version, thanks to Paul Decker who had fun ID'ing them all)
[Hide Photo] Labeled panorama of Evolution Traverse, as seen from summit of Huxley after completing the traverse, July 2017. (more labels than other version, thanks to Paul Decker who had fun ID'ing them all)
and evening light from Darwin Benches base camp
[Hide Photo] and evening light from Darwin Benches base camp
descending Mt. Darwin
[Hide Photo] descending Mt. Darwin
Darwin Lakes on the approach to basecamp.
[Hide Photo] Darwin Lakes on the approach to basecamp.
Evolution Basin from lower Darwin Bench
[Hide Photo] Evolution Basin from lower Darwin Bench
Darwin suncups
[Hide Photo] Darwin suncups
[Hide Photo] overview
Epic sunset before a damp night on the ridge
[Hide Photo] Epic sunset before a damp night on the ridge

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

[Hide Comment] I am collecting beta for this route from various sources.

This first beta/TR is from user Inominato-- thanks very much. Its original location is here:…;search_string=evolution%20traverse;#1684158

OK: Here's the approach beta...

Drive up Hwy 168 out of Bishop, as if headed to the Buttermilks. Continue past that turn-off, pass through Aspendell, then take a right turn at the North Lake Trailhead sign. Don't park here, but continue up the dirt road (narrow) on switchbacks for roughly 5 miles, pass a day-use parking sign, then turn into the lot at the right that says "Trailhead" and "Bishop Mule Packers". You can leave your car here. Also, you need a wilderness permit, free down at the Inyo National Forest Ranger Station in town across (roughly) from Schatz Bakery, if you'll be spending the night. Those guys have maps too.

Head up the road into the campground, then follow the signs for the Lamarck Lakes. Up this a mile or two, then left at the first junction again to the Lamarck Lakes--not right to Piute Pass.

At a 2nd junction go right to the Lamarck Lakes, not left to Cross Lake. Hit the lower Lamarck Lake, then stay left, heading for Upper Lamarck, passing through a narrow canyon between the two lakes.

The trail to Lamarck Col from upper Lamarck is not very well-marked, and I missed it on the way in. If you see some mule packers up there, ask them for beta. Essentially, once Upper Lamarck is in sight, you want to stay slightly left of the lake, looking for the most beaten path. It sort of took off from a small, dried-up tarn as I recall, contouring left around a depression then heading steeply uphill. If you end up contouring right around the lake, you'll hit the Lamarck Col trail much higher on, but you'll have to do a bunch of miserable, sandy scrambling to get there (no fun). Though it looks like a nice ramp/bench leads southwest to the col, don't get suckered in. You more or less want to find this mule-packer/climber trail, which heads more leftward and *up* from the lake, flat at first, then up a steep, slidey hill, and onto a higher, slightly hidden southwest -trending ramp that leads to the col as well, as this has a trail the whole way and is just slogging on sand. If you're in luck, it might be cairned down low. The trail will take you into a large sort of gulch between many peaks, then up to the col proper at 12,900 feet. There was a small snowfield here, but you can go around it or steps are usually kicked in. I didn't need an axe--in August.

Descend from the col, mostly boulder-hopping and sand, and make note of any landmark rock-spires at the col, as, on the way out, it's hard to pick out the col itself from the Darwin Canyon side and the trail is informal (?) at best. There are 5 lakes in Darwin Canyon, and the descent drops you off near the fifth, or highest lake. Continue down Darwin Canyon, headed for the Darwin Bench (marked on the topo maps, I think) at around 11,300 feet. You'll be looking at the back side of the stretch of Evolution between Darwin and Haeckel from the col--very beautiful. Anyway, down the canyon (45 minutes, an hour?), and once you hit a wide alpine bench below the last big lake, trend leftish and make camp near a small pond at the toe of the first, unnamed peak on the traverse. I found a decent boulder-bivy-cave here about 300 feet south of this tarn, where you can get water. The traverse is essentially a big J, and you're camping at the top of the letter J, if that makes any sense.

From here, Croft's book is a great reference (it looks like I stopped taking notes--too busy being gripped). Like he says in the book, the route is almost always dead-true to the ridge the whole way, and dropping down more than 100-200 feet usually means you're off route.

The first peak is right above camp. It's named for its altitude, something like peak 13,289 or something. It's mostly 3rd and 4th class following the easiest path. I stayed right of the big cleft dividing the face and had to do some weird downclimbing at the top of the cleft to get back on the ridge and some fifth class I probably could have walked around, but it was dark. I think Croft recommends following the cleft. From there, you summit the peak (4th class), staying on the ridge, then drop down, heading eastish. As I recall, a little snowfield between this and the next peak--the first named one--had a litttle trickle, which I drank from without treating it. As you move toward this peak, named after one of those evolutionists, you'll hit one gendarme. I went straight up and over it, as it was dark and I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Bad beta.

Croft says to go either right or left around the thing, not losing much elevation at all--follow his beta. Maybe this is Mount Mendel, or Huxley, or ... I can't remember. Fuggit.

From here, you encounter the first crux section, which is the long (3/4-mile) stretch of ridge leading to Mount Darwin, the high point of the route at around 13,800 feet. I had a buddy that did this in two days, and he and his partner bivied atop Darwin--big enough to land an airplane, and flat, but I don't know about water. Navigating along the ridge, weaving in and out of gendarmes, about 2/3 of the way along you'll cliff out. Either rappel here (slings around a horn) or downclimb a 5.8/5.9 chimney that becomes a hand/fist crack at the bottom. It has good face holds and is on nice rock--about 60 feet long. I lowered my pack down it, then downclimbed. From here more navigating gets you atop Darwin. Walk across the big plateau, bust a 5.6 mantle onto the summit block at the very far left corner of the plateau, sign the register, then back down.

I though the real crux was getting off of Darwin. Croft recommends coming off the summit fairly close (i.e.20-30 feet) to the ridge, on its right side, down a pretty nasty looking offwidth full of big ol' blocks. You could also rappel here with some ingenuity, I imagine. Probably a 150-foot rap.

I went about 150 feet right from the ridge, dropped into a sandy bowl that looked like third class but cliffed out at the bottom into decomposing 5.9 downclmbing (80 feet), and down these horrible rotten, slabby corners, w/o much hope of a decent anchor, as it's a big bowl where all the eroded crap off the summit seems to accumulate. This didn't really seem like the way to go. If I went back, I'd probably just rappel closer to the ridge, on the better rock (150 feet?).

From here is the best part of the ridge, headed toward Mount Haeckel--it's the section of the ridge where you always see the photos, and just the wildest, with spires, spikes, gendarmes, ledges, hanging daggers, crazy geology--but great rock. The best part is a little pyramid hump about halfway along, which you can move across the face (on the right) then bearhug down the knife-edge to descend (5.7). Another section farther along, a traverse across some grey slabs on the right side of the ridge, struck me as the most exposed part, but only about 5.5 and on good rock. Just stay on or very near the crest throughout this entire section, and you'll be on route. The nasty gulleys below the ridge don't really beckon anyway. I imagine, however, that if weather moved in, you could follow any one of a number of these west into the Evolution Basin to escape.

After a little sub-peak, the ridge reverts to Class III. From here, I dropped down about 500 feet to a lake below Haeckel to chill out a bit and refill my Camelbak. It was the closest large water source I could find to any section of the ridge (if you go earlier in the year, there's probably plenty of snow to melt or drink drainage water off of higher up on the ridge). Back up to the ridge, up the absolutely classic north ridge of Haeckel (Class IV, bullet granite), then over and south. From here the peaks follow a predictable pattern--steep on the up, gradual on the down, which is nice on the knees.

Past Haeckel you hit one more peak on your voyage south, then hang a right, starting the arc of the J--some sort of loosish terrain follows. and you have about three or four peaks left. I stopped at the toe of one of these, actually coming down off the ridge a bit, to melt snow for water, but it was a very hot day when I was up there. With proper planning, the water you get at Haeckel should see you through to the end. Most of these peaks are in the 5.4-5.5 range heading up, with good white granite, then nice third-class on the way down.

The final peak is a bit of a bear. Croft puts it well in his book, saying an older guidebook posited a Class III route up the south ridge but that he couldn't find anything easier than 5.6. I didn't either. You basically stay on the ridge, climb some slabs, then hook right onto the peak's east face and climb exposed 5.5-5.6 for 200 feet up onto a bench full of Huge Boulders. Walk the bench to the summit. Voila! Total exhaustion.

Walk a bit north from this summit, then hook back into a broad, obvious colouir, which you follow all the way down into Evolution Basin (you can see the John Muir Trail from here). Head across some tundra to the trail, then bang a right and head down valley. After roughly three miles and passing the Evolution Lakes, you'll begin to hear the stream rushing down off the Darwin Bench. An unsigned (as I recall) trail right in the vicinity of this stream takes you back up about 500 vertical feet to the tarn where you've camped, at the toe of the ridge. If you stay on the John Muir Trail and start losing serious elevation, you've missed the cut-off.

All in all, this ridge is hardest in its first 2/3, with lots of 4th and lower 5th class, and those two noticeable cruxes. The rock is the best of any alpine ridge I've done, and if you were simul-climbing with a partner, or pitching it out, the opportunities for protection seem reasonable and abundant. The key, again, is that you rarely, if ever, leave the crest of the ridge. And therein lies the beauty of the route, too. Jul 1, 2011
[Hide Comment] Here is another TR with a great batch of photos.… Jul 1, 2011
[Hide Comment] Pullharder put a bunch of info on the route up here:… Apr 1, 2012
leeds, ut
[Hide Comment] Croft's beta is a bit thin and is way off about Huxley.

Having done the route, I put a more detailed description… on summitpost. See the bottom of the page for additional trip reports. If you have a TR you want included PM me.

I never encountered a chossy 5.9 downclimb off of Darwin. Just beyond the summit block there was a chossy 5.6 downclimb then some of relatively secure (not exposed) chimney downclimbing as you follow the ridge. Closer to the 13,332 summit I hit a ~30' 5.9 handcrack downclimb, which for me was the crux. There are lots of ways to go so take everyone's beta with a grain of salt. It's an amazing climb.

-RIP Zoom Loco- Aug 17, 2012
jack s.
Kamloops, BC
[Hide Comment]…
Not the best audio quality, but here is the video we made for the Evolution Traverse. Even includes a route topo, or something like that. Hopefully it is motivating. Jul 11, 2013
Stevee B
Oakland, CA
[Hide Comment] Some more beta and lots of links to more resources here: Golden Incalescent goldenincalescent.blogspot.… Sep 9, 2014
[Hide Comment] unfathomably long route.

a couple comments
1) i found this beta is pretty good:…

2) there is a good trail from the trailhead all the way to lamark col; additionally there is a good trail from the John muir trail back up to the darwin bench.

3) I would probably recommend a 50-60M rope. Aug 25, 2015
Reno, NV
[Hide Comment] Absurdly long climb, but with many classic sections. Try not to get overwhelmed when you see Mt. Huxley way off in the distance. Take it 1 peak at a time and don't get discouraged at the amount of time it takes to get to Mt. Mendel. You can also find water on top of Mt. Darwin if you dig a small hole next to the snow melt! Jul 14, 2016
Will M.
[Hide Comment] We did this IAD on August 11th. I compiled some beta and pictures in this google document:… Aug 15, 2017
[Hide Comment] If you need pages of beta for this climb, you'd be better off climbing something easier. (This is not meant as an arrogant comment, it's just that the scale of this climb requires you to find your way following your intuition, not a 20 page Word doc with 7 different trip reports.) Apr 13, 2018
Dave Stimson
Pincher Creek
[Hide Comment] The best beta from all the trip reports I read: "Don't get discouraged."

The first four peaks are relentlessly technical. Things start to ease off after Peak 13,332. That said, this route never gets "easy"! Jun 30, 2018
[Hide Comment] bring webbing to replace and backup raps

From Inyo Sherriff
On July 1, 2019 a satellite emergency notification device was activated from about 13200' on the ridge between Mt. Darwin and Peak 13332, on the technical Evolution Traverse. A party of 4 were climbing the route and rappelling a technical section when the weathered single-piece fixed anchor failed, causing one rappelling climber to fall about 40'. He briefly lost consciousness and sustained serious foot and shoulder trauma. Due to high winds and approaching darkness a rescue of the fallen climber was not possible that night.
On the morning of July 2, CHP - Inland Division Air Operations, along with one Inyo SAR member, hoisted the injured climber at 13200' from steep vertical terrain. The climber was transported to the hospital in Bishop, CA, and the Inyo SAR member was flown out. The remaining climbing party continued their climb of the Evolution Traverse. Jul 3, 2019
Maxwell Silver
Bishop, CA
[Hide Comment] Did the Evo Traverse 8/4/19 - 8/6/19 for the first time! I give it 5 stars!
More mental than anything, Just keep going!
"Stay Positive, One Mountain at a Time"
All the rap stations have been replaced and/or have new backup slings on them.
There's no pencils for 2 of summit registers...
Every mountain has its own crux, for me I thought the real crux was the last two Mountains (pulling some exposed 5th class to 5.7 moves after full day of climbing).
There was plenty of snow on top of each Mountain, so water wasn't issue.
No need for climbing shoes. Approach shoes for the win!
Bring a Helmet!!!! (We both took rocks to the dome piece)
Bring 2x 30m 8mm ropes (2x 60m raps and 4-7x 30m raps)
We roped up for the first awkward 5.6 vertical crack on Mendel and the down climb of the Golden Pyramid after Darwin (personally I wouldn't bring any climbing gear next time now that I know the way, just an ATC and 3-4 x 8' slings. If your onsighting, having the option to be safe is nice..).
The hike back over Lamarck Col. was brutal after full day of climbing...
Lots of good Bivies on every Mountain (if not check the saddles).
The Sufferbox is real, keep your tired/sore/bad/lack of sleep feelings in there, stay positive and enjoy it! Aug 11, 2019
boris itin
Lafayette CA
[Hide Comment] Amazing amazing amazing climb. Probably best two days of my climbing life.
A lot of good beta/TR's are around already.
One thing that I would like to add: when you get on top of Darwin's summit block, look skier's left (climber's right). There is a rap system of 3-4 raps that makes Darwin descent very easy. (07.2016) Sep 2, 2020
Ryan Thomas
Brattleboro VT
[Hide Comment] Incredible exposure, beautiful rock, goes on and on. Great advice by other commenters. It's best not to look ahead on the ridge. Keep chugging. Jan 15, 2022
Tanner James
[Hide Comment] Went up and did the full Evo solo Aug 25th, here’s a few time stamps from the trip:

•2-6pm hike in and bivy on Darwin bench day prior
•0430 step off from bivy
•0630 first summit (Gould) had a ton of trouble route finding for some reason, hit virtually every false summit and got cliffed out several times. Don’t go right
•0745 on Mendel
•0920 on Darwin
•1130 on Peak 13,332 I agreed this was the most technical part of the entire traverse but also the most fun
•1310 on Haeckel, dropped down to the lake on the left between peaks to get more water. Probably only added 20 minutes to the day, awesome resource
•1345 on Wallace
•1530 on Fiske, pulled a HUGE refrigerator block loose on the downclimb. Very scary!
•1645 on Warlow
•1800 on Huxley. It started hailing sideways as I approach the final headwall making the onsight solo in approach shoes quite engaging. Nothing harder than 5.7 ish

The descent was a shitshow, I don’t know if I took the wrong gulley but it was a rock slide scree bombing range the entire way down, very unenjoyable on the way out until you link up with the JMT and can officially check out. I brought a 30m tag line to rap with which worked perfectly, I only did 2 rappels the whole day. I also brought some leaver nuts and cord just in case and didn’t touch anything.

As said before doing this in a day is all about alpine fitness and efficiency. I don’t think it would be possible unless you’re comfortable soloing 5.7 quickly. The route is “unfathomably long” and it really is best to not look ahead too early on, as your final summit looks comically far away. Besides that I can’t see it getting any better, 8 miles of bomber granite in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. Go see for yourself! Aug 27, 2022
J Thomson
Center of jah universe
[Hide Comment] Three pieces of beta to share that I believe are useful for future parties:
1.) the 5.9 rating I feel doesn't reflect how this is commonly climbed: N->S, with a handful of rappels (**caveat, what you are about to read does not apply if you go without a rope for rapping!). The hardest technical climbing terrain is encountered on the descents from Mendel and from Darwin; those sections of 5.8-5.9 looking terrain are easily, and regularly, rapped over, which is what I did. The hardest climbing moves I made were in the 5.7 range - there were probably 5-6 pitches I'd call 5.7 - and mostly occurred when I decided, repeatedly, to stray from the ridge crest, only to get skunked by climbing harder terrain off to the side to regain the ridge proper :). The reason I am sharing this ratings comment is to give people the option of viewing the traverse at "5.7 with raps", and not be intimidated by the 5.9, as I was going into it.
2.) 30m rope worked great, and would take that length again. For context, I only used it to rap, 6 times total (1 each after the first summit and Mendel, and 4 times after Darwin)
3.) Totally recommend going to the true summit of Darwin; the 5.7 move to get up there is really not that bad considering all the other mid-5th class climbing encountered throughout, but from the summit, one can walk off the back completely avoiding having to cross over the sketchy snow couloir required if you skirt around to the south.
As many others have said, the ridge is spectacular, and keeps getting better as you travel further on the journey. Some of the best parts are heading to Warlow and Huxley! Sep 26, 2022