The Hermit is the dramatic, imposing mountain that towers over Evolution Valley in Kings Canyon National Park. Although it is not the largest peak in the area, its dominating presence, remote wilderness setting, and stout class 5.6 – 5.8 granitic, monolithic summit block make it a rewarding climb.
The Hermit is located in the heart of Kings Canyon National Park’s Evolution region, which has some of the Park’s most scenic and popular backcountry destinations. It is isolated from the higher Sierra Crest a few miles to the east. To the north of the Hermit is Evolution Valley. Evolution Valley is filled with gentle meadows and graceful lodgepole pines. The John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail cuts across the length of Evolution Valley. West of The Hermit is McGee Creek, only a few miles off the John Muir Trail, but a haven for those who are seeking wilderness solitude.
The Hermit was first climbed in 1924 by Leonard Keeler, Ralph Brandt, Marion Avery, and Margaret Avery (Galen Rowell’s Mother!).
The Hermit was named by the early Sierra explorer Theodore Solomons, who in 1896 said this about the mountain:
“A colossal, sugarloaf-shaped buttress of fractured granite stood sharply up, the advance Guard of the host of peaks presently to be described, yet so conspicuously separated from them as to suggest the name The Hermit.”
-From Peter Browning’s “Place Names of the High Sierra.” The original source was Appalachia 8, no. 1, 1896: 46.
All routes require surmounting the class 5.6 – 5.8, 25 – foot summit block. Thus, the ratings below reflect the difficulty of the routes up to the summit block:
*One Class 2 route, McGee Canyon (although officially rated class 2 in guidebooks, I believe that a class 3 rating is more appropriate);
*Three Class 3 routes: From Evolution Lake, the North Face, and the Northwest Face;
*One I, 5.8 route, the East Face.
See R.J. Secor, The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails, or Steve Roper, The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra (out of print), for additional information on routes.
Many approaches are possible, including:
Either hike 5.2 miles around Florence Lake or take a ferry across the lake. Proceed up the Florence Lake Trail for another 6.2 miles until reaching the John Muir Trail (“JMT”). Continue up the JMT for 5.6 miles, reaching a trail junction. Then, hike7.5 miles up Evolution Valley along the JMT to Evolution Lake.
A variation of this route is to hike 5.3 miles to about a quarter-mile west of where Evolution Creek joins McGee Creek. Cross Evolution Creek, then follow the use trail up McGee Creek on the north side and camp either along McGee Creek or hike about 4.5 miles and camp at one of the McGee Lakes. This will put you in good position for the McGee Canyon route.
From North Lake, hike 5.0 miles up to Piute Pass (11,423 ft.). Hike down from the pass following the Piute Canyon Trail for 12.4 miles until reaching the JMT. This is a beautiful trail. Continue up the JMT for 3.8 miles, reaching a trail junction. Then, hike 7.5 miles up Evolution Valley along the JMT to Evolution Lake or follow the McGee Creek variation described above. Hikers commonly travel from North Lake to South Lake, or vice versa. That is a very nice multi-day backpacking trip.
Another possibility is to travel over Lamarck Col (elevation 12,900 feet). Follow the Lamarck Lakes Trail past Lamarck Lakes. This is a very good use trail. Just below the Col, cross a small snowfield (no ice axe required) and continue over the Col. Hike down into Darwin Canyon, following a use trail, which reaches the moraine between the two easternmost Darwin Canyon Lakes. Proceed around the lakes on a use trail, over occasional talus, to the fifth and westernmost Darwin Lake. Follow the outlet of the fifth Darwin Lake for another half mile or so on the north side until the use trail turns south and reaches a small lake after a quarter mile. Here, the use trail forks. Follow the outlet of the lake along a very good use trail. Do not follow the use trail south as it traverses under Mt. Mendel because that will eventually lead to class 2 cliffs and brush. The use trail eventually joins the JMT, which will take you to Evolution Lake after about two-thirds of a mile. The total distance to Evolution Lake is about 10 miles.
From South Lake, hike 6.0 miles up Bishop Pass (11,972 ft.). This is a popular trailhead for approaching the Palisades. Hike down 6.6 miles to LeConte Canyon, which is a very beautiful, deep canyon with lush meadows and forests. Hike north up the JMT for 7.0 miles until reaching Muir Pass (11,955 ft.) and Muir Hut, a round, stone structure built by the Sierra Club. Proceed another 4.5 miles until reaching Evolution Lake.
Another possible route is to cross Echo Col from Sabrina Lake, which as Steeleman notes, is a lower and more direct eastside route than Lamarck Col (although more difficult, too).
A wilderness permit is required for overnight stays in the John Muir Wilderness in Inyo or Sierra National Forests or Kings Canyon National Park. You only need to obtain a wilderness permit for your entry point. For example, if you enter in Inyo National forest, you do not need to obtain an additional permit for Kings Canyon National Park. Thus, only one permit is needed per trip.
Inyo National Forest wilderness permits may be obtained at the White Mountain Ranger Station, located in Bishop, California. Permits can also be reserved in advance, which is recommended since many trailheads are subject to use quotas. Permits may be reserved for a fee of $5/person. Information on Inyo National Forest permit reservations is available online or call (760) 876-6200.
Kings Canyon National Park wilderness permits may be obtained in person or by reserving a permit by fax or mail. Information on making reservations may be obtained here. I strongly recommend making reservations for permits as far in advance as possible since the trailheads are subject to quotas, which are often full. More information can be found here.
For entry through Sierra National Forest, wilderness permits may be obtained at the High Sierra Ranger Station, located in Prather, California. Permits can also be reserved in advance, which is recommended since many trailheads are subject to use quotas. Permits may be reserved for a fee of $5/person. Information on Sierra National Forest permit reservations is available online or call (559) 297-0706.
When To Climb
The Hermit is typically climbed from July through September. Outside those months, the approach can be much more difficult because of snowy conditions.
Evolution Lake is a terrific base camp, although it can be a bit crowded. McGee Canyon and Evolution Valley are also good choices for camping depending on the climbing route chosen.
An unforgettable campsite at Evolution Lake.
Kings Canyon National Park: (559) 565-3341
Inyo National Forest visitor information: (760) 876-6200
Updated weather information is also available.