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Evolution Traverse, First Winter Ascent

The Evolution Traverse takes a line along the crest of the Evolution group, linking nine 13,000’ peaks named after contributors to evolutionary theory. Konstantin Stoletov and we, of San Diego’s Pullharder Alpine Club, made the first winter traverse of the Evolutions, from March 7 to 10, 2012. We climbed for 36 hours, over the course of four days, enduring temperatures as low as -7°E

The Evolution Traverse is one of the four major traverses in the Sierra Nevada backcountry, first completed by Peter Croft in 1999 (VI 5.9). In summer the eight-mile route has short difficult sections but is mostly 4th and mid-5th class. In winter the route is significantly different, with mixed climbing replacing many rock sections and deep snow on other parts.

After an approach day and a tent-bound storm day, we began climbing March 7. Newly fallen snow and residual winds made climbing conditions slick and slow, allowing us only the summit of Peak 13,360+. After 10 hours we bivied under Mt. Mendel’s tower. The rest of the peaks fell with various degrees of difficulty, with additional bivies on small ledges along the knife-edge ridge after Darwin and before Mt. Fiske.

March 10 saw deteriorating weather, but we were able to finish Mt. Fiske and summit Mt. Warlow before the weather set in. We then dashed up Mt. Huxley, the final summit, before descending to the toe of the ridge to complete the traverse. Deep snow in Evolution Basin made for slow going, and with wet sleeping bags and low provisions, we made one last bivy on frozen Evolution Lake.