This running season I decided to race slightly less and try to explore some of the amazing places we have the ability to run but where there will never be permits to race. They turn into these unforgettable adventures and times of exploration. The Evolution Loop was this and so much more.
Using it as a big tune up for Leadville, I headed down to Bishop with Audrey Staples to run from North Lake to South Lake. The loop (well, really a point-to-point) is about 12,000 feet of climbing and the same amount of descending. It is advertised as a 55 mile run, but when it was all said and done, we found it to be 58. (Of course all GPS watches have a margin of error.) The trail is very technical at times as well, so this will never be anyone’s PR for this distance.
There is a lot of planning required for this trip. Simply put, you are supporting yourself for this run. You will be out on this run for a solid 16+ hours unless you are a true elite level athlete. I think I had always taken for granted how nice it is to have aid stations because when embarking on adventures like this you are on your own. What I had to eat is only what I carried in the Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3 5 pack that I brought.
There are several logistics involved for doing the Evolution loop. First, you must arrive the night before you start and either camp or stay at a hotel in Bishop. There are several options for both. The timing of the run should have you starting early. We chose 5:00 am and still finished after dark during a time of the year when we have some of the longest days possible.
Food is its own logistical nightmare. I honestly felt, as did Audrey, that we brought enough variety of food, and yet after several hours, nothing really tasted good. I really felt that if I had brought more variety of foods, that I could have eaten more and kept better energy levels. If one plans this run, I highly suggest lots of real food with gels or something small that one can carry a lot of, as a way to mix real food and common running fuels.
One will also need some sort of water filter. We both chose the Sawyer mini water filter that can attach to a hose on one’s bladder. I am fairly confident there is flowing water all year round on this loop, as the San Joaquin River is there, so one can carry a smaller bladder and be completely fine. I carried a 70 ounce bladder with zero issues. As a matter of fact, I even emptied it a few times just to get cooler, fresher water.
Altitude is a concern on this loop as well. It starts at around 8,000 feet and goes up to 12,000 feet, with prolonged periods above 11,000 feet. This is certainly high altitude running and one must be prepared for it.
It is a very long day out on the Evolution loop, and frankly there are no real short cuts that I know of to get out if you are having a bad day. You certainly want to make sure you are very well trained and have proper fitness. You need to take this adventure on very seriously. On a positive note, you will see lots of people, especially during peak summer months, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to not be properly prepared.
Finally make sure to have people watching out for you. Have contacts in place for emergencies that you can let know when you are done. They should have a reasonable idea of when you expect to be done. I know his will seem like a large window, but I gave my wife a 6 hour time gap of when I could be done. Between 14 and 20 hours. I was prepared for 20 and hoped to be done in 14.
Hydration pack & bladder & flasks/bottles
Socks (spare pair for the pack?)
Running clothes for the day
Jacket (waterproof, depending on the forecast)
Headlamp (with fresh batteries)
FOOD (lots of it)
Phone (in a ziplock)
Tape (that’s you)
If you are in Tahoe, a large majority of this gear can be bought at Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City. Alpenglow is my favorite shop, and they always point me in the right direction when it comes to gear choices. If you need to grab gear in Bishop, hands down your best stop will be Sage To Summit. They will also point you in the right direction, and both stores offer everything one could need for this adventure.
The Journey Itself
The journey is really hard for me to put into words. The beauty of Evolution loop is unexplainable. As I stated, it took us 16 hours to run and we hardly noticed the time until the lights came on at the end. I have decided to let the pictures tell the story. I thank Audrey Staples for taking all of the photos as my battery on my phone was never charged, hence I had no technology with me.
I have had the opportunity to run some pretty fun races since I started ultra running. They have all been very enjoyable and have some amazing memories in their own right. This however, was one of my all time favorite runs for a few reasons. Simply put, this was the hardest run I have ever done. 58 miles of pushing, and it sure was nice to have a great partner join me for the trip. Audrey brought tons of organization and a super positive attitude. That’s what it takes to make something like this successful. It has given me a huge confidence boost as I shift my focus to Leadville. I can’t wait for my next non-racing adventure!
Strava Track Link