Monday, August 22, 2011

Days 13-16 & Post Trip Report & Photos

Wednesday August 3rd, 2011: Starting Mileage=181.5, Ending Mileage=198.0. Starting Elevation Gain=35,500', Ending=40,000'. Woods Creek Junction To Center Basin Camp, 16.5 Miles, +4500'.

Was on the trail at 7:00 am today. Had a good night of rest, but was feeling sluggish and hungry this morning. The twenty miles yesterday took alot of energy, I would have to adjust food rations to keep up, problem was I had the exact amount of food to get me to the finish Saturday. If I ate more today, I would have less later on. I resorted to rationing, instead of eating a bar for morning snack, I would have to eat half now and the other half later. Today was going to be another tough one as I had to climb out of Woods Creek past the Rae Lakes and on up to Glen Pass 3500' higher. Then it would be a downhill climb to Vidette Meadows and another 1000' climb to Center Basin. So 4500' of climbing in 16.5 miles. Not a good day to feel sluggish and hungry this early on, but there would be a blessing later. Back to climbing. The trail from Woods Creek to Dollar Lake was slow and monotonous, just a steady uphill through forested terrain. Once at Dollar Lake the views really open up. Fin Dome, Painted Lady, Mt. Clarence King to the south, Diamond Peak to the east and Pyramid Peak to the north. Great views. I was starting to feel better as I ate more and the weather was perfect again, such a drastic change from a few days ago. I was really worried about food now so I checked the bear boxes I came across at the upcoming lakes, but it seems the ranger had recently done a sweep as all the boxes were empty and left open. From past experiences, there is usually some goody that a backpacker left behind in the boxes, but not this time. The mosquitos in the Rae Lakes area are known for being bad in a normal year so I lathered up in good old deet before reaching them. I am glad I did, there were clouds of them here. They would hover all around me but not land on me, the deet really does work.

The climb from the Rae Lakes to Glen Pass was enjoyable. Great scenery that gets better and better the higher you go. There was a decent amount of snow coverage from 10,500' on up to the 11,978' pass, but nothing too bad. There was a nice boot track and being 10:00 am the snow was in great shape, not icy and not slushy. Most of the lakes and tarns were frozen here as well. It was some winter up here, it is August and the passes have alot of snow and the lakes are frozen. I got to the top of the pass around 11:00 pm and I was tired. My food rationing was not giving me enough energy. I had to climb with my rhythm steps. Take one hundred steps, take five deep breaths and repeat, this works very well for me climbing in the winter with snowshoes on. Most times the tops of passes are windy, but not today. It was sunny and pleasant, so I took a nice long siesta on top of Glen Pass. There were quite a few people on the pass coming or going. Glen Pass is part of the Rae Lakes Loop, a very popular trail starting at Roads End, going up to Paradise Valley, looping around Rae Lakes, up Glen Pass and finishing down Bubbs Creek. Most of them were in awe of the John Muir Trail and asked a bunch of questions. It was fun chatting with this crowd. My sluggishness and hunger must have been obvious to others. A gentleman named Mike who was a fly fisherman asked if I wanted some extra food to finish off my journey. I couldn't believe it. I was in no position to turn this down. He gave me four extra freeze dried dinners and a freeze dried desert. Oh man was that great. I thanked him kindly. This extra food really was a blessing, it allowed me to finish strong with tons of energy. I cannot thank him enough, what a surprise, I was so grateful. The views from Glen Pass were equally stunning as the two previous passes yesterday were. Mt. Brewer to the southwest (I am planning a summit attempt of Brewer in late September) and the sea of peaks looking north, what a site.

The trail down Glen Pass passes some beautiful blue tarns, this year they were blue and icy. I was getting really excited about completing the JMT. I have been on this section of trail a half dozen times and knew it well. I was confident about completing the trail on time now. It was alot of work, but I had gotten back on schedule in spite of the Thunderstorms, it was a good feeling. I would get to see Judy on Saturday. I had dreams of greeting her as I finished and it was going to actually happen. There were alot of anxious moments and feelings of uncertainty so this confident feeling was very welcome.

The views from the Kearsarge Pass Junction are grand indeed. Mt. Rixford and Mt. Gould to the east and Charlotte Dome to the west. Then up ahead was the view to Center Basin. East Vidette stands out in a very prominent way. The Kings-Kern Divide was to my south, a very rugged section of peaks. Somewhere up ahead Forester Pass lie in waiting. Stopped at Vidette Meadow for a refreshing dip in a pool then took another Siesta as I dried off. Then it was time to get the legs moving up again. It is 1000' of up from Vidette Meadow to Center Basin camp, but it very gradual and peaceful. This section of trail is beautiful and serene, one of my favorites. Got to camp around 4:30. I thought for sure there would be a crowd, but it ended up being me and Roberto and thousands of mosquitos. That goodness for the head net, there were voracious here. Thanks to Mike I had Louisiana Red Beans and Rice as my first course and Beef Stroganoff as my main course for dinner. The extra calories were very welcome. I slept good tonight with those extra calories on board. Tomorrow would be the last obstacle before Whitney, big, bad Forester Pass........

Early Morning Light Looking North

Mt. Clarence King

Painted Lady

More Snow On Way Up To Glen Pass

Looking South From Glen Pass

Grand Vistas From Glen Pass

Mt. Brewer

Beautiful Tarn Below Glen Pass

East Vidette & Center Basin

Junction Peak As Viewed From Bubbs Creek

Thursday August 4th, 2011: Starting Mileage=198.0, Ending Mileage=212.2. Starting Elevation Gain=40,000', Ending=43,300'. Center Basin To Wallace Creek, 14.2 Miles, +3300'.

Woke up soaked this morning, the outside of my sleeping bag and tent were very wet. I wasn't even camped near water, so who knows. It was also very cold last night, a bit of ice to go along with the wet. The past few nights have all been below freezing, but nice and warm during the day, quite the temperature difference. Forester Pass is at 13,200' and there were reports of solid snow above 11,000' so I was in no hurry to climb it in the icy early morning ,so hanging out in camp defrosting my sleeping bag and having breakfast sounded good. Didn't get on the trail until 8:00 am. As I ascended past the 11,200' tarn the odometer on the GPS turned 200.0. Wow, I had been out here that long :o.

The views in the Forester Pass area are superb. Junction Peak, Mt. Stanford, University Peak, Bubbs Creek, Frozen Lakes, Meadows. It is one of my favorites. The snow started to be consistent at 11,500'. There was a nice boot track through the snow and travel was easy. I felt so much better physically today as opposed to yesterday. The sluggishness was gone, I think it was the extra dinner last night. Made it to the top of Forester Pass at 11:00 am. Great views in all directions, amazing how little you feel in the world surrounded by these majestic peaks that have been here for million of years. Took a nice long break on top, the weather was great again. There was a bit of smoke way down south towards Olancha. I would find out later a lightning strike started a fire and the forest service was letting it burn naturally. The south side of Forester Pass is a trail building marvel. The trail goes down a cliff, from a distance you would never think there would be a trail. When the Pacific Crest Trail crowd had crossed here in June, it was nearly impossible. There is a steep snow chute that would be dangerous without proper winter gear. Lucky for me, it was all melted out. It felt so good to be over the last of the big passes. Five major passes in five days and alot of work. It felt good.

The trail heading off Forester Pass is much the same as the trail coming south from Mather Pass. Nice and sandy but solid. Beautiful country all around; lakes, meadows, peaks and streams. Such beauty. The trail drops down to Tyndall Creek at 10,890'. From here you can see a couple of 14,000' peaks; Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall. The mountains and terrain are much larger and open here than at the beginning, much higher. The JMT gets bigger and bigger the farther south you go. Speaking of big, got my first look at Mt. Whitney today, will be there in forty eight hours or less. Back to the moment, I had to get wet a few times today, the first is Tyndall Creek. Put on the crocs and crossed. Had myself a siesta on the other side, enjoyed the sunshine and great weather. The trail climbs up to the Bighorn Plateau. There is a great vantage point of Mt. Whitney from here. There is a small lake here that would make a great campsite someday. Now the trail descends to Wright Creek, another wet crossing, then descends to Wallace Creek. Normally not a wet crossing, but this year it is. I was not back on schedule, this is where I wanted to be. Found a nice campsite and prepared to do battle with the mosquitos, they are usually bad here and they did indeed live up to their hype. Had another double dinner and fell asleep. Great day on the JMT.

Looking Down Bubbs Creek On Climb To Forester Pass

The Rugged Kings/Kern Divide

University Peak

Looking South On Climb To Forester Pass

Forester Pass

Thawing Lake

Last Couple Of Feet To Forester Pass

One Last Look At The Kings River Side Of The Pass

Junction Peak

The Kern River Side Of Forester Pass

I Named The Lake At The Lower Left After My Beautiful Wife. "Lake J-Po". It Was Unnamed On My Map

Happy Backpacker On Bighorn Plateau

Mt. Whitney

Friday August 5th, 2011: Starting Elevation=212.2, Ending Mileage=220.2. Starting Elevation Gain=43,300', Ending=45,400'. Wallace Creek to Upper Guitar Lake Tarn, 8.0 Miles, +2100'.

Today was going to be a very chillax day. The shortest day of the entire trip, but a stunning one. I woke up to a wet bag and tent again. I got a late start to let it all dry out. Hit the trail at 8:00 am and started climbing up and out of the Wallace Creek area. The views west were amazing, the Great Western Divide and Kern Canyon were a sight to see. The trail does a bit of up and down before descending to Crabtree Meadow. Here you enter the Whitney Zone and pick up your "wag bag". Due to the lack of soil amongst the granite, you are required to carry your waste out to Whitney Portal should you have to go, luckily I did not. Mt. Whitney viewed from the west is far different looking than viewing from the east. From the west it is a very large but gentle grade to the top. From the east, it is a straight cliff to the top. The two personalities of Mt. Whitney, gradual and steep. Most people camp at Guitar Lake when ascending from the west. It can get crowded here. A couple of years ago I discovered some primo camping above Guitar Lake at 11,900'. Everytime I have camped here, it has been empty, just me. Not today. Those pesky Boy Scouts (not the same troop as before, a new troop) had taken most of the sites. I was able to find some hidden sites that turned out to be great. I guess the secret campsite is no longer a secret.

I arrived at camp at 11:00 am. It was very early to be making camp, but a nice rest day sounded good too. (I later found out that Judy was in Lone Pine Friday afternoon, if I had known, I would have finished today, Judy thought it was odd that I sent an "ok, at camp for the night" message from my Spot at 11:00 am). 11,900' above Guitar Lake looks like the moon. Not many living things and alot of granite. You can see the bulk of Mt. Whitney right in front of you along with Mt. Muir and the crest of the Sierra Nevada. It is also a sea of peaks, all over 13,000'. The one living thing that roams about is the Marmot. I call them Squirrels on steroids, they are huge and furry. They will also get your food if you are not paying attention. With all the free time I was able to dry everything out, cook a bonus lunch, eat some snacks, catch up on journaling, watch some Indiana Jones, take a nap, listen to some music and plot out tomorrow. Roberto found me and we shared a camp for both of our last night on the JMT. I was very excited/anxious to complete the trail and get back to my Judy and it was so close. I had an early dinner and cooked the yummy desert Mike had given me on Glen Pass a few days prior (Mocha Mouse Pie). I exchanged info with Roberto and tried to hit the sack at 6:30 pm. The anxiousness would not let me sleep soundly tonight. I tossed and turned, but got alot of Indiana Jones watched. I was finally able to rest around 9:00 pm. The plan was to wake up at 2:30 am and get this done.

Morning Light Above Wallace Creek

Red Spur

Mt. Kaweah from Guitar Lake

Chillaxing On My Last Night

Saturday August 6th, 2011: Starting Mileage=220.2, Ending Mileage=235.0. Starting Elevation Gain=45,400', Ending=48,400'. Guitar Lake Tarn To Mt. Whitney To Whitney Portal, 14.8 Miles, +3000'.

The final day began at 2:30 am. I really didn't need an alarm clock as I had been tossing and turning most of the night. I awoke to crystal star filled skies, I saw many shooting stars, very cool. I had some coffee and a breakfast bar, packed up my gear (everything wet again :/ ) and hit the trail at 3:30 am. The sound of my boots and light of my headlamp were my company as I climbed up Whitney. I was the only one climbing at this hour. It wasn't until 4:15 am that I saw headlamps bouncing around at Guitar Lake. I made it to the JMT/Main Whitney Trail Junction at 5:00. Here I was able to leave my full pack and take just a bottle of water, some snacks, a rain jacket and my camera the last two miles to the summit. I felt like a feather moving along without the full pack. I was making great time up the mountain that I might make it to the summit in time to watch the sun come up. I pushed hard through the final section and successfully summited Mt. Whitney at 5:45 am, just in time to see the sun come up. And I would have the summit to myself, oh wait, who are all these people coming out of the summit shelter. Oh man, another freaking boy scout troop!!!! This was one of the noisy varieties. It wasn't a quiet serene experience but oh well, it was still the summit of Whitney at sunrise :). I got to take video and photos of the sun coming up over the smoky eastern sky. This was my 15th summit of Whitney, but my first time to see the sunrise from the top and it was spectacular. What a sight, the alpine glow was amazing looking at the crags and needles to the south. What an experience. I had a snack, relaxed a bit and soaked in the scene, good times indeed. I signed the summit register, said a thank you prayer and headed off the summit for home.

It is 10.7 miles from Mt. Whitney to Whitney Portal, a very long 10.7 miles. The views are grand though, once you cross the crest at Trail Crest you see the east side and how steep it is. The descent is down the famous 97 switchbacks (I have never counted, I just take their word that there are 97). The trail is enjoyable until you hit Trail Camp. This is the main Whitney Base Camp for the hundreds of east side hikers that attempt the summit everyday. Trail Camp is a beautiful serene place to be in the winter when it is uncrowded and covered in beautiful snow. In the summer it is very crowded, what should be a pristine alpine lake is brown and the campers here, not all, but most are not eco conscience. This is also where the giant steps begin. I think an eight foot man built this trail, a real drag with a full pack. But none of it really bothered me much today, I was just a few miles from my one and only. I was moving pretty fast but being cautious not to take a spill. I have read stories of people completing the John Muir Trail only to get injured on the way back to the Portal, did not want to add to that story.

I was getting really close to Lone Pine Lake and starting to get really excited and rather emotional. I had not seen Judy for over two weeks and hadn't heard her voice since the Vermillion Valley Ranch. I had missed her so much and was ready to see her. As I descended towards the Whitney Zone Boundary I could see a woman sitting on a rock next to the trail. As I got closer and closer I thought it might be Judy. Was my mind playing tricks on me? I got even closer still and it was Judy, she had hiked up three miles from the trailhead to meet me. It was a dream come true. I threw down my poles and we had an emotional embrace right there on the trail. I had visions/dreams of this moment for days and days now, Judy found a way to make it even better by meeting me on the trail. She came up to Lone Pine the night before just in case I came out early. She slept in her car at the trailhead and was waiting for me all along. Once she knew I was close, she hiked up the trail to meet me. She even forded a creek to get to me, that is love :). I love her so much, she is my strength, she is my everything. I couldn't have done this without her. Gracias Mi Amor, Te Amo Por Vida.

Normally the last three miles of the trail go on forever, but this time with all we had to catch up on and being together, the time went by really quick. I finished the John Muir Trail at 12:25 pm. 235.0 Miles on the dot. We drove down to Lone Pine and had a great lunch at Bonanza's Mexican Restaurant. Chips and Salsa never tasted so good. After a nice filling Shrimp Fajitas and a couple of beers, we headed back for home. It was successful journey, a once in a lifetime experience.

Sunrise From The Summit Of Mt. Whitney

Alpine Glow Off The Crags

Great Success, Such A Happy Moment

Early Morning Light On The Great Western Divide

Mt. Langley & Olancha Peak

The Kaweah's

Mt. Hitchcock, Kern River & The Great Western Divide

Finished At Last. Judy Hiked Up To The Wilderness Boundary To Take Me Down The Last Three Miles :)

Final Stats: 235.0 Miles, +48,400'

Post Trip Notes: The trip was a complete success. It took me over a week for it to really set in, but I am so glad I found the strength (physically/mentally) and good fortune to complete it. I would love to do this trip in a "normal" year to compare the two experiences. I will definitely do this trip again. I am grateful to have met such wonderful people along the way. I did this trip solo, but had alot of support from family and friends along the way. I especially want to thank my loving wife. She went above and beyond to make this a possibility for me, thank you so much Judy, this couldn't have happened without you, you are my strength, you are my everything.

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