A nice sunset from Independence before my trek started.
Started from onion valley trailhead (9,174 feet) towards Kearsarge Pass (11,823 ft).
It was a grueling 2,650 foot climb,but with stunning vistas all along the way.
And the top of the Pass was even more spectacular with a view back from where I came from and a view down to the Kearsarge Lakes area where I would be going.
Can you say all downhill from here for today? My legs thanked me for that.
After joining the John Muir Trail (I can now say I've been on four different parts of the JMT: the start in Yosemite, the end at Mt Whitney a small part in Mammoth Lakes and now this part.
I found a nice place to camp just past Vidette Meadows. Some nice sunset colors on the surrounding mountains including East Vidette Peak, but unfortunately not a grand view tonight.
10.33 miles total, just a bit more than my 10 mile goal for the day. I call that a victory, but my feet disagree.
Unfortunately, this day starts with a long trudge up the valley towards Forester Pass (13,160 ft). A 3,500 foot climb to start the day. My feet don't know what's coming.
Neither did the rest of my body.
I donít know if I glossed over this pass as being a challenge during my planning for this trek, or I wasnít quite acclimatized to the altitude yet (despite me sleeping and doing 12 miles of warmup hikes above 8,000 feet at Tuolumne Meadows. and Mammoth Lakes), or just that it was a really hard pass to climb, but it really was a rough day of almost constant climbing to the top of this high pass.
Only 9 miles, but a long 9 miles. The view from the top was spectacular, but if there was any space to camp up at the top,I would have to end the day early and get some much needed rest. But I had to descend to the bottom of the other side. Not as long, but a lot of switchbacks to negotiate.
Finally I found a few small campsites a the bottom and enjoyed the sunset on the surrounding mountains and had a much needed rest. But cold. I actually found ice frozen on several small sections of my tent poles the next morning.
The original plan from here would have had me going up Shepherds Pass trail and making camp near Mt Tyndall in preparation for climbing Mt Williamson (14,14,375 feet) and Mt Tyndall (14,018 feet). After Forester Pass, I was uncertain if I wanted to do that after all. I feared that climbing up the 1,500 feet elevation to get to Mt Tyndall would tire me out to the point that Iíd abort the trek via Shepherds Pass.
Despite my desire to climb these two 14ers, I switched to one of my backup plans: Continue down the JMT to Mt Whitney directly. The next two days hiking along the JMT would be fairly mild as far as hiking went and only the final climb to MT Whitneyís 14,508 foot summit would be worse than Forester Pass.
In the end, I should have listened to some of the people here who said I should just start from the bottom of Shepherds Pass. Itís less likely that I would have skipped climbing Williamson and Tyndall. I guess sometimes having too many options sometimes allows you to choose the easier option.
Next year: Mt Williamson and Mt TyndallÖ for sure this time.
I did have to take my boots and socks off for one water crossing, that being Tyndall Creek. No rocks or logs around that could spare my feet from the cold water. This was the only water crossing that I had to do this for. the rest were navigable by rocks or logs (although I did get one damp boot when crossing Wright Creek).
Despite my disappointment of bypassing those two mountains, the day was filled with spectacular scenery and I found a great spot to camp on the Bighorn Plateau. a spectacular 360 degree view of the High Sierra. With the backside of Mt Whitney to the east (I was amazed at how similar Mt Whitney looked from this angle to the backside of Half Dome).
One interesting thing was the dark clouds that hovered over the mountain range to the west of me. If those clouds moved eastward, Iíd be in for some rain or worse. Fortunately, they didnít seem inclined to move at all that night. But they seemed to be there hanging over the same mountains for the rest of my trek, causing some concern to me.
Since I intentionally didnít push myself to hike too far on day 3, this would be a longer day since I wanted to be at Guitar Lake by nightfall. Guitar Lake (which does look like a Guitar from above) is the last water (normally) before the 2,000 foot climb up the backside of Mt Whitney. As such, it was pretty crowded with campers, although not as crowded as Trail Camp. With the extra snow this past winter, there were many small streams and trickles until the switchbacks started the west side of Whitney.
Again, I marveled at how different this side of Whitney looked from Guitar Lake. Gone was the gentle slope leading from the south up to the summit I saw the night before. Instead it was a very rough face of Mt Whitney that I saw that night. No wonder most people donít try to climb this side directly. It is very imposing just to look at. Trying to climb that northwest face would be impossible (for me, Iím sure some people could do it).
Pretty spectacular sunset and sunrise from this location.
Many people head out from Guitar Lake many hours before dawn in order to make it to the summit to see the sunrise from on top.
I did not have the desire to get up that early to do that. Not only did I have to take all of my gear up the first 2,000 foot climb up to the JMT/Whitney Trial junction, going 5 miles in the dark was a little extreme for me. On Mt Fuji it was only about an hour or two to climb in the dark for the sunrise and there were very few (if any) locations on Mt Fuji where you could step off the trail in the dark and plummet hundreds of feet to your probable death. This could be four plus hours depending on my progress.
But I did have a secret plan to avoid this pre-dawn trek up the western side of Mt Whitney.
After navigating the long switchbacks up the west slope (just a fraction of the 97 switchbacks you have to climb from Trail Camp on the eastern side, but very long and steep on this side of the mountain), I reached the junction with the Main Whitney Trail.
Here I shed some weight by leaving behind my tent, my bear-proof container of unneeded food, and anything else I didnít think I need at the summit.
Why didnít I leave almost everything behind? Thatís part of my secret plan.
From this point, itís a fairly gentle climb up the next 1,000 feet to the summit. Spread out over 2 miles, this part of the trial isnít that difficult, unless youíre at 14,000 feet and have already climbed a very steep mountainside. Itís almost as if the mountain is taunting you with how you never seem to get close to the summit as the day goes on.
To add insult to injury, I decided to scramble up Mt Muir (14,012 feet) to bag my third 14er. On my first climb of Mt Whitney, I didnít have the energy or desire to do this short, but demanding scramble to the ragged top of Mt Muir. So I can add this to my list of 14ers now: Whitney, Langley, Muir.
Then onto the ultimate target: The Summit at 14,508 feet.
The path was very familiar to me, but with a detour around a very large snow field that still lingered into mid-August. With the regular trail going on a long arc around the crest of Mt Whitney,I wonder if this new alternate trail will become the regular way to the summit. It wasnít that hard to follow and mostly painless.
Finally the stone hut at the summit came into view, sending spasms of joy (or maybe it was pain) through my body.
While not as high as the 16,289 pass I climbed during my Salkantay to Machu Picchu trek, it was a spectacular view and great accomplishment for me to make it up this mountain twice. Highest point in the continental USA x 2. Does that mean Iíve been over 29,016 feet now? Or would that be 45,305 feet high if I add the Salkantay Pass?
Neither. It doesnít work that way.
So after enjoying the view from the summit, signing the register at the hut, and taking a obscene number of pictures, it must have been time to climb down the mountain to the Whitney Portal and get some real food and real sleep. Right?
My secret plan was to bring my sleeping bag and pad, plus every single layer of clothing I had and then sleep inside the hut. That would allow me not only to see the sunrise from the summit, I could see the sunset and the clear night sky from the summit as well.
This would have worked out greatÖ if the door to the hut hadnít been damaged during the heavy snow of last winter and was no longer on the hut at all.
Despite the cold wind blowing across the summit that afternoon, the inside of the hut stayed mostly comfortable.
The worse thing that could happen is Iíd freeze to death, right?
So after the day hikers and backpackers returned to Trail Camp or Guitar Lake for the evening, I settled in and enjoyed the solitude of the summit as the sun set spectacularly to the west. I even had a chance to see the shadow of Mt Whitney cast over the land to the east.
The dark clouds still hovered over the mountains to the west, but thankfully not making any move towards me. The last place Iíd want to be during a thunderstorm is at the top of Mt Whitney. Yes, there is something that would force me down from the summit: A lightning storm.
While I was confident I could survive the cold (I had survived a 0 degree (F) night during a winter backpacking trip near Donner Summit this past winter with almost the same number of layers), a lightning storm at the top of Mt Whitney was something that would have caused me to race down away from the summit. With my other gear at the bivy sites neat the JMT/MWT junction, I did have that as a emergency plan should a night at the summit not be possible.
Fortunately, I didnít have to make a hasty retreat and enjoyed the night. It was cold, but it was only really bad when I went out to take pictures of the night sky.
I was a little worried when the air outside the hutís missing door grew foggy and it seemed like I might not be able to see anything at sunrise.
I awoke before sunrise to enjoy the sunrise by myself.
Then about a dozen people appeared about a half hour before sunrise. Remarkable timing on their part.
But despite the intrusion of those people onto MY mountain
, the sunrise was as spectacular as advertised. While there were clouds all around me, there were wide gaps and they just added to the brilliance of the sunrise as it rose over the mountains to the east of Mt Whitney. Then the golden glow washed across Mt Whitney and the higher peaks around me. Just like in Yosemite, sometimes the best effect of sunsets and sunrises is not the actual sun, but the light it casts across the surrounding mountains and granite walls. Canít say I was disappointed to this spectacular conclusion to my long trek.
My words canít really describe it and my many pictures can only catch a small percent of the beauty.
Did I say I conclusion?
I did actually have to get down off the mountain and back to civilization. Had I not stayed at the summit overnight, I would have probably had to stop and camp at Trail Camp or elsewhere on the way down to the Whitney Portal. This was another reason to stay overnight at the summit: if I had to spend another night on the mountain, why not spend it at the most spectacular spot.
The hike down was long and tiring, but being mostly downhill. I actually ended up carrying enough water up from Guitar Lake to the summit and down to the Portal without getting any additional water on the way down (although I probably could have used a half liter more, but decided just to push forward at the end towards a can of Diet Coke). I managed to make it down by mid-afternoon and get a burger at the Portal Store. And a t-shirt so I didnít stink as bad.
One other possible route I was considering was to go over to Mt Russell after climbing Mt Williamson and Mt Tyndall. The pass over to the Wright Lakes area was still snowed over, so I had already discounted that route before making the decision to skip Williamson and Tyndall. The route over Trojan Peak and Mt Bernard was probably possible based on what I saw druing this trip, but with my switch to a JMT trip, that wouldnít happen either.
But when I saw the path I had been thinking of taking from the top of Mt Russell down the south face to Iceberg lake and up the Mountaineers Route to the top of Whitney, I had serious doubts that I could have accomplished that.
Maybe next year, Iíll ignore Mt Whitney entirely and go: Shepherds Pass > Mt Tyndall > Mt Williamson > Trojan Peak > Mt Bernard > Mt Russell. Descending to Upper Boy Scout Lake from Russell seems much less likely to kill me.
Except for the dark storm clouds hanging over the western mountains, the weather was great otherwise. It sounds like there have been some storms going across parts of the Sierra Nevada since my trek ended, so I may have chosen wisely as far as the weather is concerned.
So not exactly the trek I hoped to take, but very enjoyable and got a chance to see the sunset and sunrise from the top of Mt Whitney.
FYI, on August 12th I did see smoke hanging over the mountains (see the sunset picture from Independence above), but never really saw any smoke during the trek itself.
Also: The only AMS symptoms I had at the summit was a slight headache in the morning. A couple Advil cleared that up quickly.
(more photos (and a few movies) to upload to Flickr albums once I have a chance to go through all 3,700 photos)