Please enjoy this report as much as we enjoyed the trip.
8/5 - left cloudy, rainy, smoky Mammoth Lakes for the Cottonwood trailhead. We made good time on the easy trail, reaching Long Lake but contemplated going further. So we gulped a fast stomach-bloating liter of water each, and took three bottles each to New Army Pass for the night and next day. There are some semi-protected campsites and a good headstart at the pass for Langley the next day.
8/6 - Mt Langley day. Hiked the easy part, then dumped our packs under a rock ledge off to the right of the trail. This allowed a lighter summit day without our loads as we were not fully acclimatized. The 6-8 ft tall new cairns are useless as Karin had warned. If I remember the sequence, the first two are totally unneeded. The third (or maybe it's the fourth) is misleading. Off to its left is a gap requiring a 3rd class move, straight beside it is a narrow, slanted slot going up, again requiring some scrambling. We did come down that way, but going up we instead first veered to the right, then looked for the next cairn. None seen! The next one cannot be picked out from the other rocks on the skyline when viewed from below. So we just zigzagged and detoured to the left toward the small pinnacles.
then swept right along the cliff line to the top. No one else there. No sheep either .I have only seen them once before (at the northern Mono Pass). Dan thought the view was better than Whitney, but I thought otherwise and would not bother to go back again, except maybe as a dayhike from Cottonwood.
On the way down, the many use trails were seen, and it was finally possible to see a cairn from the higher vantage point. A trail crew was working, so I explained the problem of cairn-seeing as more difficult on the way up and why not add another one? They had plans to do that, but not where it was needed or where I suggested. Something about needed permits, environmental studies, Acts of Congress or God. We retrieved our stashed packs, then headed down the first chute to the right - toward the highest Soldier lake, via intermittent use trails
As Karin had suggested, we did not descend to the lake, but stayed at treeline under the Major General and headed just a tiny bit into Miter Basin. Our glorious campsite at a small tarn had the full view of tomorrow. As Dan said with this obscure idiom, 'we have seen the elephant.'
8/7 - followed Rock Creek on the true left bank, crossed it, then scrambled up to Sky Blue Lake by going over to the left of the waterfall,
The next picture looks back at SBL from above.
Lake 11,129 was ahead and above SBL.
Climbing above Lake 11,129 required some fun . We switched back across the 'rock dam,' across the outlet, and then all the way to the right side of the lake. We kept too close to the shore and had to scramble through one brief, exposed third class move. A fall there would have dropped us into the lake. An easier and safer route would have been to stay high all the way across the 'rock dam,' then dropping down to the lake's right shore all the way over.
Above Lake 11,129 we headed left toward 'the phone booth' but it might also look like a 15 foot tall porta-potty, obscure in this picture, but there were plenty of other landmark rocks to choose from.
Before long we were at the top of Crabtree Pass, looking over into Crabtree lakes.
picture 5760 Dan
picture 5765 Harvey
The route down is not so bad. Class 2. Okay to do at age 63 with a titanium knee.
Looks worse from this angle, but it is not
As we set up our tents, a group of nine Scouts and leaders passed through. We were stunned at their accomplishment. They had camped at Sky Blue Lake, gone over Crabtree Pass, climbed the dreaded Sandhill, looked around Arc Pass, then went past Discovery Pinnacle on to Whitney summit and return. It was after 6pm as we watched them returning over Crabtree Pass, headed back to their campsite. An incredibly long adventurous day! Their TR is posted elsewhere on the forum.
8/8 - The rest of our trip was pedestrian in comparison to our trip through the Miter Basin. Of course, part of that was because we had been to both sides of Whitney multiple times before. We were tired and decided not to go with packs up Sandhill (although we should have considered a dayhike up a and back like the Scouts did) but instead lugged our packs out the Crabtree drainage.
then on to Crabtree Meadow, then up the JMT to above Guitar Lake. There were more people there than I had ever seen before on this my fifth time to Guitar Lake. You cannot see them all in this picture looking down on the lake, but there must have been 20+ tents scattered around.
We camped above the tarns, but not the ones immediately above the lake. The rocky bench above has streams and campsites. Dan's jacket got caught up in a dust devil, swirling round and round up to about 70 feet before it spit it out and dropped it right back down to his outstretched arms. This presaged an evening hailstorm, followed by a 27 degree night. (We later learned a couple had slept on the summit, 10 degrees).
8/9 - The only disadvantage of that campsite was that we picked one too close to the trail. The next day at 230am we heard "Hey, there are campsites up here!" I should have yelled back, "Yes, and there are people trying to sleep." You see, they needed an early start to summit Whitney with their packs and then descend east to the Portal. We on the other hand, left at a leisurely pace. With just day packs, we summited in 3 hours, hung around on the top for 2 hours, and strolled back down west to our untouched campsite. Another evening storm, but typically Sierra, only an hour or so.
This picture of the Whitney summit you have seen before
You can see on the way down that going back to Guitar Lake there is drainage coming from Hitchcock lakes and flat areas for plenty of less crowded campsites. Most of the west side backpackers are either unaware of it or don't want to climb up that last bit once they reach Guitar Lake.
8/10 - Our exit from the area was northbound on the JMT towards Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley. It turned out to be faster than we expected. We camped only one night, just north of Tyndall Creek hidden in the valley here:
Forester Pass as seen from the south on the skyline directly above the tent
That night there was a gorgeous blazing full moon. I needed blinders to sleep. I am not exaggerating to say that during the night, I uncovered my eyes, looked out the tent, and could not stare at the blindingly white moon. Then at 3 am all hell broke loose. We were pinned down in tents until 1100 am. Good thing I have little appetite up high, so it did not bother to miss eating. It looked bad up on Forester, but we left camp just before noon, hoping.
Before long, we encountered more hours of hail, sleet, and lightning. A few very tired and probably hypothermic older people were barely moving, and a loose llama was ruminating while hunkered down at the base of the pass. We would have bad weather a long time. The main storm was still going on. On the way down from Forester, it was apparent that this was not a typical 1 or 2 hr Sierra squall, but the better part of 18 hrs. We figured setting up camp on the wet water- flowing ground with increasingly damp gear (despite good gear) would not be fun that night or exiting in the same misery the next day as it appeared to suggest. Most we met at various campsites were miserable. We chose to be miserable a different way, at least staying warm, by not stopping but doing the whole 20 miles out. We had to frequently step off to the side of the trails that were flowing madly like streams themselves. So we went from Tyndall over Forester, made our final decision in lower Vidette Meadow, then climbing to Bullfrog lake where the sun teased us for a second
This made the decision to go easier. We headed to Kearsarge Pass. As we did, there were 2 minutes of strange rays of faint light piercing the clouds but diverging and rising from behind and above the ridgelines from the southeast-ish. It could not have been the sun, or alpenglow reflection off of cloud cover or a peak or wall. We considered alien invasion, but it must have been the rising full moon, but I have never seen anything like this before. As we topped out on Kearsarge Pass by headlamp, it became evident through the mist and a gap in the clouds. There was a short glimpse of the orange rising full moon through another break in the clouds. Success now eminent, we plodded on, reaching Onion Valley just before midnight with plenty of life left in our LED headlamps if not our bodies. For us, it was our planned goal anyway, we just got there much faster than planned. There were no rooms in the inn in Independence, so we drove on to Lone Pine. It felt good to flop into a dry bed at 2:00 am, asleep by 2:01 am. Next day we retrieved the other car, from Cottonwood, and had a burger at Dougs' Whitney Portal Store.
Dan went on to Susanville. I hung around the area, had a nice time with Doug, Earlene, Crazy Jack, Wildflower Betsy, walked a bit on the 1904 original trail, solo-hiked North Lake to Piute Pass and back with rubbery legs, and found the Alabama Hills Arch with Mt Whitney in view. Astronomers in the crowd can calculate the time of day by looking at the height and phase of the moon.
One horizon reached leads to another - Joe Tasker