John Muir Trail Day 16
My morning began at 1 am after I finished doing my middle of the night business. When I rolled back into my quilt I remembered putting my gloves and Buff in my coat pocket. I hurried and pulled them out and hugged them. My hike up Whitney just took on a better flavor. Then I fell back to sleep comforted by the fact that my mind was apparently clearer while I was half asleep peeing in the middle of the night rather than any other time of the day.
While packing up for the hike I had a very relaxed mindset. I only had 12.5 miles to Guitar Lake. Beside the fact that I had fewer miles to hike than any previous day there were no mountain passes to climb. There was a fair amount of up and down but nothing that would last too long. I still took off at around 6 am because that’s the best time to hike but I felt none of the pressure that I felt on most other mornings while staring at a big day ahead of me.
Putting in the big day yesterday didn’t have a negative impact on me physically this morning. In fact, I felt as good as I did on any morning of the JMT. The rules that I placed on myself on day 11 made a huge difference. No more blisters and I’ve never had more energy.
The hike began in a forest of sequoias and after about two miles I found myself on the Bighorn Plateau. I had seen this place in several videos and blogs on the JMT and wondered what the big deal was. Now I know but I doubt that I can convey it without saying something like, “you had to be there.” It is a flat area above the treeline at about 11,500 feet with a small pond in the middle of the plateau. It must have something to do with being at such a high elevation yet looking around it seems like it’s not. It gave me a bit of an eerie feeling. I guess you had to be there.
I walked off the trail and over to the pond. There was still frost on the ground but the sun was on me now and there was no wind so it felt surprisingly warm. I shed my jacket on the climb up. I left my gloves on but didn’t feel the need to put my jacket back on even though I was piddling around the pond for a while taking in the mirrored view of the Kern mountains to the west. As I stood there I could sense the end of the JMT was near. This same time tomorrow I would be hiking down to Whitney Portal. I have been looking forward to that moment for so long but now it was different. I don’t feel like I’m in over my head any more. I barely even notice my pack that much, at least compared to the first week. I actually don’t want it to end. Of course, it must for so many reasons but I don’t want it to. I finally feel like I belong here.
After leaving the Bighorn Plateau I headed back down into the sequoia forest again. I sure love those trees. With their colorful bark, fat stubby arms and gnarled up smaller limbs they have as much character as you could ever want in a tree. What a treat it is to walk through such large forests of them. Although I was not in a hurry, once the trail hit some switchbacks that led down and then out of Wallace Creek I naturally settled into my hiking rhythm of carefully descending and then grinding it out up the other side. It feels so good to hike uphill on all my joints as well as my spirit.
After climbing out of Wallace creek the trail leveled off into a meadow where a large snowshoe hare crossed right in front of me. I’m a big fan of any animal that changes colors based on the season. While I was walking across the meadow area I caught up with a couple of backpackers who had very large packs with fishing poles attached to the side. I walked behind them for a while but they didn’t hear me so I said, “Any luck catching fish?” The guy in front of me startled and then as he quickly tried to sidestep off the trail he caught the side of his foot on a rock and the pack decided it was time to go to the ground. I knew he probably didn’t hurt himself because it seemed to be in super slo-mo. I bet that pack weighed north of 60 pounds. I walked over and extended my hand but by then he rolled over on his belly and stood up on his own. I know that turtle-like move from when I fell over behind the bushes at Evolution Lake. I apologized and they both said it wasn’t my fault. I told them that there was no way to hear what was going on behind those huge packs and then moved on.
Soon the trail made a left turn and headed into Crabtree Meadows. I was surprised with how it looked. It was like a huge sandy beach for some distance. This was where I planned to camp with Sandy but I didn’t see any campsites anywhere near the trail. I was still three to four miles short of Guitar Lake but this was the last place where you could camp and still poop in the woods so I thought that would be a good option for Sandy since pooping in a WAG bag that we would then need to pack out sounded very unappealing. The ranger gave me one when I got my permit in Yosemite and there was a large ice chest full of them right in front of me now as I stood at the junction to the Crabtree Meadows ranger station. I was able to do my business first thing this morning so I felt optimistic that my next stop would not be until I got off the mountain the next morning. I know this seems like TMI but believe me when I tell you it was on the minds of everyone up there.
Shortly after the trail junction to the ranger station the trail started uphill. There was a creek to the right of the trail so I went down and filled my water. The next mile was a pretty steep grade and then leveled off at Timberline Lake. The lake was in a tight canyon between steep granite mountains. There were a few campsites but they looked like they were recently closed permanently.
The next mile was about as steep as the prior one and quickly broke through the treeline. After cresting a hill I could see Guitar Lake below me which surprised me a bit because I didn’t expect to be above it from the south where I came in. I climbed down the granite towards the lake and crossed a small stream that came out of the mountains from the east. I thought that the lake would be the only source of water so this was good news because I’d heard that the lake water was tainted from people not using WAG bags in the area if you know what I mean.
After crossing the stream I climbed up the rock formation to the east of the lake knowing that this is where I needed to find my campsite. It was noon so I beat most of the people there giving me my choice of campsites. None of them looked really good for my three man tent but I found one with a nice view of the lake that would work. The wind was blowing with some sudden gusts so setting up my tent was a bit of a challenge. It fell a couple of times before I was able to secure it enough with several large rocks on the guy lines.
As soon as I got my tent to stay up I noticed some people walking up to some sites near me to the south. I recognized them as Dave, Ken and Krista from Rae Lakes. We ended up having lunch together again. Dave and Ken had hiked to Whitney several times before so it was nice having someone point out the trail to Mt Whitney above us because it wasn’t clear at all. There was a mountain that blocked the top of Whitney.
Later in the afternoon after tending to some chores around my tent I noticed some more people had set up camp on the other side of my Rae Lakes friends. I recognized Rob who I last left at Woods Creek Bridge so I walked over. He had already set up his tent a little ways further where a small group of women were hanging out. I recognized Ashley so I walked over to say hi. When I arrived I recognized Brooke who I met on Mather Pass and was introduced to Lexi who I was meeting for the first time. At first I thought that Lexi saw the creepy stalker side of me since she seemed somewhat standoffish but after talking with the group for a while I realized she was just freaked out about hiking Mt Whitney.
By mid afternoon most of us decided it would be a good idea to try and take a nap since we were going to be getting up in the middle of the night. I went back into my tent and gave it a shot but the wind gusts made me think my tent was going down any minute so that made sleep impossible.
I went over and had dinner with the group at around five and handed out the rest of my food I didn’t need just like we did at Rae Lakes. Ken was feeling very low on energy so he was glad to get one of my 380 calorie meal bars. It turns out Dave and Ken are brothers and Dave’s nickname for Ken was Jeb. That was because of Trump referring to Jeb Bush as having low energy.
After dinner I went down to the creek to fill up both of my water bottles. There would not be water again until several miles down the other side of Whitney. There were some people at the creek getting water when I arrived, Shortly after sharing our plans with each other for the next day they told me they recognized me from Kearsarge Pass. It was a young couple who, at the time, were going up from Onion Valley when I was going down. Sandy had passed them and told them our life story so when they saw me coming down it had more meaning for them than when I saw them coming up.
At around 6:30 I gave the nap idea another shot. It was a good thing because by 7 pm I was asleep. Thus ended day 16 on the JMT.
Distance: 12.66 mi
Ascent: 2,246.72 ft
Google Earth Stats:
Distance: 12.0 mi
Ascent: 2,684 ft
Here’s my YouTube video of day 16 on the JMT: