This is the second-to-the-last installment in a continuing series about a mother-and-daughter thru-hike on the John Muir Trail (north to south) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains from July 19 to August 13, 2015.
Previous installments and additional photos are here.
Wednesday, August 12
Crabtree Meadow to ‘Two Tarns’
We had an easy day ahead as we worked our way into position to summit Mount Whitney the next morning. We had a leisurely breakfast and broke camp at Crabtree Meadow (elevation 10, 720 feet) about 10 a.m.
We each had one new addition to our packs. The WAG bags, now used and adding some mushy weight.
Yep, there we were heading back to the creek crossing to get back on the JMT with our WAG bags packed and adding extra poundage when what should appear that we didn’t see the day before? A sign with an arrow that said, “Pit Toilet.”
We didn’t need to be carrying this extra cargo until after Crabtree Meadow. Lesson learned the hard way.
We began the mild ascent, less than 1,000 feet in three miles) to Guitar Lake. At the picturesque Timberline Lake we met a member of a group of five whom we had become friends with since we first camped with some of them way back at Wanda Lake, before Muir Pass, five major passes ago.
She had stayed behind at Crabtree Meadow, opting out of the group’s two-day Mount Whitney assault. She was waiting for them to return, then they would continue south together to complete their trip.
She provided us with good information about where the group had camped above Guitar Lake. As we would soon find out, Guitar Lake gets crowded as people prepare for an early-morning summit, so having the option to camp at another location was tempting.
The trail was crowded, and we had already passed two large clusters of backpackers. After 13-plus passes, we were in the habit of nudging up as close to a pass as possible the day before, which makes the final ascent quite enjoyable as we are on fresh legs and a fed stomach in the
As we continued past Guitar Lake in search of the group’s “Two Tarns” campsite, we met another member of the group on her way back to Crabtree after a successful summit. She directed us to the hidden, off-trail campsite.
The group’s leader was still there, packing the last of his gear, so we were able to have a final chat with him.
He was melancholy as he explained this was his seventh JMT thru-hike and his seventh ascent of Mount Whitney and probably his last. It had been frigidly cold and extremely windy on the summit, he explained, and these conditions had apparently discouraged him. He was ready to explore other trails, he said.
We were glad we got to see him one more time because we were able to say goodbye and thank him for the many JMT tips he provided over the last two weeks.
He packed up and headed down toward Guitar Lake while we settled in for an enjoyable, relaxing last afternoon. We went through a range of emotions: excited to be going home, but not wanting the peaceful, simple trail life to end.
We reflected on our journey, where we had been, where it had taken us. We realized how blessed we were to be able to complete this trip as planned, healthy and strong, a lot stronger than when we started (and tanner and thinner and so much dirtier).
The day was warm, the skies were sunny and clear. There were intermittent strong — really strong — gusts of wind. We were prepared to experience what our friends had endured: cold and wind on the summit.
We took inventory of our food. We were down to crumbs. After we ate our dinner, we would each have about 900 calories of bars and gels to get us to the 14,508-foot summit and through 16 miles total of foot travel to the trailhead.
The food cravings were getting intense; we both were craving salty foods more than sweets. We made a rule a few days prior that we were no longer allowed to talk about food to each other because there was nothing we could do to assuage the urges at this point.
The wind died down enough that we were able to savor our last dinner outside on our rocky perch overlooking the aptly named Guitar Lake. With the rugged eastern escarpment of the might Sierra Nevada at our backs, we watched the sun set in the west with no nearby peaks, pinnacles, or passes as obstructions. It was the longest sunny day of the trip.
We were in the tent before the sun fully set in preparation of a 4 a.m. wakeup call with plans to be on the trail by daybreak.
As the sun went down behind the horizon of the mosaic of mountains far below us, and our last full day of our JMT adventure turned to night, the winds returned with great force. We curled up in our sleeping bags, covered our heads, and settled in for what would be a long night.
The tent was as secure as possible against even the strongest, most sustained gusts that came our way. We had guylines (which we had nicknamed “trip wires” for obvious reasons) tied off to rocks in every direction to minimize the movement of the rainfly, but it still sounded like we were sleeping under the rotor of a helicopter.
When it felt like we had been lying in our high-mountain beds for hours — resting but not able to sleep — I did something that I hadn’t done at night the entire trip: checked the watch.
It was 10:13 p.m. We both thought it was much, much later and that we had been in the tent for hours. To be continued…