9/4/09; Distance Traveled = 7.1 miles
Jon and I are in no particular hurry today. We have 7 miles to cover before dinner, and then if the weather permits and the Smithsonian Hut is unlocked we’ll make an early evening hike up Mt Whitney and camp there under tonight’s full moon. The day begins with a lazy breakfast under mostly cloudy skies.
Leaving Wallace Creek the trail climbs 500’ up and around the west shoulder of Mt Young before dropping slightly and passing east of Sandy Meadow. The air is thick with humidity and we are about 2 miles out when rain starts to fall. We stop long enough to don raingear and make the short ascent over another of Mt Young’s ridgelines upon which the JMT takes a hard left towards Mt Whitney and splits from the PCT. We make the turn and run into Ann Marie. “Did you see a hat?” She left her knit cap at their breakfast stop near Sandy Meadow and was backtracking to find it.
A few minutes later we leave the JMT, cross Whitney Creek, and enter Crabtree Meadow to visit the ranger. He is out on patrol so the Smithsonian Hut status remains unknown; we’ll make the summit call based on weather. For now the rain has stopped; most likely just a temporary reprieve. The ranger station is small cabin with chairs on the porch; we borrow them.
You can’t hike with someone for 3 or 4 days and not talk and learn things about one another, or size up one another. For instance Jon and his wife Heather are Canadian, he originating from Montreal and she Toronto. There is evidently some rivalry between the two cities, a WGAF fact for you trivia lovers, the suspicions people harbor even greater than those between San Franciscans and Angelinos.
Jon’s backpacking experience includes an early season circuit of the Tahoe Rim Trail, replete with lots of snow and bugs, and lessons being used on the JMT. He, like me, is a regular on backpackinglight.com, though more a reader than a contributor, and we poke fun at where our kits deviate from the Ryan Jordan lightweight purism.
An apartment dweller Jon checks out a lot of his gear at Dolores Park and while not as convenient as a backyard, it is certainly more interesting. Enter his tent seam sealing adventure. In the morning he sets it up at the park and applies the seam seal. While waiting for it to cure a crew arrives, sets up a stage, people show up, and a band starts playing; he is in the middle of a gay music festival, people dancing all around his tent. What he thought would be a long boring wait turned out an entertaining day filled with beer and good conversation.
As we sit and talk I realize how fortunate I am; Jon has proven a solid hiking companion. Funny how two people whose lives and life histories are so different can find friendship unlooked for and unexpected. Yet our meeting may not have been entirely accidental. Is it coincidence that we each had as our alternate to the JMT Backpackinglight.com’s “Long Distance Backpacking” course and the opportunity to learn from Andrew Skurka? Perhaps those with a love of backpacking follow the same curled dimension in space-time and are bound to good fellowship. My JMT experience suggests something at work. Anyway, enough of a biography so I can remember, but not so much as to embarrass; I hope Jon doesn’t mind.
With time yet to burn we explore the ranger’s neighborhood. The microwave tower in view from the porch is a snow survey monitoring station. Up the hill is a private outhouse; the sign tells where to find the public one. And in the ranger’s backyard, with an excellent view of the sky, is a handcrafted lazy boy and ottoman, perfect for a quiet afternoon with a book or an evening watching the stars.
Exhausting our welcome at the ranger station it is time to continue to Guitar Lake. On our way out of Crabtree Meadow we stop to talk with Jedidiah and Maggie. They have a mass of food laid out on a tarp, enough for 4-5 people for 4-5 days, and offer, encourage, and almost beg us to take some off their hands. We are not their first guests; they successfully plied Ann Marie and her friends with some of their excess. After a quick scan we both spy bags of carrots and celery, fresh food! We graciously accept this, but despite Jed’s best sales pitch, only this.
Returning to the JMT we pick up Wag Bags; in the Mt Whitney Zone you pack everything out, everything. We hope they are not needed. It is a short walk to Timberline Lake and yet another rest stop. If our objective today is to not break a sweat we are being quite successful. A packer passes by carrying support for 20 Japanese hikers on a one week out and back from Horseshoe Meadow to Mt Whitney. He leaves and we hang; walking about, taking pictures, looking for fish, and otherwise wasting time. The cloudy sky means we don’t get spectacular reflections of Mt Whitney, but its massive west face impresses just the same.
Before long the Japanese group arrives and they cluster nearby as their tour guide narrates. They wear colorful clothes, but not as colorful as some Jon has seen. A woman from the group asks that we be in a picture with her. It strikes me odd, but we of course oblige. They are well up the trail when the rain returns; guess we ought to move along too.
We reach Guitar Lake in about 15 minutes. The Japanese group has claimed a large area to the left of the trail. Their trail guide walks out to meet us. He asks questions about our trip and talks about some of his hikes; he has some mountaineering experience and a lot of U.S. hiking experience, including the JMT. We ask about their summit plans. They’ll start about 6:00am tomorrow; he expects the last will return to camp late afternoon. “They don’t walk very fast” he says.
In addition to the Japanese group there are 20+ tents scattered about and occupying every conceivable tent site. A few people are out, but most sit tight in their tents and out of the rain. We hike past them all to the head of the lake and claim the last flat spot; an exposed site with excellent views of Mt Whitney and across the Kern Canyon. The Kaweah Peaks are calling me; future trip.
The rain stops around 6:00, at which everyone pops out of their tents, starts visiting neighbors, cooks dinner, and so forth; we do likewise. Afterward Jon and I discuss our summit plan. The sky is clearing, but clouds hang on Mt Whitney. With the weather still uncertain we rule out hiking up and camping there tonight. Still we want to be there for sunrise so we’ll go to bed early, and around midnight check the weather and make a call.
We are treated to a colorful sunset and as the last daylight climbs Mt Whitney a woman hiker passes by, moving quite fast. She is on an Onion Valley to Whitney Portal day hike; about 40 miles, impressive. A short while later the Food Friends, Jed and Maggie arrive. They are camped close to Guitar Lake’s outlet and have, since the rain stopped, visited everyone camping at the lake and have successfully given away their excess food. They head back to start their dinner and we go to collect water before bedding down. Camped near the creek are Ann Marie and her friends. They plan to hike Whitney in the moonlight, starting around 3:00 and summit for the sunrise. The sky is pretty clear by 8:00; I am optimistic.