Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 29: Conquering Mount Whitney.... Part 1

Karolina and I woke up to a surprisingly cloudy morning, but fortunately the clouds blew away by late morning leaving us with clear skies the rest of the day.

Near Crabtree Meadow, the John Muir Trail split off from the Pacific Crest Trail. Karolina was a little sad to say goodbye to the PCT and wished it well.

Also near Crabtree Meadow, I learned a couple of things. PCT thru-hikers weren't allowed to camp between there and Mount Whitney. I didn't remember that being a rule back when I thru-hike the PCT, and I'm not sure if it's a new rule or an old one I just hadn't been aware of, and I found it interesting even though it didn't apply to us.

The other thing I learned was that the Whitney corridor between Guitar Lake and the trailhead is a no poop zone! I didn't remember that being a rule back during my PCT thru-hike either. A new rule? Although the sign suggested that the rule only applied to people who were hiking out at Whitney Portal and PCT thru-hikers who were going to summit Whitney and return didn't have to worry about it.

For everyone else, however, there was a large, plastic container that looked like it might be some sort of trail magic--although how trail magic would get so far out in the wilderness made the idea seem ridiculous--but it wasn't trail magic. No, they were poop kits. Most everyone hiking into the Whitney Zone, if they had to poop, were expected to poop into these bags then carry out their poop. Oh, boy. =)

I've gotta admit.... I've never had to pack out my own poop before, and I wasn't anxious to start today. In an effort not to have to carry a bag of poop on my back, I decided to do the deed shortly before Guitar Lake--where it was perfectly okay and legal to leave your poop properly buried--and hoped to finish the trail before needing to empty my intestines again.

Karolina and I stopped near a nice creek by Crabtree Meadow, which was a wonderful place to lay around and relax until a train of horses came tromping through. We weren't laying on the trail, but very close to it and I was a bit nervous about these giant beasts walking so close to our gear and myself, but the guy running the horses seemed to have faith that they'd leave us alone.

A train of horses tromping by just a few feet from where Karolina and I stopped to relax.

The horses went by, and when Karolina examined her trekking pole closer, she found that one of the horses had stepped on and dented it. Stupid horses.

We didn't realize it when we initially sat down, but we were on a horse highway! In the course of a half hour, three separate trains of horses went tromping by. After the first time, we moved our stuff further away from the trail and it was less problematic. Where did all these horses come from?!

We took another break by Guitar Lake where we filled up with as much water as we could carry. From here to the top of Mount Whitney, there wouldn't be anymore reliable water sources as far as we knew. We didn't expect to reach the top of Mount Whitney today, but we'd be going most of the way up. We needed enough water to get us to camp tonight, for dinner, for breakfast, then to the top of Mount Whitney and then several miles back down. We needed a lot of water....

From Crabtree Junction, the trail would rise more-or-less non-stop to the top of Mount Whitney up nearly 4,000 feet. Shortly after Guitar Lake, the trail rises steeply along a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. Higher and higher we ascended, passing 12,000 feet, then 13,000 feet and eventually we reached the Mount Whitney Trail where we finally stopped for the day.

The elevation was a breath-taking 13,470 feet above sea level--even higher than Forester Pass and yet another new all-time high for Karolina and a high point for us on the trail. So far....

When we arrived at the trail junction, there was a marmot digging through a backpack somebody had left unattended while they summited Mount Whitney, and the marmot left empty wrappers of trash littering the area. I was absolutely furious about the dumbass that left their pack unattended like that. It's clearly not allowed, and I wouldn't have minded so much if the person's food and trash and such were in a bear canister, but that was clearly not the case given all the trash the marmot had scattered around. I wanted to take the pack and throw it down the mountainside and ruin the hiker's day. Or maybe just search the pack for valuables and steal them. Not because I wanted the valuables, but thinking the person who left their pack unattended was one of those people who needed to learn lessons "the hard way." Mostly, I was just angry about the total disregard for wilderness ethics the person displayed.

Instead, I picked up the trash that was now littering the trail. When we arrived, there were a couple of people camped nearby but Karolina and I were a bit dismayed when another hiker soon arrived who told us that there were about a dozen other hikers behind him planning to camp here as well. The area had very limited camping sites. Large boulders littered the area and steep hillsides limited where it was possible to camp, and neither of us liked the idea of being crowded in with a dozen other people in the tiny space available for camping.

I looked around a bit and found a sandy area where we could set up camp. It wasn't ideal with a slight slope and awkward shape. Karolina and I would be sleeping quite close to each other, but we'd be sleeping quite close to each other if we squeezed in with all those other hikers as well. But at least we wouldn't be crowded with all those other people now arriving.

The sunset was absolutely beautiful from our vantage point, and we cooked dinner then quickly headed into our sleeping bags since the temperature was dropping fast. It was gonna get cold tonight!

We had set up camp a mere 1.9 miles away from the top of Mount Whitney, and Karolina wanted to wake up early enough to watch the sun rise from the top. I was less inclined to do this because I knew it would be cold, but also I needed to take photos for Walking 4 Fun and it would be hard to do that in the darkness. We never really settled on a plan of action for tomorrow, but I told Karolina that she was welcome to leave whenever she wanted. I needed to wait for enough light to take photos, but I'd catch up soon afterwards if she got a head start on me.

And then we headed off to sleep. Tomorrow, we knew, was Summit Day. The end of the trail. So close....

Is that trail magic?! No... inside that container are... poop bags. So hikers can carry out their poop on their backs. Oh, boy! =)
Karolina got this photo of me nearly being trampled by horses! The only injury, however, was a dented trekking pole after one of the horses stepped on it. (That's Karolina's pack and gear on the other side of the trail from me.)

Guitar Lake got its name because it's roughly in the shape of a guitar. Can you see it?

That lake far below is Guitar Lake. We're rising rapidly now!

This guilty marmot tried to run away when we caught it going through an unattended pack. He scattered litter all over the trail!
Sunset from camp--gorgeous!
I'm eating dinner while watching the sunset. You can see Guitar Lake in the background too, right next to my pot. =)

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