John Muir Trail III

 

It’s been nearly a year since we returned from this trip. I guess it must have slipped through the cracks and I never got around to writing a trip report.  These things happen.  Last August, we met Steve & Nadia on the final day of their JMT thru-hike (Nadia’s first, Steve’s third).  Just in time, too, because they had run out of food and were relying on us to resupply them with some snacks for the final day, which would take them to the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet).  Jasmine, Lakshan, Lopez and I hiked in at Cottonwood and spent the first night along Rock Creek.  This was an exhausting day, particularly for Jasmine, who really struggled with the altitude.  At 13 miles, I didn’t expect it to feel very hard, but I suppose the years are catching up with me.  My knees and back were not happy.

We arrived in Lone Pine a day early, and acclimated at my uncle Steve’s cabin near Whitney Portal.  He recently bought a small, but nice wood cabin near the campground, and is in the midst of refurbishing it.

Buddy

Buddy

Portal Cabin

Steve’s cabin near Whitney Portal

The next morning, we met Lakshan and Lopez and drove over to Cottonwood, prepped our gear, and started up the trail towards Whitney.  This is the easiest trail to access the summit of Whitney, in my opinion.  It’s longer than heading straight up from the Portal, but you start near 10,000 feet and the altitude gain comes slowly, with no high passes along the way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

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We let a mule pack team through

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Here comes the rain

 

Rest break near Cottonwood Pass

Rest break near Cottonwood Pass

Creek Crossing

Creek Crossing

We got some lousy weather, unfortunately.  Each afternoon, the clear blue skies would turn dark and ominous, and the thunderstorms would begin.  It rained on us sporadically, and there was just enough lightning and thunder to keep us on our toes.  Making the final push to Guitar Lake was really tough on Jasmine, and I wanted to get out of the weather, off the trail, and into our tent.

We were all excited to meet Steve and Nadia at the lake.  There’s always a bit of nervous anticipation involved; would they even be there?  How skinny will they look?  Will they still be friends with each other?  Aside from running out of food, they were in great spirits and appeared to have enjoyed the previous two weeks of living in the woods.

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Meetup day

Jason & Jasmine

Jason & Jasmine

Steve & Nadia

Steve & Nadia @ Guitar Lake

Jasmine

Jasmine

Dead guy

Dead guy

The Lopezian Backflip (2002 & 2014)

The Lopezian Backflip (2002 & 2014)

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Final day happiness

I was pretty worried about the summit day.  Based on the way Jasmine was feeling, I figured it might take us 4-5 hours to climb from Guitar Lake to Trail Crest at 13,600 feet.  We talked it over and abandoned any plans to make the summit, since Jasmine didn’t really care one way or the other, and I’d already been there before.  We all decided that if we left early (well before sunrise) it would give the rest of the group time to tag the summit and then they might catch us on the 11 mile hike back to the Portal.

I can’t remember exactly, but I’m guessing we started around 3 am?  The stars were out and it was a beautiful sight, climbing up the strenuous switchbacks that zigzag up the west face of Mt. Whitney.

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Ready to go

We made better time than I expected, and found ourselves approaching Trail Crest as the sun began to peak over the horizon on the other side of the mountain.  I could see the headlamps of our friends above, slowly moving north across the steep face, on their final push to the summit proper.  Thankfully, the winds were calm – nothing like the strong gusts we encountered on our trip in 2009, when Lopez’s pack almost got blown off the side of a cliff.

I had some intentions of climbing Mt. Muir, which is a short 4th class scramble just off the Whitney trail, but the cold and my tired legs sapped any motivation to add another obstacle to the day.  Plus, I wasn’t entirely comfortable leaving Jasmine alone for the next couple of hours, since she was suffering from altitude sickness and I wanted to stay close in case it took a turn for the worse.  We topped out at Trail Crest and found a party of three in bad shape, right on the most exposed part of the saddle.  A young woman was lying in the middle of the trail, in the fetal position, shivering uncontrollably and looking borderline unresponsive.  They had draped a light jacket over her and were standing around casually, as if they were waiting for her to magically rebound from her predicament. The group had started up the trail at midnight and she had apparently succumbed to the altitude and cold.  The other two in her party were fine, and I offered them some of our gear (sleeping bags, etc.) but they declined.  I got the sense that they were taking things way too lightly, but my suggestions were met with a firm “we know what we’re doing” attitude.  They had a stove and an emergency sleeping bag, which I urged them to use.  Jasmine was feeling like crap (and I had a severe altitude headache, myself) and I figured that they had enough gear to help their friend, so there wasn’t much more I could do, if help wasn’t wanted.  The sun was out and it would be warming up, so she would probably be ok.  On the hike down, though, I felt upset at the poor girl’s friends, who were putting her in an unnecessarily dangerous position.  I debated with myself and wondered if I did the right thing by offering to help and leaving, instead of demanding that they take action, which would have caused a scene.  It was a tricky situation, for sure.

Mt. Hitchcock

Mt. Hitchcock

Trail Crest

Trail Crest

11 miles to go, all downhill from here

Only 11 miles to go, all downhill from here

Sunrise on the east side

Sunrise on the east side

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Headed home

The timing worked out perfect, and we all made it back to the Portal within an hour or so of each other.  Unfortunately, I had left my wallet in my car at the trailhead (back at Cottonwood), so Jasmine and I had to sit there and watch other hikers as they gorged on hamburgers and ice cream, while we waited for everyone else.  I definitely won’t make that mistake again.

Congrats to Steve and Nadia for finishing the trail, and I’m sure we will all be back to do it all over again, one of these days..

 

 

 
 
 

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