6/9/14 – 6/10/14
14 miles to Guitar Lake, 10 miles to Whitney Summit and back
766.9 miles total
Tentsite to Guitar Lake, up Whitney and back to Guitar Lake
We had a fairly easy 14 mile hike up to Guitar Lake from the PCT yesterday. Mt. Whitney isn’t officially on the trail, so we follow the John Muir Trail (which ends on top of the mountain). In total the side trip is just over 8 miles to the top and then the 8 back down to the trail.
There are two places that you can camp to set up for the climb – Crabtree Meadows and Guitar Lake. Crabtree is down below treeline and is where most people stay, but Guitar Lake, at almost 12,000 ft, puts you 3 miles and a thousand or so feet closer to the top. We opted to get as close as we could, hoping to be able to set up for Forester Pass the same day as our Whitney climb.
We got to Guitar Lake by the early afternoon and set up for the night. The lake is set right in the middle of a beautiful moonscape, above all trees but below all the tall mountains. Unlike the solitary volcanos up in the cascades, Mt. Whitney stands next to dozens of other 14,000 ft peaks. We couldn’t tell which peak we were about to climb, or if we could even see it yet.
We slept early and woke at 4 to head out at 5. The climb up the mountain was 5 miles and almost 3000 ft, which compared to some of the climbs we are about to do, isn’t so bad. A lot of people have told me that Mt Whitney is the easiest day in the Sierra, although, that’s still hard for me to believe right now.
The first part of the climb is all big switchbacks, you gain almost all of the elevation in the first few miles. It was definitely hard work, but surprisingly, after camping at 12,000 feet I barely felt the elevation at all.
Almost all the way up the switchbacks, the trail meets up with the Whitney Portal trail, where we saw tons of day hikers who were climbing up from the desert side. From there the trail traverses across a rocky ridge for a mile or so. We climbed up and over big boulders and navigated a few snowy patches before making it to the last 500 ft climb to the summit.
At the summit everyone had their own ritual. Whether it was being as close as you can get to lost friends, or accomplishing something you had never believed you could, everyone was celebrating something.
A group of us ladies were having our picture taken when all the sudden Handstand decides that we should get naked. Well, why not?! We caused a bit of scene, 5 ladies naked on top of the mountain with 40 or so unprepared men watching, confused. The day hiker mindset is definitely different, because thru hikers wouldn’t even think twice about it.
After hanging out and getting our kicks, we started the long hike down to camp. There we were tired and hungry and in need of naps.
By the time we had woken up from our midday naps, a big storm had brewed and the sky had turned black. We hunkered down in our tents for a couple hours, ate dinner and hung out while the lighting and rain came down. By then it was obvious that we were staying another night at Guitar Lake. No need to get soggy trying to move, and Forester was still a ways away. Better to take a full day tomorrow to really set up for it.
After the rain stopped I went down to the river to get water with Whiskey. There were golden trout flip flopping down the shallow water. As I went to fill my water bottle, one almost swam right into the mouth of my bottle. Out of instinct I quickly reached down and grabbed it bare-handed by its tail and pulled it out of the water. I looked down at the beautiful colorful fish in complete shock and Whiskey looked over at me equally shocked. We both started cracking up, not being able to believe it.
Unfortunately we can’t have fires so there’s was no way to cook the lucky catch. I plopped it back into the freezing cold water and let it swim away.
We’re camped now for our second night here with plans to make it just below Forester, our first big pass, tomorrow.