This morning we awoke to the bright orange glow of the newly risen sun. It was blinding. So much so that we needed our sunglasses even before we exited our tent. It was gloriously warm as well, and it was not yet 0730. Even though yesterday’s hike was arduous and we came into camp with our asses dragging, a good night’s sleep cured it almost completely. This morning would be leisurely, as we only had 4.7 miles to Guitar Lake, to set up for the essentially 5 mile, 3000 ft climb to the tallest mountain in the “lower 48”. Piece of pie! (Pie is harder to make than cake). Once we had all breakfasted, taken care of “business” and packed, we set off at a leisurely pace. Steve, who has earned the trail name of “Scout” went ahead a bit earlier to commune with nature. When we caught up with him we found him up a tree, seemingly reenacting a scene from last night’s reading of stories from John Muir wherein Muir thought it prudent to climb a tree to better experience a weather event. We marched along single file huffing and puffing with each rise in elevation. The day was already warm, so Jody(aka. SideKick) and I decided to walk from shady spot to shady spot, and to drink at every other one. Remembering that we should walk slowly through the shady spots and fast through the sunny ones, we applied Teddy’s sage advice again. While that put us at the back of the “herd” we were happier and not so winded.
A little over 2 miles and we were at Timberline Lake where we lunched and took a break, mainly because we could, and were in no particular hurry. Several of the PCT thru-hikers we had seen at Crabtree Meadow or at Rock Creek were on their way down back to the PCT having summited Mt. Whitney. Each one glowed with accomplishment and had grins from ear to ear. How was it?, we would ask. Was there a lot of snow? Did you need an ice axe? Any advice? Without exception, all replied that summiting Whitney was inexplicably “AWESOME”. They were confident that we would be able to summit as well, but cautioned us to head up very early so that we are heading down no later than 10 am, due to the snow softening and the high probability of “post holing”. We thanked them for their advice and wished them happy and safe travels to Canada. They smiled and went on their merry way. As we continued our trek up to Guitar Lake, the trail was demonstratively damp, evidence of the recently melted snow. We truly have lucked out with this week with Bluebird weather, being so sunny and warm, with clear skies and scant breaths of wind. The bright sun and warmer weather has knocked down a majority of the snow that we would otherwise have had to slog through. We, however, were not without some snow field crossings, but nothing worrisome or that required our Microspikes.
As we walked, massive granite faces streaked with snow that reached to the rich warm blue sky surrounded us. We were struck by its beauty and grandeur. It seemed a shame to have to press on, even though we were doing so at such a leisurely pace. Fighter jets streaked overhead, reminding us that “civilization” was still there…in our absence. When we lighted upon Guitar Lake, thin islands of ice covered the water’s surface. A lone hiker stood at the water’s edge willing herself to go in. Several thru-hikers had just returned from summiting Whitney and we’re packing up to reconnect with the PCT. Others had just arrived too, and were in the process of setting up for an early morning call to Mt. Whitney. Marmots scurried about using a distract and strike method of engaging those already set up as a means to steal their food or lick/chew the salty sweat from their gear. One PCT thru-hiker told us that one of his friends had the cork handles of his trekking poles eaten. Another had his pack’s shoulder strap nearly chewed through. Upon hearing these harrowing stories, we wondered aloud how a marmot would taste (like chicken?), as we determined that would be the fate of any that dared nibble on our gear… provided we caught the cheeky bastard(s). We were told that it is possible to camp at the Tarins (smaller lakes above Guitar Lake), but had conflicting information from hikers heading down as to whether it was possible or even a good idea considering the current sogginess of the soil. “Scout” volunteered to cross the creek that feeds into Guitar Lake, and see if he (Jan and April) could find a marmot free-ish place to camp, and were highly successful. As we set up camp, we peered in earnest through Scout’s small set of binoculars (yes, he brought them… This man is prepared for just about anything, hence the trail name of “Scout”) to catch a glimpse of tomorrow’s route.
There were so many sets of footprints leading in varied directions up, over and through the snow. We watched as people descended, hoping to get a better sense of where to go, yet each set of hikers chose a different line down. We knew the general direction and could see the trail we wanted to connect with, but it would require some “free-lancing” over the snow. After much discussion and a scouting expedition by Scout, wherein he set up carins for us to follow, the prospect of waking at 2 am and stumbling around in the dark looking for a trail hidden in the snow was just plain silly and frankly dangerous, even with head lamps and Halfmile’s trail pointer app. We would start by 0430, as the sun was just beginning to rise. At the very minimum we would get to Trail Crest while the snow was crisp and easier to negotiate. Thus, after collecting enough water for our assault on Mt. Whitney, and watching in amazement at Trevor swimming (actually swimming in an ice filled lake) https://youtu.be/ZhpY7onVlZY
We ate as much food from our bear canisters as we could before becoming uncomfortably full, all in an effort to lighten our load for our pending 3000 foot climb in seriously thinning air… and by air I mean life sustaining, lung refreshing, oxygen. This evening ended as all evenings have ended so far on this trip with a bedtime story about John Muir from “Scout”. Based on the crazy things Muir did and how he describes the things he sees, smells and hears, I’m seriously beginning to wonder if he was tripp’n on acid. The man had no regard for his safety and was enthralled and obviously most comfortable playing/staying outside. He was a man way ahead of his time, with some amazing foresight to push for the preservation of these types of lands for the enjoyment and rejuvenation of/for generation upon generation. While I often curse Muir loudly and under my breath when trekking up some massive mountain or climbing over and through fallen logs or squishing another blood engorged mosquito, I thank visionaries like Muir and Presidents: Lincoln, Grant, Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama for the foresight to champion the preservation of these and other significant and unique National treasures, whose very existence allows for opportunities of pure joy, peace, reflection, rejuvenation…and frankly, a truer connection with ones Creator. There is a reason we call playing outside, recreation, for it truly is the re-creation of the mind, body and soul.
Enough of waxing philosophical , we have a wake up call is at 0330 for a 0430 departure in the wee hours of the morning. Not gonna lie, I’m a little anxious. At minimum, I’d like to make it to Trail Crest (13650 ft) without my head (or anyone else’s) exploding, so at least we (I) don’t have to back track all the way to Horseshoe Meadows. Here goes nothing.