For many, Mt. Whitney is an emotional, spiritual, and personal final closing point of the three week long walking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the John Muir Trail (JMT). It is the tallest point in the continental 48 states and a symbol of one’s achievement through the struggles against nature and oneself. At least that’s the perception I have regarding others on the trail.
I wish I have a grand conclusion to these trip reports about my JMT finish for you, but I just don’t. I’m sorry if I’m making it sound anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have reached it and I enjoyed the views from the top of Whitney upon the surrounding peaks and the desolate valley of granite below, but I wouldn’t say it was anything different than just another day of hiking.
Perhaps I was emotionally fulfilled already now that I’ve once again returned to my familiar hiking position of following Meg’s butt on the trail; perhaps it was that I would to continue to do so in Peru immediately after this; perhaps it was because my experience of the physical challenges on the JMT was relatively mild for me; perhaps it was because I took zeros back in society to recharge; perhaps I didn’t think the view from Mt Whitney was the best I’d seen ever or even my favorite on the JMT; perhaps it was because I didn’t finish at the same time as Chris, Cindy, Diana, Bob, Jack, John, Alex, Steel, Mallory, Jean, and other new friends I met along the way; perhaps it was the a-hole who tried to rush us off the of the summit of Whitney just so he can have the summit to himself to camp at; perhaps it was my annoyance at the a-hole for an hour after leaving the summit; or perhaps it was the seemingly never ending and pointless switchbacks before our finish at Whitney Portal.
All of these statements were true, but really the key, I believe, was simply that the day I hiked Mt. Whitney and finished the JMT was just as typical as any other day on the trails I’ve hiked around the world. The experiences I had on this last day was what I expected and continue to look forward to in the future on my never ending thru-hike. But that’s not a negative, because I am a hiker and I am fulfilled by hiking. Regardless if it was the final day I spent on my JMT hike, I was happy doing something I like and will always continue to do…
and then write insanely long “magazine style” trip reports of it. Hope you don’t mind the load time. 🙂
This is part 6 of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
My hike on the JMT picks up on my zero day in Bishop, California waiting for Meg to drive in with our rental car from Las Vegas. It was a Tuesday that I was taking my zero and our flight out of Las Vegas was the following Monday morning. The timeline for us to hike through the last portion of my JMT hike from Onion Valley trailhead to Whitney Portal would be 5 days max. I didn’t have a specific plan for where we would stop, but I did hear that the small lake above Guitar Lake would be a great tent spot to set up for a morning or sunrise summit of Mt. Whitney. Meg would be coming in from sea level and may need to acclimate to the higher altitude. Even though she usually is better at adjusting than me, I figured that a couple easier days to start would probably be good. I roughly sketched out the 4 days including sunrise on Mt. Whitney. This would allow us a day flexible day to finish the hike or relax.
equipment update for two
Below is a listing of our updated gear loadout now that Meg joined me followed by few things and adjustments I made to note:
- The best ultralight technique is just to find a second person (or more people) to share the load, my pack felt like nothing in comparison to earlier portions of the JMT.
- With a car, it allowed us to stash equipment I didn’t find useful for my hike and swap out the equipment more geared toward a single person backpacking, such as my Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2 tent (the 2 people would have to be a very specific body type to make that a 2 person tent – see my description here).
- The tent we were using was our 4 season Sierra Design Convert 2 (2015 version – see my description here). It actually fits 2 people.
- I kept the same Tyvek sheet for our ground sheet, which I measured to fit both of my tents.
- Some of the things I didn’t find useful for my hike was much of the extra layers I had for my camping cloth. These included my downs jacket, which I never wore on my hike. Meg cites as THE reason she keeps me around is because I’m a great space heater.
- Meg brought our lighter Kelty Cosmic Down 20, so we ended up switching sleeping bags since I had lugged my winter bag in anticipation of our following trip to Peru. She was happy the with warmth and I was happy with the lighter bag for this section. However, I would pay in Peru afterwards for her not grabbing her winter bag on accident.
- Other camp clothing like shorts and pants were also cut since I pretty much had to hiking cloth on until I changed and turned in for the night.
- My 5 year old solar charger had broken somewhere between Reds and Onion Valley, so I swapped that out in favor of an extra power bank, a generic 20000 mAh battery pack. It was enough for me to power our phones, my gps, and camera. I would recommend just carrying a larger or extra battery pack rather than the solar panel.
- I did find my solar panel (Instapak Mercury 10 – Amazon affiliate link) did a fine job on my hike and many other trips before it broke. I didn’t treat it very well on my hike and that likely caused its demise. Like any other solar charger, you have to have an expectation of how quickly it will charge and your charger’s maximum output.
- While solar panels are better in terms of long term self sufficiency, charging can be slower than you expect especially if you are walking though cover or don’t understand how to use it most efficiently. The distances between locations where you can charge from a power outlet isn’t so long that you would need a never end source of electricity generation to keep things running. The weight of an extra power bank versus a solar panel isn’t too different. So it may be more reliable and less worry to just take an extra power bank.
- I had been carrying RAVPower 10000 mAh power bank with QC3 (Amazon affiliate link) in conjunction with an universal adapter that also comes with QC3 USB-A outputs that I use for travel already. I bought the charger after watching this Youtube video from Neemor’s World explaining that fast charging power banks is more important since you won’t have to wait as long to recharge. The number of fast charging power technologies have increased with USB-C become more standard. They all essentially utilize higher Voltage.
- I didn’t need to carry the universal adapter that this point so I dropped that.
- I had to replace our water treatment plan since I left my SteriPen in Andy’s car after he gave me a lift to town. We went with the MSR Trailshot (Amazon affiliate link) since it was a better solution for 2 people than the Sawyer Mini. The price was comparable to 2 Sawyers, but I tend to like gulping down free flowing water. I had also seen how well and quick it was to filter water earlier in the Yosemite portion of my trip as it was Miguel and Doris’s water treatment method. The filter in the Trailshot can be replaced by itself, providing less waste and cheaper cost in the long run.
- Overall, I still prefer the SteriPen for it’s convenience. An additional bonus with the SteriPen is that you don’t have to worry about the filter freezing and breaking. This wasn’t an issue on my JMT thru hike, but would come in to play in Peru or if you were to hike the JMT early in the season. Either way, you would still have to sleep with your SteriPen in those situations to help with the battery life.
- I wasn’t a big fan of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite regular (Amazon affiliate link). I tend to sleep on my back and didn’t feel like the popular sleeping pad provide me with enough support or was wide enough. The NeoAir seems to suit side sleepers better. Meg and I ended up switching sleeping pads and I used our Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad (Amazon affiliate link).
- Meg brought an extra single hiking stick (REI Co-op Hiker Shock Light Staff – REI) we had to supplement the one broken Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock Trekking Pole (Amazon affiliate link).
Overall, my body was in pretty much the same condition as I was at MTR 5 days ago. With a mirror in front of me, I can see some skin irritation on me, especially where my straps were on my backpack. I guess that maybe due to the wet shirt I wore for the uphills or I wasn’t jumping into enough lakes. What was clear was I did lose the extra 20 pounds that I usually keep around in case of the Apocalypse.
My adventure so far consisted first of a four day backpacking trip with my California friends within Yosemite up Illilouette Creek and exiting the the Myst Trail to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley (part 2). Then I started my official JMT permit start from Tuolumne Meadows to Red’s Meadow Resort (part 3). Next, I continued through the Sierra National Forest from Red’s to MTR (part 4). Finally, I picked up the pace from MTR to Onion Valley Trailhead where I got a hitch from Andy and Diego to town (part 5). We pick up at the Travelodge Inn in Bishop, CA while I eagerly wait for Meg’s arrival.
trip report day 17 – zero & resupply in Bishop, Independence, & Lone Pine
I actually couldn’t fall asleep with the comfort of a real bed during my night at the Travelodge Inn. I don’t blame the motel, but rather it my own doing with the endless horchata drink refills from Amigos Mexican Restaurant (tripadvisor). I also think I was too amped up to see Meg. Either way, I think I finally dozed off around 3 am.
I was able to ask for a late checkout of around noon, so I spent the morning eating all the waffles, cereal, yogurt, and hard boiled eggs I could and catching up on the world. I was glad that the fighter jets buzzing us hikers on a couple days were not due to a war started by tweets.
Meg flew from Baltimore (BWI) direct to Las Vegas (LAS) on a direct one way flight on Southwest Airlines for USD$161.98. We triple dipped on the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card’s calendar year credit to cover the entirety of the cost (frequentmiler) – the current language for new accounts have been changed to membership year instead.
Once Meg was in LAS, she rented a car for 6 days from Avis for USD$218.68. USD$180 of the cost was from using 6 daily vouchers I purchased during the Daily Getaway deals (frequentmiler breakdown) and the rest was taxes and fees, which we put on her Chase Sapphire Reserve for primary coverage (upgradedpoints). Since the vouchers were coupon codes, the rest of the amount was the full rental cost, which should enabled the insurance coverage by the credit card. Luckily, we didn’t have to find out.
It was just after noon when Meg rolled up in Bishop after driving through Death Valley. We headed to Vons to shop for our resupply. With a possible 5 days on the trail, we were looking to put together 18ish meals.
I didn’t do as well of a job keep track of the specific meals, but Meg’s meals mainly composed of a couple of Mountain House breakfast skillets we had around the house and mash potatoes with dehydrated cheese and beef jerky. We also got plenty of Cliff Bars for Meg. Her preference was usually Cliff Bars for breakfast with lunch consisting of sandwiches and a cooked dinner. It was a little different than my established eating habits on the trail, so we’d have work something out. My meals consisted of a couple of instant noodles, a mix of pre-made rice and pasta mixes, and a dehydrated chili base. I did some mixing and experimenting with the many dehydrated materials got from Vons. I planned on sticking to my 2 major meals a day plan.
After Vons, we drove toward our airbnb near Lone Pine. On the way, we stopped for a luner in Independence at the taco truck (yelp). It is well know truck for those coming out of Onion Valley to resupply or zero as it was one of the only restaurants in Independence. It met my expectations of a good taco truck and we especially like the shrimp tacos. Recently, it seemed that it might switched owners and now maybe called Glenn’s Taqueria (yelp).
There isn’t much else in Independence with the Williamson Hotel and a gas station as your only real source for resupply (see halfmiles pct).
The next town was Lone Pine, where our airbnb was near. I pre-booked an airbnb because it was the cheapest in comparison to hotels between Lone Pine and Independence. It was USD$125.26 with USD$115 covered by our triple dipping of Chase Sapphire Reserve’s former yearly travel credit policy as I mentioned above. I also knew the specific date I had to be there so we couple prebook the place. Secondly, it offered me free access to a washing machine, which was very much needed after 9 days in the backcountry.
The town of Lone Pine had much more in terms of resupply options than Independence,
but the grocery store there doesn’t compare to Vons in terms of selection. Also in town are several outfitters, which was useful since I had left my SteriPen in Andy’s car while hitching out of Onion Valley. We replaced our water filter system with the MSR Trailshot pump as I described earlier. However, if you were looking for simple camping supplies such as Sawyer Mini or Mountain House Meals, we found that the hardware store had them for cheaper in comparison to the outfitters.
We headed to our airbnb afterwards driving through interesting rocky formations of the Alabama Hills. Next time around, I would want to incorporate some of the trails here in my adventures.
Once we settled into our airbnb, we had to coordinate was to setup a shuttle allowing us to leave our rental car at Whitney Portal and to resume my hike. We decided to leave our car directly at the end of the JMT so we wouldn’t have to be reliant on others to hitch to town or to Onion Valley giving us the freedom to just leave when we were done. This was also planning for the worst case scenario where we would have to book it back to Las Vegas to catch our flight. Lone Pine Kurt (Call +1 760-876-4811 or email LonePineKurt@aol.com) was the lowest priced shuttle service and didn’t charge extra based on the number of people he was transporting, making it easier for us. We setup a shuttle where he would pick us up at Whitney Portal overflow lot at 8:30am the next morning and dropped off at Onion Valley Trailhead for USD$90 in cash.
Logistally, washing my cloth, reorganizing, and repacking was the last thing we had to do for the night.
trip report day 18 – Onion Valley Trailhead to Forester Pass setup (C.11.18)
We left our Airbnb early the next morning since we wanted to get a full breakfast before starting on the trail. Lone Pine really wasn’t awake yet when we stopped by around 6:30-7am, but we did find the Alabama Hills Cafe (tripadvisor) bustling. Their food was good and portions were quite large. Meg didn’t finish her breakfast burrito, but was happy to save it for lunch. We found out later that they had a special deal for the breakfast burrito and a drink for takeouts early in the morning, something we’d take advantage of on our way out after our hike.
Before driving up to meet our shuttle, I stopped by Subway to get a 5 dollar foot long since Meg had her burrito leftovers for lunch.
We met one of Kurt’s drivers at the Whitney Portal overflow lot. We left our extra or switched out camping gear in our car to be sent home once we finished our hike. The only thing we had to be careful about was to not store any food in the car in case of bears. The shuttle itself took about an hour and it was 9:12am when we resumed my JMT hike at Onion Valley Trailhead.
If you are short on food or are looking for some extra food to supplement your resupply, there is a hiker box at the campground at Onion Valley Trailhead. It is said to be near the office of the campgrounds, though I didn’t look for it since we had plenty. Others on the trail had relayed to me that the manager of the campgrounds was telling people to drop by since they had so much stocked up.
- Onion Valley Trailhead to Forester Pass setup (C.11.18)
- distance: 13.4 miles
- elevation change: 4441 ft ascent & 2351 ft descent
- time: 8:34 hours with breaks (6:11 hours moving time)
The sun was well overhead cooking us as we started up those blasted switchbacks from Onion Valley Trailhead.
We retraced my steps up the 4.5 miles of incline at a even 10.7% grade. On our way, we stopped once to refill our water at a stream near Flower Lake. It was one of the several blue lakes contrasting the otherwise desert like Onion Valley.
We reached the pass in 2:35 hours from the trailhead, just before noon.
We stopped for a brief lunch at Kearsarge Pass to appreciate the views of the Bullfrog drainage below. Meanwhile, NOBOers Hotlegs and Cyclops serenade the crowd with a ukulele and vocal performance of Little Talks.
We continued to retrace my steps until the junction 0.5 miles down from the pass at a steep -15.8% grade. This is where we deviated from my way out a few days ago by taking the lower Bullfrog trail.
In another half mile over a few switchbacks at about -13.2% grade, a trail splits to the left heading toward the Kearsarge Lakes. Meanwhile, the trail back to the JMT turns right and we continued down the drainage past Bullfrog Lake at a milder grade at about -5.3% over 1.8 miles.
The clouds were gathering overhead by the time we to rejoin the JMT slightly before 1:30pm, a little further along then when I left it.
I had originally planned to start looking to set up camp from this point on. The campsite (Wenk book campsite: C.11.03) near the junction had several tents already up, perhaps in anticipation of the storm. With plenty of energy, we continued on the JMT down toward Lower Vidette Meadow Junction. The grade begins to drop aggressively at about -16.4% by first crossing an open area before switchbacking among the forest.
The skies opened up about 20 minutes and slightly over a half mile after we rejoined the JMT at the crossing of Bullfrog Creek. There were some campsites (Wenk: C.11.05) here, so I threw up my Tyvek tarp held up by hiking sticks and some rocks to provide a temporary shelter for use weather the heaviest of the storm. While we waited, I ate the rest of my sandwich from lunch now that I had more time and feeling hungrier. The rain slowed after about a half hour and we resumed our hike after filling up on water around 2:20pm. We reached the bottom of our descent at Lower Vidette Meadow Junction in another 0.6 miles.
The JMT continued to the left crossing the Vidette meadows and Bullfrog Creek once again over 0.7 miles. There are several campsites (Wenk: C.11.07-11.09) spread out in the Meadows including one with a bear box. However, they didn’t seem to appealing to me as they were quite drenched with water puddles that made me suspect possible flooding. There were also no views as the meadows were mostly blanked with trees.
We ducked under a tree at the end of the meadows for a half hour when the rain started to pick up again. We started to get a little cold and Meg said she was still feeling good, so we begin to push on with the uphills at 3:21pm through the light rain. The next section of the JMT continues along Bubbs Creek through the forest for about 3 miles at a grade of 6.2%. The continuing rain and the trail mostly snaking through the forest made it feel like a slog even though it wasn’t overly difficult.
As near the end of the forest, the rain finally relented. Through openings around the creek, we started to get views of Forester Pass.
After a crossing of Bubbs Creek, roughly 2.3 miles after Vidette Meadow, there is route that branched left off the JMT that continues up the Bubbs Creek drainage and toward Junction Pass. This is just before several campsite with a bear box (Wenk: C.11.13-14). From there, it was another mile through the forest and another water crossing, this time of Center Basin Creek.
At the end of a couple short switchbacks at the end of the forest section, I saw a couple familiar faces. It was my original trail family members Diana and Cindy! I last saw them at Purple Lake. I was glad to see them again and to be able to introduce Meg to them. While they were not fast hikers relatively to other JMTers, they had been pushing long days to cover tremendous distances each day. Not many can match their tenacity and determination. After catching up, we continued to push on toward the end of the forest just before 5pm.
The skies decided to clear and the sun decided it needed to roast us as we exited the cover of the forest. The elevation gain increased a little bit to about 9.2% over the next 1.5 miles. We passed up a couple of campsites (Wenk: C.11.16-17) as they seem to be full of campers already. We were a bit tired, but I thought perhaps we could push to the campsites just under Forester Pass at this point (Wenk: C.11.20-21) depending on how the next few looked.
As we reached another campsite (Wenk: C.11.18) at 5:46pm, it was also saturated with tents. So we continued on a few more steps. That’s when I saw more familiar faces in Jean and Mallory, who I had camped with 3 nights ago at Woods Creek. They had found plenty of great campsites on the other side of a stream the trail had started to follow with plenty of cover (Wenk: C.11.19). With them was a couple — who resupplied them and were hiking with them to the end — and two SOBO hikers who recently graduated college. I don’t remember any of their names unfortunately.
It didn’t take much for them to convince for us to call it a day and join them at camp. I was glad to finally introduce Meg to Jean and Mallory, who they had hear so much about her from me as I was missing her badly a few days ago. I was also happy to show Meg the best of my experiences on the trail in hanging out with the many awesome new friends.
While it wasn’t the ideal day I had in mind for Meg’s first day on the trail, the distance we covered was well beyond my expectations. This would continue for the rest of my JMT hike. The main thing at the end of the day was that all was right again with Meg hiking in front of me on the trail.
The last of our obstacle of the day was still waiting for us as we set up our Sierra Design Convert 2 tent. This was the same time that we last used and broke trying to set it up in gale force winds of the Lofoten Islands. Since then, Sierra Design had repaired the poles to the tent, but I never checked it before we brought it this camping adventure. As you can see below, the front pole holding up the door was missing a couple of links leading compressed door that was very low to the ground. While we can still climb into it and the most of it was fine, the front door required crawling on the ground to exit and enter. Plus, I couldn’t count on it being structurally sound to handle any extreme conditions. On a side note, Sierra Designs was great when I contacted them again after our trips and the tent again fully functional as I write this now.
As it was then, it would serve us for the rest of our JMT hike, but I’d need to figure out a new solution after I finish the JMT immediately since we would be heading to Peru for more backpacking directly afterwards.
With this in mind, I was glad of our pace for the day and the possibility of finishing earlier to solve this problem was in the back of my mind going forward.
trip report day 19 – Forester Pass setup (C.11.18) to Crabtree Meadows (C.12.17)
While our tent wasn’t 100% functional, it was fine through the night nestled among a wall of pine trees. But that was also our motivation to hike as far as our legs could take us that day. The long stretch goal was around Guitar Lake, that would also mean a possible long day making a night climb to the top of Mt. Whitney for sunrise less likely. However, we would play it by ear.
- Forester Pass setup (C.11.18) to Crabtree Meadows (C.12.17)
- distance: 16.8 miles
- elevation change: 3303 ft ascent & 3894 ft descent
- time: 9:30 hours with breaks (7:30 hours moving time)
It was a cold morning in our campsite since the sunlight doesn’t reach it until later in the day. It might have been the chilly morning that motivated to move quicker in the morning as we were ready to go around 7:40am. A second pair of hands probably helped tremendously in that too.
Our first task of the day was a 3 mile climb up to Forester Pass. The first part of the climb was at a 10% grade incline over 1.8 miles onto the bench directly below Forester Pass. The trail continues into a rocky terrain as the climb starts and crosses a stream a couple of times
before passing a couple small ponds in the distance. There is a supposit campsite here (Wenk: C.11.20), but we only saw unappealing rocky slabs or grassy areas that shouldn’t be camped on.
However the final campsite (Wenk: C.11.21) just under Forester Pass at the end of an unnamed lake with a view of Junction Peak was a nice one. I would recommend it should it the weather be amicable.
This was also the last point for water until after Forester Pass. The trail ascends more aggressively at about 14% grade to the pass over the last 1.2 miles. It first ascends a hill to the side of the pass with views of the valley that we transversed the previous day.
Then the trail cut across a sloping section of the side of the mountain
before the final switchbacks below the pass. The last switchbacks can take a bit out of you like the other pass approaches.
We reached Forester Pass at the boundary of Sequoia National Park at 9:36am after about a 2 hour hike.
We took a half hour break at the pass hanging out with all our company from the previous night.
We started down the southern side of the pass shortly after 10am.
The first 0.8 mile after the pass composed of switchbacks blasted into the steep rock wall. The trail during this section was at a decline of -12.8% grade.
At the bottom of the switchbacks is a campsite (Wenk: C.12.01) and a nice water source of Tyndall creek draining a couple of unnamed ponds into a few other unnamed lakes that the trail follows. The view back at the pass is an iconic one on the JMT displaying more of a wall like range rather than a pass.
Even though the trail descends for the next 4 miles at a pretty consistent -7.5% grade, the terrain changes dramatically. It starts off through a rocky bench passing a couple of lakes for the first 1.5 miles.
Then it becomes a green field until another crossing of Tyndall Creek. Before we reached the creek, the storm clouds started to gather again and we begun to feel rain drops on our heads.
At the bottom of our descent from Forester Pass, we reached the Tyndall Creek crossing and campsites with a bear box (Wenk: C.12.05-06) around 12:30 pm. The Tyndall Creek crossing directly on the trail would have required a ford, so we took our time to look for an alternative. We found it a little further upstream consisting of a few boulder hops. This seems to be a major junction with the Shepherd Pass trail branching off to our left directly after the crossing.
A few steps further was the Tyndall Creek junction branching off to our right this time. That trail continues to follow the Tyndall Creek into Kern Canyon. Meanwhile, we started to regain the elevation we just lost by first crossing a forested section and passing another campsite with a bear box just under Tyndall Frog Ponds (C.12.08).
Then the trail opens up to one of my favorite views down the Tyndall Creek drainage, Kern Canyon, and the wall of mountains across the way including Kern Peak and range.
The view was exemplified by the storm clouds that formed a direct split down out sightlines dividing the valley below and our climb up Bighorn Plateau.
The climb up to Bighorn Plateau from the Tyndall Creek crossing was over 1.65 miles with a grade about 5.5%, though the gain was uneven through the section. We crossed the barren looking Bighorn Plateau about 1:30pm. Bob had drawn my attention to not take this area for granted like many others pushing toward Mt. Whitney at this point, which does come into view here. And I completely agree with him in that the view from Bighorn Plateau is one of my favorite during this section of my JMT hike. They include the aforementioned range of mounts to the west and Whitney to the east. If time wasn’t an issue for us at this point and the storm that was rumbling overhead, I would have loved to spent a night here with a wide open view of the stars (Wenk: C.12.09).
From Bighorn Plateau, the JMT starts to head downhills once again at a mild -6.7% grade through a forested and slightly marshy area until Wright Creek crossing in about 2 miles. The skys beings to clear as we reached the crossing around 2:30pm. There are some campsite both before (Wenk: C.12.10) and after the crossing (Wenk: C.12.11) including some overlooking the Wallace Creek drainage toward Junction Meadow (slightly off the trail after Wenk C.12.11), which the High Sierra Trail (a West to East multi-day trek) runs through.
The JMT intersects with the High Sierra Trail after a steeper final descent of -10.8% grade over about a half mile
just before a ford of Wallace Creek.
There is a large campsite with a bearbox just after the Wallace Creek (Wenk: C.12.13) that we thought about stopping at for the day. However, the mosquitos had decided that this would be a good campsite to hang around with the wide Wallace Creek nearby. So we decided to push on a bit further. It was only 3pm anyways.
The next climb was about a 1.6 mile stretch with a mild elevation gain at about 6.0% grade, but the long day made our legs weary. It didn’t help the next section was very dry and we didn’t take the opportunity to refill our water at Wallace Creek. The indicated water crossing along the way was not running when we were there. This was followed by a 1.1 mile descent at about a -5.0% grade and another short uphill at about 8.9% grade over about a half a mile. There weren’t also many good views as the trail mainly transversed through a forest making it seem even more monotonous.
We were very happy to finally reach the Crabtree Meadow and Mt. Whitney Junction and where the the JMT turned away from the PCT trail. It was about 4:45 pm at that point.
Another 25 minutes and one mile or so later through a sandy stretch of forest, we reached the Crabtree Meadow campsite (Wenk: C.12.18). If you didn’t carry your poop bag for Mt. Whitney, they had a box for you to pick one up here. The pro-tip is just to hold it and not poop when you enter the Mt. Whitney area.
While it was about 5:10pm at this point and I had longer days on the JMT before, my legs were pretty tired as we had logged almost 17 miles. It was only Meg’s second day on the trail, so it was very impressive already.
It also occurred to us that we really didn’t stop for a proper lunch since the rain had came early today. So we decided to call it a day here even though we probably could have continued another 3 miles to Guitar Lake.
The additional line of thought was that we can go to be earlier here so we can rise even earlier the next morning to summit Whitney for sunrise. This might mean getting up around 2 am from where we were, but we’d be on a faster pace with fresh legs the next morning. So we set up tent, cooked dinner, and were ready for bed plenty early around 7pm.
trip report day 20 – Crabtree Meadows (C.12.18) to Whitney Portal
One little detail I haven’t specified yet about the Crabtree Meadows campground was that it was probably the busiest campsite on my entire hike. This is because it is at a major intersection of many backcountry permits and those setting up for Mt. Whitney. Among the many campers was also a large group (20+) of teenagers backpacking as part of an outreach program. The noise level of Crabtree Meadows was subsequently way above what I’d encountered on the rest of my hike. Trying to fall asleep early proved to be a difficult task even though we had our headphones. I was in and out of sleep for at least 2 hours before things quieted down. I don’t blame the group at all since noise with such groups should be expected, I should have chosen where to set up tent better.
So when my alarm when off at 2 am, it was a quick decision to just sleep in and get a good night of sleep. We’d figure it out when we woke up. Knowing we were ahead of our planned schedule also made the decision easier.
We ended up sleeping in the latest I had ever done on the trail. Since I still wanted to see Mt. Whitney in the morning, we planned a very short day with a possible camp as far above Guitar Lake as possible. There were said to possible spots further up. The short day and late start would also help us avoid the afternoon storms we’d seen the last couple of days on the trail as well.
- Crabtree Meadows (C.12.18) to Whitney Portal
- distance: 17.6 miles
- elevation change: 4312 ft ascent & 6624 ft descent
- time: 13:30 hours with breaks (9:00 hours moving time)
We were one of the last people to break camp that morning at 8:43am and we opted for a light breakfast since it wouldn’t be a long walk to Guitar Lake. Out of the campsite, it was a mild grade of 5.6% incline over 1.4 miles through a forest until we reached the tree line at aptly named Timberline Lake. We reached it at 9:20am. There were signs that specified no camping here at the outlet of the lake.
After rounding the Timberline Lake, the elevation gain picked up at about a 10.2% grade over the next mile before dropping slightly down to Guitar Lake. The sun beating on us directly made the hike a bit uncomfortable. Our stomach started to growl at us for only eating cliff bars for breakfast.
The terrain changed drastically as we reached the hill just before Guitar Lake. We could see people camped out already in anticipation of summiting Mt. Whitney the following morning. (Wenk: C.12.21-23)
Again, I had heard that the better camping at a smaller pond just above Guitar Lake. So we crossed Whitney Creek draining into Guitar Lake and continued uphills for another half mile at about 5.5% grade. We reached our intended campsite at 10:30am. There were plenty of campers here as well, so I guess the secret about this area is out.
Among the campers, there was a boy scout troop camped here already. This was before that large group of teenage campers would arriving and camping here as well. With our experience of trying to sleep the previous night with large groups around us, the idea of summiting Mt. Whitney and hiking out this day became a reality. The only worry would be the possible afternoon storms. So we decided to stop here, eat lunch, and see how the weather progressed before making the decision to go on. I set up my tarp to provide us a shelter from the sun and I started on lunch. My lunch was a rice and chili mix while Meg had mash potatoes.
I can see why this is such a popular campsite the still pond provides an amazing reflection of the mountains and, I would suspect, stars at night.
After a couple of hours, the clouds that were overhead seemed high and wispy — nothing like the rain clouds from our previous days. So we decided to head out just before 1pm.
About a half mile after the pond that we stopped at, there is one more campsite (Wenk: C.12.24) and the last opportunity of water before the climb up Mt. Whitney. We did find a small stream near the peak, but it isn’t something to be counted upon. This was where that large group of teenagers from the previous night ended up camping. You can see their camp to the right of the pond with the green marsh on the right edge of the picture below. The elevation gain up to this last campsite from where we stopped earlier was a 14.8% grade.
The grade for the next 2 miles until the Mt. Whitney junction would remain at about 14.9% grade as the trail switched backed up the rocky wall. However, the amazing view of the desolate bench we climbed out of dotted with the Hitchcock Lakes made the climb an enjoyable one.
Even the rock formations we passed were interesting.
Near the junction for Mt. Whitney, there are a couple of campsite without water (Wenk: C.12.25-26) for those looking to rise later to catch the sunrise. We were already in the “done” mindset so we didn’t stop at those.
We reached the junction for Mt. Whitney at 2:33pm.
We put some of our extra gear into our bear container and stacked it among the others here at the junction. However, we kept both our packs since the Mammots here were super aggressive and were known to rip open packs because of food left in them. So don’t leave any food here unless they are in a bear container or ursack.
The trail to summit Mt. Whitney continues to ascend to the ridge at about 13.5% grade before reaching it in 0.4 miles. The traverse along the ridge under the peaks of Mt. Muir and Aiguille Junior is pretty flat,
but becomes bouldery and exposed at sections. This only last for about 0.4 miles.
It’s not long before the trails starts to gain altitude again and not under the easiest of trail conditions. The ascend for the rest of 1.2 miles was at a pretty consistent grade of 11.3%. However, our pace slowed down a little bit as the attitude finally begin getting to Meg a little as we neared 14,000 ft. She had been at sea level less than 3 days ago. Meg started to have a minor nosebleed, possibly due to a combination of the altitude and dry air, but she pushed on.
As we passed under the many outcrop peaks before Mt. Whitney, there were a few spots of exposure where both side of the trail fell away. It is nowhere as bad as some people describe it. The difference in smog from all the fires was clear between the western side where we came from and eastern side toward Whitney Portal.
After passing under Keeler Needle, it was the final approach toward the Summit of Mt. Whitney. It was here that we ran into Diana and Cindy once again. They were on their way down. The had arrived at Crabtree campsite after we were already in our tents and were much better about getting up early. They informed us that there was a little stream running just ahead of us, which we were thankful for since we were starting to get low on water. More water would also help with the attitude for Meg.
The final push toward Mt. Whitney loops around the backside of the peak over a rocky terrain with views of Wales Lake, Mount Morgenson, Mount Hale, and Mount Bernard in the distance.
before a final push toward the summit.
At 4:28pm, we summited Mt. Whitney.
After taking a few pictures on the summit, we relaxed and ate some snacks. In addition, I gratefully accepted a day hiker’s lunch he didn’t want, it was a Denny’s breakfast.
We had thought about staying here until sunset, but we would have had to wait another 3 or so hours. We were further motivated to leave the summit to get away from the rudest hiker I met along the entire trail, the aforementioned a-hole in the introduction. I think he was looking to have the summit to himself as he had set his tent up in the shelter. It was his tactic of belittling other hikers that would have lead me to punch him in the face if we had stayed any longer.
An conversation I overheard him boasting to the another couple was, “You think this is high? This is nothing. I been higher in Peru.” This wasn’t nearly as bad as what he said to Meg, “You better leave now. It’s going to be dark soon. I know those guys will be ok (referring to the climbers also at the summit), but you won’t be.”
Yea, there is no way we can see in the dark. Oh wait, there is this new invention called the headlamp. Thinking about it now still ticks me off a little and I don’t know what I would have done if he had said that to me instead or even if Meg told me about it while we were still at the summit.
Either way, we started the long way down after 5pm. I was fumed about it over the next hour until I had to tell myself that people like that aren’t worth wasting my time on.
We returned to the junction at 5:52pm and repacked our bear canister. From the junction, we could see hikers gathering at the campsites here just off the trail below us getting reading for the summit hike for sunrise.
My last uphills on the JMT followed the junction as the trail gained the Trail Crest in 0.14 miles at a gradient of 15.4%.
Then came the first set of never ending switchbacks down to Trail Camp (Wenk: C13.01-02) with a gradient of -14.5% over 2.1 miles. Looming over the switchbacks was Mt. Whitney and the many peaks along the range.
There was a bit of snow still left behind around the trail, but not directly on it. However, as we got closer to Trail Camp, the trail itself became mostly a stream from all the snow melt.
After Trail Camp, the trail flattens out briefly allowing us one last look back at the wall of mountains we came down from, though Mt. Whitney is already out of sight. It was 7:10pm by the time we pass Trail Camp.
the trail starts to follow the Lone Pine Creek, crossing it a couple of times, down the drainage.
The next section is another 2.1 miles at a -14.4% grade ending at Outpost Camp. We met up once again with Diana and Cindy on our way down. It is fitting that we would all finish together at the same night since they were the first members of my tramily I met at the backpacker’s campground at Tuolumne meadows. After sharing some candy, we powered on.
Before Outpost Camp, we passed by a cool view of Mirror Lake with the Inyo mountains in the background. I would say the campsite above Mirror Lake would be my choice to camp in the future (Wenk: C.13.05), but the idea of a hotel bed and hot shower drove up ahead on this day.
By the time we reached Outpost Camp (Wenk: C.13.06), it was 8:27pm and dark. It seemed to be a popular campsite with was quite the crowd there.
After a half mile of marshy and somewhat flooded trail, we were on the last 3.5 mile of the JMT descending at a -11.2% grade. Like Onion Valley, the switchbacks at the trailhead seemed endless and unnecessary. It was worse as we could see the lights of cars in the parking lot only to have to continuously wind down the mountain.
Along the way, we crossed the Lone Pine Creek once again and near the end before hiking through a forested area. Then after a couple sets of endless switchbacks, we crossed the North Fork Lone Pine Creek. Directly after the last crossing was the junction for the Iceberg Lake Trail. This would be the direction for the mountaineering route to summit Mt. Whitney.
After one last long switchback, we finally reached Whitney Portal and the end of my JMT hike at 10:02pm.
There was a group of people waiting at the trailhead. Most were waiting for friends to finish their hike and driving them back to civilization. This including Diana’s friend, which we informed him they were on their way. Two of the people were looking to hitch to town after finishing the High Sierra Trail, so we gave them a lift.
We didn’t linger long at Whitney Portal, we pretty much just directly walked to our car and left. As I alluded to in the introduction, I didn’t have any overwhelming feeling other than just happy to be done with all the switchbacks at the end. So that was that.
trip report – getting out via Las Vegas
After dropping off the hitchhikers in Lone Pine, I started to look at housing options for us. Cindy and Diana planned to drive to Bakersfield, which was very much out of our way. We instead book a night at the Comfort Inn in Lone Pine (tripadvisor) with Choice points that we had bought as part of Daily Getaways (OMAAT). One night cost us 25000 Choice points, which we bought for USD$0.00514 per point making the cost USD$128.5 total — the cash cost for one night was over USD$200 per night.
The next day after eating our continental breakfast, we drove to town looking for tent repair options that turned out to be unfruitful. In the end, we decided to send our Sierra Design four season tent home and figure something out in Las Vegas, where we’d be flying out of.
We shipped our extra equipment home via USPS for USD$46.53. To do so, we first had to find a box. The grocery store in Lone Pine had plenty they were throwing out in their parking lot. Since it was a Sunday, the only USPS store that was open was in Keeler, CA. Luckily it was on our way to Las Vegas, so we were able to drop it off on our way out. Google maps has it in the wrong location, but a comment about the place had it “close to Franklin, and on Railroad Ave.” Before we did, we stopped by the Alabama Hills Cafe (tripadvisor) once again to carry out a couple of breakfast burritos for lunch.
Our drive to Las Vegas took us through Death Valley. From high to low, though I believe there is a trek going the opposite direction (thehikinglife).
Our first destination in Vegas was the REI, where we picked up new shoes for Meg, a belt for me, and temporarily bought a tent for our continuing adventure in Peru.
We had 2 nights and a full day in Vegas. For our housing, we spent 35000 IHG points to stay at the Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Desert Club Resort (tripadvisor). It was pretty much a 1 bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer in the unit and free parking. It was probably too much points for what we needed, but doing laundry was very nice and I was pretty tired of trying to find a place. Our second night we spent in the Harrah’s for USD$77.1 including the resort fee. Again, it qualified us for the second half of Wyndham’s Mastercard promotion (drofcredit) to receive 7500 extra points for a stay.
We spent our day relaxing in our hotels catching up on the world and planning for Peru. We did walk around the strip and of course we did check out a buffet, the Wicked Spoon (tripadvisor) in the Cosmopolitan Casino. We got a BOGO voucher by signing up for their gambler’s award card. I ate sooooo much ice cream.
The next morning we headed to the airport and had uneventful flights out to JFK via St. Louis for our flight to Peru for our originally planned hiking adventure.
The last section of my JMT hike was spent mostly in Sequoia National Park, though it did start and end in Inyo National Forest and briefly crossed into Kings Canyon National Park. The time the trail spent in Sequoia National Park seemed to be merely a glimpse of the park as a whole.
It was such a brief experience of the park itself that I would want to go back to hike some of the other trails within Sequoia National Park. Specifically, I would look to do the High Sierra Trail (NPS) that transverses the Sequoia National Park west to east. Alternatively with more time, the big SEKI loop (Doing Miles), which combines Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park together, would appeal to me.
Based on my experience, this last section of the JMT would rank just behind the section between Lyell Canyon and Red’s Meadow (part 3). Again, both would fall behind my favorite section between Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) and Onion Valley Trailhead (part 5).
Overall, I did enjoy this section plenty and everything was normal again following Meg on the trail. We were able to enjoy the company of friends I’d made on the trip on our first night, but our second was among a very large and busy campsite where hikers mainly kept to themselves. With so many other hiker on different permits, the JMT social culture became less prevalent unless you were specifically planned with others on the JMT. We didn’t really plan and that lead us to cover the section much faster than I had anticipated. In the end, it was more of a typical backpacking experience on popular trails.
The total distance that we covered between Onion Valley Trailhead and Whitney Portal was 47.8 miles with 12,056 ft ascent and 12,869 ft descent.
My trip total on this trip including my 4 days in Yosemite hiking with friends was 252.5 miles with 51,899 feet gain and 54,213 feet loss in elevation. All my measurements were done with the Garmin 62stc.
ratings (1-5; link for detailed breakdown)
views: 4. Similar to the last section of my hike, high barren granite terrain are the major theme of the section, though a large chunk of the hike were in the valley and among the forests. Of course summiting Mt. Whitney is what most would think of as the crowning highlight of the section, but I personally enjoyed the views on the way to the summit more than the summit itself. Between the layer of mountains in the distance,
the Hitchcock Lakes among the walls of rock,
and the more interesting boulder filled trail,
I would say that I enjoyed the process more than the end.
The unsung favorite of this section of Bighorn Ridge, and I’m thankful Bob foreshadowed it for me. Looking west to the mountain ranges from here is plenty of motivation for me to pick up the High Sierra Trail at some point.
Forest Pass was the other iconic view of this section and it was indeed satisfying aesthetically, though not the most on this section.
Lastly, the consensus underrated portion of this section, as I’ve seen and agree with, is that hike over Kearsarge Pass and I would extend that to the beginning of the drop into Vidette Meadows.
difficulty: 2. Our pace on this section was way faster than I had anticipated. After a 13 mile first day, we were back to averaging about 17 miles for the next 2 days. The elevation gains for each of the day was 4441 ft, 3303 ft, and 4312 ft with greater total loss overall. So we did not take it easy as I thought we’d be doing. I don’t take our fatigue from the longer days into my difficulty rating since that is a personal choice and you should walk your own walk.
The most difficult aspect regarding this section was again from exposure to the sun during the steepest climbs with the greatest gradients, those were the approach to Forester Pass and from Guitar Lake to Mt. Whitney summit. I finally did a pass in the morning regarding Forester Pass so it wasn’t too hot, but I did again drench my cloth for the climb up Mt. Whitney. The additional difficulty for Mt. Whitney may be the higher attitude as Meg felt it a little bit coming from sea level a couple of days before we summited. It is the same worry NOBO hikers will have if they decide to summit.
The downhills from Forester Pass and Mt. Whitney weren’t too badly graded and plenty of work was put in my the rangers in the form of many switchbacks. Again like at Onion Valley Trailhead, it was almost too many leading to the exit at Whitney Portal.
The afternoon rain we encountered were a bit of an annoyance, but nothing like the hail and thunderstorms I encountered in the early portion of my JMT hike. We were lucky for a clear day when we headed up Mt. Whitney in the afternoon. Weather can definitely be a problem in this section, especially the final approach to Mt. Whitney where the trail becomes more boulder filled. The smog from nearby fires were pretty bad though once we were on the Inyo/valley side as we headed for the Whitney Portal exit.
We didn’t find flies a problem at all on this section with the most by Wallace Creek. The rain might have helped in this regard.
technical: 2. Again, the JMT is well marked and traveled. Navigation wise, the trail is pretty clear and junctions are well signed. I’d recommend have a trail map on your phone at least or Guthooks.
In term of technical skills, is a minor component that made me decide to boost the score up to a 2. There is some minor scrambling on the final 2 mile approach to the summit of Mt. Whitney. With the exposure and altitude, this may require more of a technical aptitude. However, avid hikers may consider this to just be a rating of 1.
There were two crossings that could possibly be tricky in this section. The first was at Tyndall Creek where we had to look up stream to cross over some rocks without having to ford it. The second was Wallace Creek where we did have to ford, but it was wide and slow moving. With higher snow season or earlier in the season, caution may be needed here.
4 thoughts on “trip report: John Muir Trail, August 2018 – part 6, Onion Valley Trailhead to Whitney Portal”
This makes my heart so happy!!!!!!! -Mallory
I’m glad you enjoyed it. I also enjoyed reading your perspective of the hike from your write up on Medium. Maybe you’ll want to backpack again at some point now that you are a few month removed for it. 🙂
Hope you are doing well and let us know if you ever want to go for a hike.
Actually my mom and I are backpacking near Horseshoe Meadows and Mt. Langley this summer. Not sure how I got roped into that one, but I’m looking forward to being back in the mountains if you can believe it! I absolutely would love going on a hike. I’m around most of the summer, so we can definitely set something up! Hope you are doing well.
lol, I’m glad you are heading back out for another trip. I imagine that with your experience now and a shorter itinerary than the JMT will provide for a different feel all together.