High Sierra Trail & John Muir Trail, Segment One: 103.2 Miles, +22,700'
August 3, 2012: Crescent Meadow To Hamilton Lake, 15.5 Miles, +3,300'
Due to the anticipation of day one, I got a restless night of sleep. We woke up at 5:00 am and had some oatmeal and coffee. After breaking camp we drove a short ways to the Crescent Meadow trailhead aka the start of the High Sierra Trail. It had been a great three days with my wife but it was time to bid farewell for the next six days, it is always difficult leaving her on these trips. After our good bye's, I was on the trail at 0730. The weather started off nice, not too hot or cold and minimal cloud cover. I enjoyed walking through the last of the Giant Sequoia's and into the open chaparral covered south slopes of Alta Peak. The view to the Great Western Divide was well, great. I filled up my water bottles at Mehrten Creek and headed onwards. The 2011-2012 winter was below average and reports suggested low water levels throughout the Sierra, but the creeks flowing along the High Sierra Trail provided plenty of water. I made good time to Buck Creek at the ten mile mark. This has been night one of the High Sierra Trail when I have backpacked with Judy and it made me reminisce a great deal, ten miles in, only three hundred to go :o.
As the day wore on the clouds built darker and darker overhead, this really spurned me on at a very swift rate, setting up camp in the rain is no fun, but sitting in a dry tent listening to a light rain while reading a book is not bad at all. I made it to Hamilton Lake at 1430 Hours, I was relieved to make it high and dry. I set up camp and went for a swim, it was very humid which made for some sweaty hiking. I had several neighbors but the lake was rather uncrowded, nothing like I was used to up here. I relaxed the rest of afternoon and read my nook. It started to rain but never caused any problems. After some Turkey Tetrazzini I was ready for bed, one day down, eighteen to go.......
|Wonderful Wife Seeing Me Off|
|Hamilton Lake From My Campsite|
|Eagle Scout Peak Bathed In Afternoon Sunshine|
|Deer Eating Someones Laundry :o|
August 4, 2012: To Kern Hot Springs, 21.3 Miles, +4,100'
What a night. I woke up at midnight to howling winds, my best guess is forty mile per hour gusts. My camp was fine, but my neighbors had their issues with missing clothing that blew into the lake and very loose and noisy rain flies that needed to be secured. The winds carried on for three hours and subsided, the rain also stayed away for the night. I woke up again, this time for good at 0500, today was going to be a big mileage day. The plan was to push all the way to the Kern Hot Springs so I needed to get going early. The weather was warm and balmy as I started on the trail at 0700. I made good time on this beautiful stretch of trail up to Precipice Lake then the Kaweah Gap. There were big puffy billowing clouds over the Kaweah's. I have this terrible fear of lightning as do many and did not want to get caught up high above the trees if the weather should turn for the worse. I proceeded down the Big Arroyo with one eye on the weather and another on the incredible scenery all around me. To the right I had Eagle Scout Peak and the Great Western Divide, to the left was mighty Black Kaweah, behind me was Mt. Stewart and Triple Divide Peak and straight ahead was the drainage for all these majestic mountains; The Big Arroyo. I wish I had more time to explore which brings me to another thought that was dancing about my brain most of this trip, this itinerary is too aggressive. Physically I felt great, mentally I felt rushed.
I made it to the shoulder of Mt. Kaweah, elevation 10,600' at noon. I had a snack and prepared for the long downhill journey to the Kern River. By now the clouds had overtaken the sun and I was moving faster and faster as a result. Heavy cloud cover takes away most photography opportunities and this was become a bummer in the afternoon in the days that followed. I took the trail along the Chagoopa Plateau as opposed to the Moraine Lake trail because I had never been that way (the Moraine Lake trail is far better in my opinion). I had planned on getting to camp around 1800 but made it at 1540. I picked a site along this beautiful stretch of the Kern River and set up just before the rain started which is a great thing. Five geologists would be my neighbors for the night. The rain let up about 1645 and I took the chance to rinse off in the cold river. There is an awesome Hot Spring that I opted not to use (sentimental reasoning, only with the wife I said) right next to the river, one of the nicest places in all the Sierra to be. I made some dinner and got ready to relax when the lightning and thunder started. Pretty good bit of excitement for about an hour. As the sun set for the day so did the storm. I could see stars before bed and again I hoped the worse was over.......wrong!!!!
|Amazing Trail Construction|
|Onward Kaweah Gap|
|My Best Ansel Adams Attempt At Precipice Lake|
|Nine Lakes Basin|
|My Good Friend The Thunderstorm Brewing|
August 5, 2012: To Crabtree Meadows, 16.4 Miles, +4,300' (adjusted 20.0 Miles, +4,800')
Woke up to a frosty chilly morning, but I slept really well and was ready to make the push to Crabtree. The walk up the Kern River is fantastic, it is a six mile walk to Junction Meadow but it is a great walk. Towering cliffs on both sides with rushing water to the left. The hiking gets considerable steeper after Junction Meadow but I really enjoy the views, especially the vista of the Kaweah's as I gained elevation. The Kaweah's are definitely a place I need to come back to and spend some time peakbagging. I filled up my water bottles and cleaned up at the Wright Creek junction. It was here that I met Carl and Chuck. They were backpacking the High Sierra Trail and appeared okay, they just mentioned that they were going really slow because Chuck wasn't feeling well. They stopped to get water and a break, I wished them luck as I pushed on towards the John Muir Trail/Wallace Creek junction. The weather was getting interesting again which spurned me on hastily as I did not want to get caught in the storm. I made it to the Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station camping area at 1415 Hours. I was able to set up a dry camp which always makes me happy. I went over to chat with Ranger Laura, mainly to get a weather update which wasn't favorable and would unfortunately become accurate. I relaxed the rest of the afternoon reading my nook and taking photographs. I was all set to tackle Mt. Whitney in the morning. Seemed like a good day to me........
At 1830 Hours I heard a gentleman come through my camp frantically looking for the ranger. I came out of my tent and recognized the gentleman as Carl from the Wright Creek crossing earlier in the day. He told me his friend (Chuck) was having problems on the trail about three miles north, he thought it might be a stroke. I walked him over to the Ranger Station and he briefed Ranger Laura. He said Chuck wasn't holding down food for about three days, was very weak, had slurred speech and drool coming from his mouth. Ranger Laura quickly wrote everything down while simultaneously grabbing overnight gear and emergency supplies, it was an impressive response to a situation that caught everyone off guard. Ranger Laura radioed the National Park Dispatch at Ash Mountain Station on the west side of the range and just like that a rescue was under way. Their (Ranger Laura and Dispatch) plan was to get Ranger Laura to the victim and evaluate the need for an air rescue.
Ranger Laura asked me if I would help her with this rescue mission and I gladly accepted, I am a believer in karma and boy was this a chance to get some brownie points. Ranger Laura gave me a pack of emergency supplies and I took some of my personal effects in case we weren't back to camp anytime soon. On the way through camp Ranger Laura corralled a brother/sister team to help out. They gladly accepted and the five of us (Carl was in tow) were off on the JMT northbound towards Wallace Creek. Carl had reported that Chuck was three miles from Crabtree. Ranger Laura flew down the trail faster than any of us, it was tiring just to keep up. We reached Chuck at 1930 Hours, luckily Carl had overestimated the distance to his friend and it was only a mile and a half. Ranger Laura did her evaluation and notified dispatch that she recommended a helicopter rescue. She determined Chuck did not have a stroke or heart attack but was suffering from dehydration and the effects of three days of vomiting. Carl did have some slurred speech but no drooping, just plain out of energy. I was amazed he made it as far as he did. Turns out he is a sixty one year old cancer survivor on his first outing into the Sierra Nevada since recovery. The helicopter was en route to Sandy Meadow about half mile from our location. We hooked up Chuck to oxygen and we hiked him down to the meadow. I got to carry the oxygen tank for my part. Chuck was in good spirits and grateful for the help. The helicopter arrived at 2015 Hours just ahead of dusk. It was actually a beautiful sunset in a beautiful meadow. I am still amazed at the speed and coordination of the rescue. Ranger Laura is a true professional and us backpackers are incredibly lucky for her services, in fact all the back country rangers are awesome at what they do.
We all hiked back to camp and arrived at 2100 Hours. Carl was unable to get a ride out and would have to walk himself out the next day. Ranger Laura thanked the brother/sister combo and myself for the help and I was fast asleep by 2200. What a day. I ended up at 20.0 Miles and +4800' for the day. (I later found out that Chuck was making a full recovery and doing good).
|Red Kaweah On Climb Out Of The Kern River|
|The Steep Cliffs Of The Kern Canyon|
|Last Glimpse Of The Kern River Canyon|
|High Above Wallace Creek|
August 6, 2012: To Mt. Whitney & Back To Crabtree Meadow, 15.4 Miles, +4,200'
I had almost forgotten all about the weather when I woke up at 0600, but a quick peak out revealed building clouds over the Sierra Crest. I quickly made my breakfast, packed my bag and headed off at 0618 exactly. I felt like a feather hiking up the trail with just my rain jacket, camera and snacks. The higher up I hiked the nicer the weather became. By the time I reached Guitar Lake it was clear and beautiful. The views on the climb up the long switchbacks to the Whitney Trail/JMT junction are some of the best you will find anywhere. The Kaweah's, Mt. Hitchcock, Mt. Young & Mt. Hale, Kern River, Great Western Divide and many more. What an incredible vista, makes the long climb go by fast. I reached the junction and kept on going towards Mt. Whitney, I was propelled on by the beautiful weather. I started to get hope that the weather was going to be like this for the rest of the trip ***spoiler alert, it was going to get epic bad later in the trip :(.
I reached the summit of Mt. Whitney at 1018 Hours, exactly four hours from camp. This was my twentieth time standing on the summit and it felt good. The summit also marked the completion of the High Sierra Trail and the begin of my northward journey on the John Muir Trail. The weather on the summit was perfect, no threat of thunderstorms, warm, no wind. I spent a solid two hours plus on the summit staring off into the vast sea of peaks and my upcoming northbound journey. I was able to get cell service and call Judy which was great. We chatted about this and that and made plans for her to pick me up two days later for my resupply and zero day. Good times indeed.
I headed back down to Crabtree feeling pretty good. I passed a number of JMT folk about to complete their southbound trek and congratulated them. As I neared Guitar Lake I stopped to chat with a young couple who were lost, they had climbed Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineers Route and instead of descending the main trail, they descended west until I caught up to them. They were without map, compass or a GPS. I gave them the bad news and back up they went. I relaxed some more at Guitar Lake, took some photos and a nap. I arrived back at camp in good spirits until I realized someone had taken my solar charger that I had left out to charge while I was gone. I looked all over the place for about an hour, I guess thieves are all around us, everywhere!!! There was also another helicopter rescue taking place. An eight year old boy scout had a severe case of altitude sickness and needed to be airlifted out. He ended up being okay too I was later told. So, a great sunny day sans the thieves :).
|Early Morning Light On The Great Western Divide|
|Guitar Lake Basin|
|Rock Towers On The Whitney Crest|
|HST Ends, JMT Begins|
|Mt. Williamson & Mt. Russell|
|Enjoying My 20th Summit Of Mt. Whitney|
|Looking North To Tomorrows Journey|
|Mt. Whitney From Timberline Lake|
August 7, 2012: To Center Basin, 18.9 Miles, +4,000'
Woke up at 0530 feeling pretty good. The skies were clear and I was ready to make the move north on the JMT. I packed up my camp and had one last look for the solar charger, nada. I made my way north under beautiful skies. I bid farewell to Mt. Whitney on top of the Bighorn Plateau. The views in all directions were immense, the Great Western Divide, Mt. Barnard, Mt. Tyndall and many others. I passed a few JMTers and chatted about conditions. I stopped for a nice long lunch break at Tyndall Creek having chicken tortilla soup and a fruit smoothie. A few clouds were building but nothing terrible looking yet. The next objective was Forester Pass at 13,200', the highest pass on this trip. I have been over the pass several times but never coming at it from the south and I must say, it seemed more difficult this way. The entire trail takes on a different personality going northbound which made everything seem new. The climb up is a beauty, the higher you climb the better the views get. The view from Forester Pass itself is one of the best there is. The Kern River drainage to the south and the mighty Kings River to the north. Rain and snow melt take very different paths depending on what side of the pass they fall, I am always intrigued by such things.
I had a snack and took a bunch of photographs before heading down. Within half an hour the skies had turned dark and ominous. A thunderstorm had built to my southwest and was moving towards me. I heard my first thunderclap at 12,500', far from treeline and safety, nothing to do but lower your head, swiften your pace and pray. I made really fast time down into the trees around Center Basin and set up my camp in a hurry. I had just secured the rainfly on my tent as it started to rain. For about an hour I listened as the T-Storm raged overhead. It wasn't too bad as I was dry and safe in the trees, another weather bullet dodged. The storm dissipated around 1830 hours and I was able to have dinner outside my tent and do some camp chores. I had one neighbor for the night but I never did see them, they went to sleep early. I finished up my day with a few chapters from my Star Wars book and hit the sack. Tomorrow was going to be an early start so I could get up and over Kearsarge Pass and down to my beautiful bride. My zero day started tomorrow afternoon and I couldn't wait........
|Early Morning Light On The Kaweah's|
|The Great Western Divide From The Bighorn Plateau|
|The Kaweah's From The Bighorn Plateau|
|Heading North To Forester Pass|
|Looking North From Forester Pass|
|Headwaters Of Bubbs Creek & The King River|
|Exiting Sequoia National Park & The Kern River & Entering Kings Canyon & The Kings River|
|University Peak & Mt. Bradley|
|And The Storm|
|A Familiar Scene|
|Junction Peak From Camp|
August 8, 2012: To Onion Valley Trailhead, 12.2 Miles, +2,300'
Alarm went off at 0430 and I was excited to get going until I got out of the tent and felt the rain drops. Cloudy skies and rain, oh boy. I packed up my camp in a light rain and prepared for the worst with my rain cover, jacket and pants. The first hour down the Bubbs Creek drainage was by headlamp, by first light the clouds began to break and the rain stopped. Within half hour it was completely clear and beautiful. I got some amazing reflections off Bullfrog Lake as I pushed towards Kearsarge Pass. The entire area was bathed by golden sunshine, it was truly a great place to be, witnessing all this grandeur. The high passes in the Sierra Nevada provide quite a physical challenge in getting to them but the visual reward makes it well worth it and Kearsarge Pass is well worth it. It is one of my favorite east side passes. The views are amazing, particularly looking west to Mt. Brewer. It is one of my favorite climbs and a beauty of a mountain to gaze upon, very inspiring.
From the top of the pass I had five miles to the trailhead. I made really good time down the east side and before too long was back in the trees. By 0930 the thunder clouds had started to build in the northwest but at least for today I wasn't interested as I could look down and see the parking lot. I spotted off to the right of the parking lot a vehicle that I confirmed later to be my wife. Within an hour I was at the trailhead and was greeted by a big hug and kiss and it felt good, this was also a clear indicator she missed me, normally I couldn't get anywhere near her smelling like I did :o. She also brought along a cooler of fresh fruit and ice cold soda which completely hit the spot.
|Early Morning Light On Mt. Brewer|
|Alpine Lake Reflections|
|East Vidette Reflected Off Bullfrog Lake|
|Mt. Brewer Reflected Off Bullfrog Lake|
|A Welcome Sight|
|One Of Three Segments Complete, Zero Day Never Sounded So Good|
August 8, 9 & 10, 2012: Zero Day/Days
The next two days were simply magical. I have to give all the credit in the world to my awesome wife. Not only was this my physical and mental break from the trail, August 9th happened to be my birthday. All the stars aligned for the perfect couple of days. I would not have been able to complete this trip without this time off the trail with my wife. I owe it all to Judy, Gracias Mi Amor, Te Amo, I was really touched by all that she did for me :)
We stayed two nights in Bishop and as mentioned before at the Vagabond Inn. Laundry, shower, lunch at Erik Schats, banama split at Denny's, happy hour drinks, chinese food, pool, jacuzzi, late night cake from Denny's, cinnamon crisps from Taco Bell and that was all on the eighth :)
My birthday is August 9th and I was greeted in the morning by a happy birthday song and gifts. I had sent a spot message when my solar charger was stolen and one of my gifts was a new and improved solar charger :). We had lunch at Raymonds deli and walked about the town. It was hot and humid in town and very stormy looking up high in the mountains. Maybe it will clear out soon (it didn't). While we were out and about I got the idea to take some pizza up with me on my return to the trail the next day, thank goodness for the Little Caesars in K-Mart :). We relaxed the rest of the day in the pool and jacuzzi. I repacked my backpack with fresh food, clothing and other supplies. I sent back a few things that were not needed, mainly deet and sun screen. The dry season wiped out the mosquitos and the thunderstorms had wiped out the sun so far. We walked over to the delicious Chinese restaurant for my birthday dinner then drove up the street to the casino for a little fun (no luck on the slots). The day was capped off with some birthday carrot and chocolate cake and as a bonus, the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard, what a day.
We awoke the next day at 0500 with an early drop off in mind. I did a weather check and to my dismay there were thunderstorms forecast everyday for the next ten days...wtf. My hope was the weather folk were wrong or the system would change for the better. We packed up our stuff, checked out of the motel and grabbed a McDonald's coffee and oatmeal to go. We then worked our way back to Independence and up to Onion Valley. It was tough to say goodbye, I really did have a wonderful time and did not want it to end.