Mt Whitney Backpack Trip – Day 2 – 9/15/11 – Rock Creek to Guitar Lake– 11.2 Miles
The inside of a fuschia tent at sunrise is a religious experience. The almost-full moon cast a spotlight on our campsite during the night, but the morning’s first rays lit up the walls of my little pink house like stained glass windows in a cathedral. (Okay, maybe that’s too much metaphor – John Mellencamp, anyone?) I lay there enjoying the glow for nearly an hour before the sound of rustling from other parts of camp told me to get moving.
The low overnight temperature was 35 degrees, a pleasant surprise. I slept very comfortably with my silk liner in my sleeping bag, long underwear tops and bottoms, one pair of socks and a fleece head wrap. The silk liner was the trick, I think. Because it wasn’t too cold we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then got down to packing. Today was my turn to carry the bear canister. I solved the dilemma of how to fit this large hard plastic object into my pack by lining it with a clean plastic garbage bag (always carry a few) and stuffing my sleeping bag, stuff sack, silk liner and hand/toe warmers into it. Then I slid the canister down into my backpack and stuffed the rest of my gear in around it. Dolores took over the two backpacking stoves and fuel that I had carried yesterday, plus my sleeping pad, so that I had room for everything else, and my net increase in weight was about a pound.
We left camp at about 9:15, in no hurry because we anticipated less than 10 miles for the day (wrong). Within a half mile, we hit our first “what up?” at an unexpected wet crossing. After scouting in vain for a place to rock hop across, we plunged in. It took a while for four of us to make the crossing – removing boots/socks, careful steps, drying off, putting on boots/socks – and I took advantage of the time to adjust the bear canister a little higher in my pack, much more comfortable.
Jeff as Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine: “What, Me Worry?”
A taste of our scenery banquet today:
Mount Anna Mills
Mount Guyot, named for the same fellow as our Mount Guyot in the Great Smoky Mountains (Arnold G. got around)
Sequoia trees? Somebody help me out. Anyway, they were huge and straight and majestic and I felt like a tiny insignificant creature walking among them. (Editor's note: foxtail pines)
Yes, it’s real
Our first climb went up Guyot Pass, an 800-foot elevation gain, tough going but good switchbacks to the pass. I slowed my pace way down and settled into a rhythm for the rest of the day. It’s a mind game to become one with the backpack, cinch the straps up tight and regard it as part of you as you step up, down, over and around objects.
At the top of Guyot Pass
As you may guess, we had joined the stream of pilgrims on our way to Mt. Whitney. The couple that took our photo at Guyot Pass was planning to summit tomorrow, too. We also met two hilarious New Zealand fellows on a trek celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their first summit. That first time was on September 11, 2001.
A group of fish and game employees were hiking in the opposite direction; we met them at the pass just before Crabtree Meadows. Answering questions about the trail and what to expect ahead, they warned that the Mt. Whitney Trail down to Whitney Portal is quite steep and hard on the knees. They also advised not to go past Guitar Lake looking for a campsite tonight because there are no level areas, only rocks. In this photo Jeff looks skeptical (and it turned out he was right, those guys were not correct. Oh well…)
Beyond the second pass suddenly the mountains were up close. Dark clouds stayed on the horizon, but we didn’t hear any thunder all day. Descending into Crabtree Meadows – what do you suppose this gate is for?
Crabtree Meadows was a particularly beautiful section of this incredibly beautiful trail, criss-crossed by flowing creeks, huge expanses of green grasses, surrounded by mountains and imposing rock formations.
A dry crossing this time
Last chance to pick up a “WAG bag” – love the instruction on the box, “please do not sit here.”
Jeff's photography skills are so much better than mine, it's hard to select just a few to give an idea of what we were seeing, but here goes:
The rest of the hike to Guitar Lake was longer than anticipated (surprise), a steady uphill with lots of stone steps. The lake is in a stunning setting, ringed by bare mountains on all sides, piles of rocks beside the placid water, no trees...and very little privacy. Campers were already set up but it did not feel crowded. The couple we met at Guyot Pass arrived soon after we did. It was well before 5:00 p.m., early based on our recent experience, but it was breezy and definitely chilly so we got right to work.
Checking out tent spots at Guitar Lake
Guitar Lake (Jeff’s photo)
Home sweet home again (Jeff’s photo)
Jeff’s setup (Jeff’s photo)
Pause for reflection
See my pink tent?
Tomorrow we’re climbing up that rock wall
We all treated water using Dolores’ SteriPEN, filling up for tomorrow’s hiking and all our cooking needs. We set up stoves and cooked supper in a protected area near the rocks. The temperature dropped quickly and we were ready to give it up by 7:00 p.m. with some daylight left. Then Dolores produced a titanium flask (a gift from her kids) with Amaretto and we had a sip to warm us on our way to our tents. I know lots of people that carry a nip of wine or peppermint schnapps or bourbon, but Amaretto is my new favorite.
Inside my tent, I wrote notes about the day, trying to push away my nervousness about tomorrow’s cold, steep climb. I knew I would gut it out because the car is at the end of the trail, but I ruminated on why I do this crazy thing called hiking. At the time I didn’t have a good answer. Carolyn and I both said that we’re taking a break from backpacking after this…until the next awesome trip gets planned.
Sunset at Guitar Lake (Jeff's photo)
“Hiking takes more head than heel.” ~Emma 'Grandma' Gatewood, at age 67 the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (1955)