Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
South of Forester to .5 mile past Guitar Lake
Miles: 15.6 Elevation Gain: 2635′
Trip Miles: 197.1 Elevation Loss: 3245′
Max elevation: 12320 ft
Min elevation: 10515 ft
Total climbing: 3074 ft
Our exposed, high elevation camp got cold at night, but we were toasty all bundled up in the blue mansion. Sadly, though, morning came and we had to leave the warmth for the frosty morning air. The thermometer read 34º when I first looked at it and there was frost on the lid of my bear can, so it definitely got chilly over night. We were still in the shadow of Diamond Mesa to the east, so we couldn’t rely on the sun to warm us up just yet. We set about our morning duties and before long we were on the trail heading to the glow of the sunlight.
The first 3 or so miles were in some of the most beautiful terrain we’d seen on the trip. It was a wide open expanse of grassy, rolling hills littered with boulders. The sky was blue and the sun was streaming down, warming us. Peaks on the horizon all around gleamed in the sunlight. Streams coursed throughout the landscape. In the direction we were headed, pockets of small pine forests grouped in the lower lands. It was Sierra scenery at its finest.
Heading down the gentle slope, we eventually made it into the trees and crossed Tyndall creek. Eventually we emerged from the trees into the expansive Bighorn Plateau. Off to the right of the trail sat a peaceful, round pond in the middle of the wide open expanse of the plateau.
The rest of the day the trail was pretty easy. It sloped gently up and downhill, but there were no long, switchbacked passes to climb today. The final part of the day was the ascent up toward Guitar Lake. After passing the Crabtree Meadow cutoff, but before the hill to Timberline Lake, the trail comes right up against Whitney Creek. This day had significantly less water than the other days, which is to say there wasn’t a stream or a lake every 10 feet or so. We took the opportunity to set our packs down, have a drink and eat some lunch.
While we were eating, as often happened in these days since Mather Pass, Brian trotted up the trail. He had made it to Tyndall Creek and the trees the prior evening. Seeing that today would be a relatively short and easy 15 miles, he slept in and spotted us passing his site in the morning. We told him that we’d passed some hikers going the opposite direction who had summited Whitney that morning and stayed at Guitar Lake the night before. They said it had become quite the tent city with all the people using it as a base camp to climb the peak. He mentioned that there were a couple small lakes just beyond Guitar on the next plateau up that would make for a less crowded campsite. Brian agreed that, like us, he’d probably aim to make that his destination. We knew he was getting low on food, so we gave him some peanut butter, a swig of our lemonade, and a few jolly ranchers before taking off.
Our break over, we left Brian at the stream and started up the hill toward Timberline Lake. Passing there, it was a quick uphill to Guitar Lake, Whitney greeting us in the background. Sure enough, already at 2pm, there were a few groupings of several tents, perhaps 15 or 20 total. Assuming there’d be even more people arriving that afternoon, we agreed the small lakes were worth checking out.
Beyond Guitar and up a hill those little lakes sat perched looking down on Guitar. There were 2 guys, each with a tent, on one side of the little lake, so we went to the other side and picked out a nice, flat spot. It was a beautiful 75º in the afternoon, but this exposed area 11,700′ up would definitely get cold at night. In the meantime, though, we enjoyed the early end to the day.
After leisurely setting up camp, we both jumped into the icy lake to wash off. We hadn’t had much of a chance to do laundry for the last few days, so we rinsed off some of our clothes and set them on the rocks in the sun to dry. Brian eventually joined us and set up his tent not far from ours. The rest of the afternoon was spent laying around the campsite and snacking.
We planned to start hiking by 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning in order to get to the summit by sunrise, so an early night was in order. Carlos and I ate dinner by 5:00 and then set about prepping ourselves and our gear for night. Since MTR, we had done extra miles each day and we had gotten a full day ahead of schedule, leaving two extra meals in our bear can. We tried to pawn one off on Brian, knowing he was low on food, but all he ended up accepting was a pro bar and more jolly ranchers.
Even though the sun still hung high above the horizon, we popped into our tent and tried to get to sleep as early as possible. Last thing I did before slipping off to sleep was to set my watch’s alarm for 1:30am. And with that, we spent our last night on John Muir Trail.