Day 19: Tyndall Creek to Guitar Lake (≈11.7 mi.)
August 15: The day starts with a visit from the ranger. Thereís some issue about the mules, but whatever it is, the ranger is being very nice about it. When we ask if we have to walk all the way back up the Tyndall Creek trail to the JMT, she says, ďNo.Ē The trail is directly above us and not very far. Just aim more northeast instead of directly east.
Leaving camp about 8:20, the direct route to the JMT turns out to be quite steep. There are lots of fallen trees and rocky protrusions that have to be skirted, but the footing is good. My problem is that Iím with the power hikers, so keeping up is a trial of endurance. But, our bushwhacking is short-lived, and we probably saved a half-hour.
Once on the JMT, the power walkers take off, and I can slow down. The trail climbs up to the sandy and generally treeless Bighorn Plateau. I can see the advance party climbing a slight (200í) rise to the west which is supposed to have spectacular panoramic views. I follow in their footsteps, literally, and while the pumice is not as fine as sand and the surface isnít as soft as a sand dune, itís not firm either. To me, it seems very strange to be walking in ďsandĒ on top of an 11,000+ ft. mountain. (Unfortunately, my photos end up way overexposed.)
I leave the viewpoint at about 9:45 a.m. and return to the JMT. The trail descends and ascends several times over moraines until it reaches first Wright Creek and then Wallace Creek. Just after fording Wallace Creek (10,390), I take a rest stop around 11 oíclock for a Power Bar. The trail now switchbacks up to a sandy saddle (10,964) west of Mt. Young and then descends slightly to skirt Sandy Meadow.
The next ascent and descent over a ridge dotted with foxtail pine brings me to the trail intersection where the John Muir and Pacific Crest trails go their separate ways. The JMT turns east on its final approach to Mt. Whitney, while the PCT continues south. Itís almost 1 oíclock. Iíve been looking for a lunch spot since I started my last descent, but there just havenít been any nice boulders in the shade. So, I finally sit on a log. Big mistake. The ants want my lunch! This is the first time in over two weeks that Iíve been bothered by ants, so Iím very surprised.
I eat more quickly than usual and am on my way at 1:15 p.m. I have about 3 Ĺ miles to go. After continuing the descent over the next short mile to another junction (10,660) and the Crabtree Ranger Station, the trail finally starts itís generally upward climb to Mt. Whitney. For the first mile and a half, it follows Whitney Creek to Timberline Lake (11,070). Itís almost 2:30, and Iím tired from all these ascents. The sun is hot and thereís no real shade. I only have 1.3 miles and 400 ft. of elevation gain to go. But, it seems interminable. As I climb each rocky moraine, I think it is the last and that I will find Guitar Lake just on the other side of the rise. I finally arrive at 3:20 p.m.
The advance party has claimed a set of ďtent padsĒ on the west side of the outlet from Arctic Lake (11,483). They are basically patches of ground where the rocks and boulders have been removed to create a level area that has been filled in with ďsand.Ē It has started to cloud up, and everyone is bundled up, sitting with their backs to large boulders trying to escape the cold wind. I go to the last pad and do the same. As I sit and try to think warm thoughts, I watch the clouds over Whitney get ever darker. It is going to rain!
Around 4 p.m., it starts to sprinkle. I cover my pack and find a cubbyhole under my boulder to stash it in. I have my Gore-tex jacket on and a garbage bag over my legs. (Why carry rain pants when it hasnít rained in days and this morning looked no different?) The precipitation increases, and the thunder and lightning start. But itís just beginning to really rain when Debbie arrives just before 5.
James and Andrew quickly unload the mules, but it starts to pour before they are finished. Debbie pulls out her tent, and James and Andrew set it up and throw in Debbieís bed roll. All nine of us pile into the tent, wet boots and all. Three of us end up sitting on the bed roll; the others in the slush on the floor. Poor Debbie has to stand outside and hold the reins of her horse and mules. But, at least she has a wide-brimmed waterproof hat and a heavy, long raincoat over a lot more clothes than my tank top and shorts.
It starts to hailópea to marble-sized hail. With nine of us in such a confined space, it quickly warms up, and everyone is able to control their shivering. But, Vic soon arrives, and James and Andrew pile out to help unload. The first tent they come to is mine. So, I get out and help them put it up. Itís no longer hailing, just sleeting, and my tent is soon covered with a layer of ice. Iím beginning to shiver again, so Debbie sends me back into her tent with a package of tortillas and a sausage. James, Andrew, Vic, and Harry unload the rest of the gear and put it in my tent. When everything is unloaded, Vic and Harry leave with all the mules. They arenít allowed to stay here, so they have to go back/on to Crabtree Meadow. With access to dry clothes, James at least changes clothes in my tent.
Back inside Debbieís tent, we discover that no one has access to a knife. We yell for one, and someone hands in Debbieís Leatherman. Now we have seven people in a tent, and no one knows how to open the tool to get to the knife. But, eventually, someone figures it out, and we pass around the sausage and tortillas. The food helps control the shivering. Someone hands in a box of power bars. Debbie joins us in her tent. (I donít know where James and Andrew are, maybe in my tent.) Kris counts the seconds between claps of thunder. Around 6 oíclock, the precipitation is back to a drizzle, and everyone piles out of the tent. It soon stops raining altogether.
Ignoring the dangers of being struck by lightning and hypothermia, the whole episode would have made a great slapstick comedy routine.
After people claim their baggage from my tent, Iím left with a mess thatís not quite as bad as the one in Debbieís tent. We turn hers on its side to empty out as much water and sand as possible. I use some towels to clean up the worst of the mess in mine. Some of my gear is wetter than others. The most important thingómy sleeping bagóis ok since I keep it in a garbage bag.
After I change into warm, dry clothes and set up my bed, I climb into my sleeping bag, hoping to nap. But, sleep eludes me, and I soon hear sounds from other tents. Tony sets up a couple of chairs in front of his, and he and Kris sit and watch the mountain. Others are walking around. I get out my book and read. I can hear Debbie snoring softly in her tent, which is next to mine, so Iím guessing that there will be no hot dinner tonight. And thatís okay by me. What with sleeping lightly in order to hear bears and then having to scare them off in the night, she hasnít had a good nightís sleep in days and needs the rest.
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