September 10th, 2017
Fauna sighted: 10 Marmots, Doe and fawn, Golden Eagle, Mountain Chickadees, 3 Pika’s
As you might guess from yesterday’s hail storm extravaganza, when morning finally comes, it’s a very cold and wet one. I’m definitely moving more slowly than normal, putting my pants on over my base layers, and trying to will myself out of the tent. Gray Gardens has not stirred from her tent when I emerge but when I come back from peeing she’s up. We pack up slowly, willing the sun to hit our campsite to help dry out our tents and sleeping bags.
It doesn’t seem to be heading over our way any time soon, so we eventually give up, and move our stuff across the meadow to some large boulders in the weak morning sunshine. Everything the sun has not touched is covered in frost and we dance around to try and stay warm. We spend a long time moving our tents and bags around to dry them. Eventually our bags are fluffy again and we get on trail at 8:50am, our latest start yet.
It’s an immediate jump across Wallace Creek and then we are climbing out of it’s gorge. As we gain elevation, the hail from yesterday is still here, frozen into sheets in any spots of shade or in the trunks of fallen trees. It’s lovely and a good reminder that the season is changing and we are just hitting the end time before the snow comes. The morning is super still and we don’t see another soul. There are pockets of meadows every now and then, spreading out between the tall trees around us. We take a nice morning break next to one of these meadows that sports a view to the west and we warm up a bit more in the rising sun.
The landscape starts to change as we gain elevation, the big green trees recede a bit, and are replaced by more sand, boulders, and bare old bristlecones.
Shortly after the change in scenery, we turn East at a junction, and head toward Crabtree Ranger Station and the Mt Whitney zone. The sun is finally high and warm so we can take off a few layers of clothes before we started the climb along Whitney Creek, to our last campsite of the trip at Guitar Lake.
The walk along the creek is gorgeous and lots of Marmots are out enjoying the sun, gathering snacks, and calling out to each other as we pass them. We still see no other humans and take micro breaks along the way, soaking it all in.
I get a little ahead of Grey Gardens as we wind out of the alpine beauty below, into the rocky granite world above. I wander past a few lakes, one of which I get to walk right along the edge of, and its filled with reeds and the glitter of small fish in the shallows. The craggy edges of Mt Whitney and company peak into view above the lake and it’s just spectacular.
I reach Guitar Lake and drop my bag a little past the junction to wander around the edges of the lake to the West, to look for some kind of sheltered campsite. Everything is very open and exposed here so there are not any good options for hiding from the elements when they come, not if at this point. The search takes a while, with no luck, and when I end up near the outlet at the end of the lake I turn back towards the trail junction.
When I come around the edge of the lake I look up and see a little figure walking along the trail up above the lake on the North East side … I think it kinda looks like Gray Gardens but I can’t be sure since it’s too far. We had said that I would look for a site if I got to the lake first, so I figure it can’t be her as she would likely wait at the junction for me. However, when I return to my bag at the junction and see a group of hikers who I knew were a ways behind Gray and me on the hike up, and no Gray here, I know it’s her. Dang it. She’s headed up the trail to the tarn above Guitar Lake, ruh roh. I drop my bag back down again and start jogging up the trail towards her, trying to yell over the wind. It takes a good 5 minutes until she finally catches sight of me waving my arms and turns back around. When she reaches me we have a little laugh about it, she thought this couldn’t be Guitar Lake already so just kept climbing up! The one saving grace of extra walking is that on her way up she spotted a decent campsite on the North East side of the lake that we would not have seen otherwise. So still a win.
The afternoon is still and warm, so we hang out by the lake and watch other hikers go by. It is a lot greener here than I thought it would be and we end up spending most of the day watching four Marmots in the meadow down below our camp. We name them Joe, Sally, April, and Alberto. Each one has a little section of grass they are working on and we spend a lot of time watching them wander around, losing sight of them, then finding them again, and making up stories about their lives.
It ends up being a wonderful last trail day and when the sunset show starts, I really thought it could not get any better. But then it did! A little precious angel baby Pika comes out of the jumble of rocks right behind me and stops about 2 feet away to eat some grass. I almost hyperventilate from excitement/cuteness. I have a very strong obsession with anything small and furry, as can be told from the expression on my face in the picture below. Look at it’s cute round body and little perfect ears! DEAD. So cute!
The sunset keeps getting more amazing too. The colors shifting from dark grey, with mellow yellows, and blues. Then blasting my eyes with amazing pinks, oranges, and purples. Its one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve ever seen and we didn’t even get rained on today! I’m watching the show snuggled into my sleeping bag as the light finally fades to a dull blue-black. I spend some time journaling and feeling very thankful for this trip so far. All the beauty, challenges, and how lucky I am to see everything around me.
We plan on getting up around 5am and not making any hot breakfast, so we can pack up quickly to get on trail for our last big climb cuz its a doozy. A lot of people start hiking very early, like 12pm or 1am, to watch the sunrise on Mt Whitney. We don’t feel that motivated at present to get up for that kinda pressure so agree to a more reasonable 6am trail time. I close my eyes to the dusk outside and plan on a wonderfully restful sleep. It’s Mt Whitney day tomorrow, then a hotel in Lone Pine, and all the town food and beer one hiker can stomach. It will be glorious.