September 11th, 2017
Well last night was a bit ridiculous. The wind was CRAZY town and we did not sleep at all. Every time it would seem to be calming down I would try to drift off to sleep and then WHAM! it was back Flapping the tent doors all over the place, like a pissed off ghost whom you wronged in a past life. It was really pissed off. WTF.
I was also worried that my tent doors were going to get ripped off since they were just tied up with rocks and not staked in, yikes. At around 2:30am I was ready to give up any hope of sleeping and heard Grey Gardens rustle in her tent. I called out above the wind to ask if she was awake. She immediately said “Yep”, I said “Do you just wanna say Fuck it and get up now?” She replied, “Definitely.”
So we packed up our shit in the pitch black, hoping nothing was going to blow away, and started hiking by 4am. The trail away from a Guitar Lake immediately starts climbing up along the basin. We trucked along the first tarn with only our headlamps lighting a patch of light a few feet ahead. The stars and moon glittered in between pale clouds. We watched the other headlamps bob along the mountain far above us and lightning strikes in the clouds to the West on the Kaweah Range… just a little worrisome.
As the sky lighten I started to see some of the beautiful views stretching out to infinity. It was hard not to stop constantly and just stare but it was so cold whenever I paused to rest that it was more pleasant to keep moving.
Whenever I hit another switchback I would wait to see Grey Gardens little light moving not far below me. Her headlamp battery died shortly after we started hiking but luckily she had a little solar powered inflatable lantern so she attached it to her chest strap and used it for light, all MacGyver like.
The wind came in gusts and the cold increased as we gained elevation. We finally hit the trail crest and the last 1.9 miles up to Mt Whitney.
It was so cold that our phones would not turn on so we did not get any pictures on top of Mt. Whitney. ☹️ We made it though and it was so rad to be up on top of a place I’ve seen so many pictures of and fantasized about seeing myself!
We stayed on top for a very short time as it was freezing and there were scary dark clouds moving our way. The same clouds I had seen lightning in over the Kaweahs only a few hours ago. So time to get the F out of this area. We also hella wanted to get down to Whitney Portal and food ASAP. I put my phone into my inside pocket of my down jacket to warm it up so was able to grab a few pictures at the trail crest as the sun peaked over the Western mountains.
I am glad we walked up in the dark because the trail is scary in a lot of places and not wide at all. I’m not scared of heights but I was having a hard time in a few spots and thinking about how many people fall off this mountain every year or get hit by lightning etc. was not helping the situation.
Luckily the other side is a lot more chill and a wider trail. It’s also full of a LOT more people, like so many people. A Sensory overload amount of people. As we passed these packs of people on the famed 99 switchbacks we were definitely feeling glad to be doing down instead of up. Oofta that looks rough!
A handful of hikers seemed to know the challenge of what they were doing but a lot of people had no clue. We got asked multiple times how many miles it was to the top. Ummmm this is just casually the highest MOUNTAIN in the lower 48 states and you don’t know how many miles it is to hike to the top? Hello? People die here!
Some had very little water or snacks with them, no layers, or day pack at all, no sense of the dark clouds gathering over the summit they were trying to reach. Not a good idea to try to hike this without being a little prepared and it made me really concerned about a lot of them. I hope that a lot of them made the wise decision to turn around and try another time unless they were prepared to get stuck somewhere on Whitney, not safe at all.
I tried not to hyperventilate any time someone walked by with just a small plastic water bottle. I instead enjoyed the views on the East face of Mt Whitney down into Lone Pine. There were even a few Pika’s hanging out right along the trail and one of them nibbled on my pant legs!!! I almost died with pure joy right there on the trail.
We passed a few trail camps and lots of Marmots who were clearly used to getting people snacks and had no fear. The trail was just a steady downward trend and our knees were clearly not feeling it. We are also both exhausted from not getting any sleep last night, thanks wind!
Needless to say it was a long trek out and we were stoked when we finally hit the portal store just as it started to rain. We bought sodas and snagged the last table under a big umbrella outside with a few other hikers who were finishing the JMT. Two hikers were trying to hitch hike to Lone Pine in the valley and we’re having a tough time finding a ride for the longest time out in the rain. They finally did get one and we heard the other hikers lament how long it took them and their own prospects for catching a ride down.
Luckily I had a few bars of service on my phone so I found the number for the shuttle service in Lone Pine and was able to contact them to come pick us up! An older gentleman arrived in a van about 45 minutes later and the few other JMT hikers joined us to make it an even cheaper and a more enjoyable ride. We met a chill and nice couple who were finishing up 25 days on the John Muir Trail from Nashville, TN. I was very jealous of their amazing trip and I hope to be in the same position as them in a year or two!
The rain was pounding as we headed into town and the mountains were so socked in with clouds you could no longer see them. Lightning and thunder flashed a lot too. I am so glad we started earlier than planned and got off the mountain when we did! I am also super worried about all the other people whom we saw on the way up. I hope they got to a safe place or turned around.
Soon we were getting dropped off at the Dow Villa Motel where we had already booked a room and went to eat a burger at the Grill next door. The rain continued all afternoon and into the evening. We ate more glorious town food and walked around the 4 block long downtown in the spurts of hard rain. At one point all the power went out for a while and I got a flash flood warning on my phone. Yikes.
The lightning flashed outside our hotel room windows and we felt VERY thankful to be inside watching House Hunters reruns on TV. It was a pretty crazy end to our trip and I snuggled into my giant, fluffy, dry bed feeling grateful. The Sierras are such an indescribable trip and experience. I can not wait to go back and do the whole John Muir Trail!!!