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Re: JMT '14 - Day 14 - Reentry

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JMT '14 - Day 14 - Reentry
September 24, 2014 07:54PM
Day 14: July 28, 2014

We woke up when hikers who had summited during the early morning opened door number two to see what was inside--I doubt many expected seven backpackers to be sleeping inside. Still, it had been quite warm, quiet, and mostly comfortable during the night. The weather had stayed in limbo throughout the night--not raining or snowing, but also not clearing out. The morning started cloudy. Our trip was ending much like it had begun.

We left our luxurious Hotel Whitney room to watch the sunrise while eating breakfast, but the clouds were thick enough over the White-Inyo mountains that the sunrise was mostly a bust. On the other hand, the display of clouds drifting over the Sierra crest more than made up for the lackluster sunrise.

I was reminded a bit of our trip last year to Ireland's Carrauntoohil--or even a much earlier trip to Ireland Lake.

Not long after we were finally packed to go, light flurries started to fall, so we put on our rain gear and pack covers.

The hike back through the "windows" was made more enjoyable by the clouds.

We were soon at the junction with the JMT and HST, then after a brief climb were at our final pass: Trail Crest.

From here, we started down the 100-ish switchbacks, most of which are now very well graded and easy to descend swiftly on.

We were by far not the only party descending, and despite the ominous clouds, plenty of hikers were ascending the trail. There didn't seem to be any danger of lightning--yet--but it was also questionable if there would be any views from the summit.

Trail Camp City, with constructed tent platforms and wind break walls everywhere, had its usual mid-morning population of late risers, those waiting out the weather, and those who had bit off more than they could handle.

We stopped for water just before the drop into Trailside Meadow; shortly thereafter we met up with the others in this meadow.

The Main Whitney Trail definitely is crowded, but it's also a very beautiful hike, and I was reminded a bit of the descent from Granite Park to the Pine Creek lakes.

JKW and I have done this trail enough that I think we know every switchback, water crossing, or other significant landmark by heart; we wasted no time dropping down to Mirror Lake, then following its outlet to Outpost Camp and Bighorn Park.

We had first entered the John Muir Wilderness a week and a half ago, shortly after passing Crater Meadow and the Red Cones. We had re-entered it at Trail Crest and left it for good below Lone Pine Lake--a fitting good-bye for a place we had called home for several wonderful days and nights.

In the past this final segment of trail had seemed like it took forever, but we made good time down the final large switchback and were soon at the trailhead, where after the obligatory post-trip pack weighing, we stopped for a final group picture.

Our group unfortunately had to separate at Whitney Portal after lunch and a few beers at the Portal Store; the H party, A, and E left to pick up the car E had left at Onion Valley. JKW, M, and I got a ride to Lone Pine, where after checking into our room and showering, we had dinner. Even Lone Pine was oddly humid, and it sprinkled on us a few times. We did get a few peeks at Mt. Whitney, but it remained cloaked in clouds. Our trip started and ended with the monsoonal moisture, but we had been fortunate to have a week or so of dry weather when we needed it. We had also been fortunate to experience different and varied weather--the thunderstorms at upper Lyell Canyon, Garnet Lake, and Guitar Lake stand out. And, although we had forced the issue a bit, we had finally succeeded in camping on the top of Mt. Whitney.


Our bus from Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows was cancelled due to being stuck in Yosemite Valley due to the El Portal Fire, so we had to wait a few hours in Mammoth. We took the opportunity to have a wonderful second breakfast.


After the bus dropped us off in Tuolumne Meadows, we ran into the H party again, who was just hanging out near the grill. (Thanks for the frosty cone!) We didn't want to leave the mountains either, but we had to go "home".


After finishing the JMT in '08, I really thought that while I would definitely re-do parts of it, I wasn't interested in re-doing the whole trail. After this trip, I could easily see re-doing it. Maybe it is true: you never hike the same trail twice. However, I think next year's big hike will probably be the entire Sierra High Route. I'm almost looking forward to the climb to Grouse Lake up the Copper Creek trail. Almost.

All The Pictures and Then Some!
Re: JMT '14 - Day 14 - Reentry
September 24, 2014 09:48PM
I remember getting up many times in the night - I’d made sure I’d been well hydrated, and I don’t do well crammed up real tight against other people, and it was really warm… So getting outside was a bit of a treat, and it was beautiful and eerie. I was inordinately pleased to catch a shooter or two in the sky as the clouds came and went. I loved the cool air and milked my time out there until I had to go back in. Interestingly, though my night was interrupted many times, I slept really well when I did sleep, which really helped. And one night of compromised sleep was well worth it. And frankly, I wanted to SAVOR the night up there - and I did!

During breakfast, I took full advantage of my comfy chair and my sleeping quilt which I can wear like a poncho. I think I was probably the most cozy person up there that morning. I may have looked odd, but hey.

And it was a glorious walk down the mountain. We listened and hadn’t dallied on top.. We scooted while we could. As always, I was amazed at the variety of folks going up Whitney. Very mixed crowd. I must say, I almost lost it when in a very narrow section of trail which was a local uphill for me, a lady who apparently did not speak English smiled at me as she basically plowed down the trail and almost over me. Um, uphill has right of way… That was the worst one…

Somewhere on the switchbacks below Trail Crest, we passed Judy again. I recognized her silhouette as she was digging in her pack. I’d first seen her on Forester. We missed each other on Whitney, but that’s not a surprise, given how broad the mountain is… and how busy we were packing up.

I know the Whitney Trail isn’t a true wilderness hike, even though it’s in designated wilderness. Just too many people who are there for all sorts of reasons. But I think the trail itself goes through lovely country and is constantly changing and is a fabulous walk. It had been 4 years since the last time we’d seen it, but it felt like home again.

<Rant> Comments about the human-waste disposal situation. The initial problem with the WAG bags was people NOT using them, and then people started using them more, but left the used bags on the trail. Now, apparently, they try to bury/push the used bags into/under rocks, and no one can get them out. This is much worse. I’m saddened that there are so many who go to such a beautiful area and attempt something so physically demanding and can’t be bothered to pack out a pound of poo in a sealed bag. Really? Why are they there? I can’t even speak coherently about this, it infuriates me so much. </Rant>

Anyway, we had a great time cruising down to Whitney Portal and it was definitely bittersweet when we said good-bye to most of our hiking party.

But some great and weird things were about to happen…

When we hit the portal and taking pictures, a “Mt. Whitney Shuttle” van pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the hill. I waved half-heartedly after it, since I knew we were going to eat first. I should have yelled and gotten everyone into flagging it down… Little bells were going off in my head… something about the name was familiar…

And when I asked at the Whitney Portal Store who I should call nowadays for a ride, they mentioned the Mt. Whitney Shuttle and gave me the number. As I dialed it in my phone, Bob Ennis’ name popped up and my memory clicked! Bob was the guy I’d chatted with a LOT back in 2008 when I arranged for us to get a ride from Lone Pine all the way back to Tuolumne Meadows (the shuttles were not coordinated back then, and we had to get back as fast as we could). I remembered I loved Bob over the phone, and when he showed up to take us to Lone Pine, I was just thrilled. And we hit it off and chatted like mad all the way. Bob took great care of us and taught us a lot about the Alabama Hills - an area I’ve always wanted to explore, but never have made the time to - yet. And now I *really* want to! I gave him a big hug and hopefully a decent tip (we only had a limited amount of cash) when he dropped us off! I wish him the best and truly value the service he offers. And I hope I can use his services again!

We stayed at the Dow Villa - the Motel this time.. I wanted more space and cush. And it was fine! The staff was super friendly and gave us extra shampoo and soap, just in case! smiling smiley After we were cleaned up, M and I opted to wander about town while Basilbop showered. We checked out some outdoor stores and found out about the fire near El Portal. We found out the next day that the report we heard from one person was seriously exaggerated and things were not nearly so bad as we’d heard.

We grabbed a couple of souvenirs and I sent my final postcards from Lone Pine to my dad and our “emergency contact” back home. And we planned on coming back for dessert! smiling smiley

After a lovely dinner, we did just that with Basilbop in tow.

The next morning, bright and early at McDonald’s, we met Judy again and incorporated her into our little group. We got to know each other some more and waited for, and rode, the Eastern Sierra Transit shuttle up to Mammoth - where Judy rode on to Reno and we got off to transition to YARTS… but found out that the fire had blocked one bus in the Valley and the morning bus would not be coming and we’d have to wait for the afternoon bus. Oh well, more time for M and me to browse some shops and for the three of us to eat a great second breakfast. We had made friends with other JMTers who were waiting for YARTS and the time flew quickly as we chatted in McDonald’s.

At the Grill in Tuolumne Meadows, I could not believe we ran into the H sisters. But then, yes I could. They had taken off sooner than they really needed to because A and E had to get going and their car was at Onion Valley. But once the H girls had hit Yosemite, they stalled… smiling smiley SO wonderful to get another goodbye with them. But things started happening...

While we were waiting for the Tuolumne Meadows shuttle bus to appear to take us to our car, a man and woman approached us and asked if we could help them. They had apparently heard us chatting and figured we knew the area a bit. Turns out they were doing the PCT. And the guy had fallen and had a hairline fracture in one of his vertebrae. The details of the fall were scary. He’d been getting water, had been tired, climbing up the bank he hit his head on a bridge and got stunned and fell over and tumbled badly down the bank on the rocks. Ick. I’m impressed that all he had was a hairline fracture in one vertebrae. He’d been checked out in Mammoth. And she had a friend in the Valley who had offered his house for them to rest in for a bit so the guy could recuperate. But getting to the Valley was the problem. At this point, the Big Oak Flat Road was closed from Crane Flat to the Valley, so driving there was a multi-hour affair - and no public transport was doing it.

They asked what the fastest way to hike down would be… they thought maybe Yosemite Creek down Yosemite Falls. Ick. Also close to another fire and more smoke. Our minds and our maps agreed that going down Snow Creek was fastest - even faster than the drive time to work our way to the Valley. And goodness help me as I write this, I thought we agreed Porcupine Creek (aka North Dome TH) was the best. BUT, the lady had had a different hiking partner who was injured earlier in the trip and when she finally managed to pick up her resupply package at the post office (weird story here about how the post office SHUT DOWN before lunch because they got a large delivery of boxes and the person working was overwhelmed and needed to “organize” it) she got a note from her old hiking partner that he was staying somewhere in Tuolumne. We discussed and Basilbop and I agreed best chance was the backpacker’s camp in the campground. So we drove them there, she went out looking and FOUND him! And though he wanted her to stay with him he didn’t have a good plan, so she decided the best plan was still the one where they ended up in a house in the Valley for a few days…. so we drove them to Porcupine Creek TH on our way out. It really wasn’t a huge delay for us, and I truly hope we helped them out. I had misgivings about him hiking down, but the dude looked really fit and they said he was cleared for easy walking… and that kind of mileage (and even that kind of descent) was sounding super easy to them by this point in the trail (they started from Mexico), so we sent them off. I truly hope they finished healthy and happy.

M, Basilbop and I had a leisurely trip home from there, mellowed out, bit saddened by the fire, but extremely happy with the trip overall.

In my wildest dreams before the trip, I never expected it to be as much fun, as enjoyable end-to-end as it actually turned out to be. I think a lot had to do with the great company we had. Though there were moments we all had on the trail, the overwhelming attitude was upbeat, positive, loving and supportive.

I am so honored to have been able to spend that time with this wonderful trail family.

Notes: As I proofed Basilbop's post, I ended up teary-eyed as I thought about the trip again. Sorry this has been long, but it'll help me remember later, too. And part of the "wordy" is that there is so much to the "hike" that you can't capture with pictures. As much as I've babbled on, I've left out numerous stories and anecdotes that happened every day. But the pics and the overview, they help me remember why I love to do this... and if some little bit of all this inspires someone to get (back) out there again to enjoy (and protect) the wilderness, then it will have been worth it.
Re: JMT '14 - Day 14 - Reentry
September 26, 2014 09:48AM
Thank you both for finishing the story. JKW, your posts are never too long.
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