The High Sierra Trail (8/1/1998-8/15/1998): 1
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-- Text and pictures are ©Tom
Reynolds. All Rights Reserved.
End-Kern Hot Springs to Whitney Portal
Today is anticlimactic. The ford of Whitney
Creek is exciting but not difficult. It is fast running water
thigh deep but our dual hiking poles work very well. Everyone
crosses easily. . Later, another hiker crosses Whitney Creek
without poles. He goes in up to his neck and needs to be fished
out. He has a nasty gash from his fall. You get my point?
Wallace Creek is even more exciting
than Whitney Creek. The water is so strong that we have a bow
wave from our knees to our belt. This gets our shorts wet but
little more. Again four feet make all the difference. Most people,
and some of our party, cross on a log.
We are at Junction Meadow. There is a lone lady here. She came
over Pants Pass. She talked about the loose scree. One time
TV sized boulders gave way underneath her Very dangerous she
said. Every step she took caused a landslide.
We rise early to climb out of the Kern. Past
Junction Meadow the trail claims about 900'. The Kern is one
massive rapids here. Originally we were scheduled to continue
up the Kern Headwaters and out over Forrester or Shephard Pass
but snow considerations nixed this idea. As we climb the Colby
Pass area comes into view. Fantastic. Another year. We turn
away from the Kern and continue climbing up Wallace Creek. The
views get better. The once dinky Kaweah Range now rises 5000'
from the Kern and is very impressive. Behind it Mineral King
and the Great Western Divide form a backdrop. We ford Wright
Creek, the last difficult crossing. No Problem. By 10AM we have
reached the John Muir Trail. We rock-hop Wallace Creek and climb
The Whitney area is very high. From Wallace
Creek we climb and traverse some ridges that can only be glacial
moraine -- as unbelievable as that is at 11,000'. The entire
Bighorn Plateau --the area between Wallace Creek and Forrester
Pass comes into view. It looks lots like Chagoopa Plateau and
I am not so sorry I am heading for Whitney. Traversing these
moraine ridges, however is not fun. We camp just north of Crabtree
Meadow at the junction of the High Sierra Trail and the trail
from Cottonwood Pass. Guitar Lake is less than 3 miles away.
We are on the trail to Guitar Lake. It is
a 900' climb. Timberline Lake is wonderful. There are awesome
views in all directions. Guitar Lake is not as ugly as we'd
heard but we head for a meadow above it. We set up camp next
to a flowing stream on the flank of Mt Whitney. Looking up one
sees precariously balanced rocks that would devastate our campsite
if they ever tried to fall. Down the cliff is Guitar Lake and
beyond is the Kaweah range and beyond that Mineral King and
the Western Divide
We are ready to go well before it is light
enough. As expected, at 5:40 we start up the trail. We climb
to the upper plateau and are soon on long, well graded switchbacks.
Most Sierra Passes have rocky switchbacks with 1-2' steps. Not
these. It is easy walking. At 13,100 my altimeter poops out.
I continue, not knowing how far I need to go. Dawn brings a
magnificent view back across the 70 miles we have hiked.
The switchbacks are anticlimactic. By 7:30
we are at the junction of the High Sierra Trail and the Mt.
Whitney Trail. We say goodbye to those wanting to climb the
peak and head to trail crest. After a short scramble over a
rock slide we arrive at the Crest 13,700'. The views either
west or east are unbelievable. It is clear and sunny.
From Trail Crest 13,700 to Trail Camp are
96 or so unbelievably well graded switchbacks. Until last week
they were covered with snow and people climbing the peak took
the snow field. There is still lots of snow on the switchbacks
requiring many detours. Our poles are a godsend. About halfway
down we start meeting dayhikers. They are a different bunch
seeking to pit their strength against the mountain. After two
weeks we are more or less in harmony with the mountain. We say
hi and pass quickly.
Conventional wisdom says you must be off the
summit by 2PM to make it back to your car. It is 10AM and we
are most of the way down the switchbacks. It is at least a four
climb to the summit yet the dayhikers still come. At Trail Camp
we take a break and try out the solar toilet. Nice.
The weather is turning. I don't want to be
at 12,000' in a lightning storm. We start down to Outpost Camp.
The well groomed trail has been replaced by the usual rocky
staircase. It is beginning to rain. We meet the Ranger coming
up the trail. He is telling everyone to "Get the hell off
It is raining hard and I am wet. The trail
is hard. I am slipping on the wet stone. Finally we reach Outpost
Camp. We pick one campsite then change our mind and take another.
Mistake! Before we can get our tent up the hail storm starts.
Two inches of hail falls in 1 minute. We struggle into our tent
while high winds threaten to blow the tent down the mountain.
I am cold, wet and have a headache from the altitude. I change
clothes and wait out the storm, huddled with my family. For
three hours the storm doesn't let up! Lat that afternoon we
break camp and head down to Whitney Portal. The end.
We have crossed the Sierra 80 miles. For Jonathan
Breen, the PCT thruhiker who traversed the Sierra this year,
the distance was a pittance. Still, I am reminded of the guy
from Nepal. We didn't go far. We didn't go long but we went.
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