September 22, 2019
Tyndall Frog Ponds to Guitar Lake
Day Miles: 11.5 mi
Cumulative Miles: 200.5 mi
When I woke up in the middle of the night to pee, two pairs of eyes reflected the light of my headlamp. The movement looked low and prowling. But when I turned up my headlamp to full brightness, it was just a pair of deer. Yay! Not mountain lions. Still, I stowed the trekking pole I had left leaning against a tree under my vestibule, both as a potential weapon and to prevent deer from stealing it to lick the salt off the grips.
In the morning, as I was almost packed up and about to stuff my tent into its stuff sack, my camping partner Janine and I were treated to a coyote symphony/cacaphony that sounded like it was coming from Diamond Mesa. The evening before, I read in the Wenk book that it you camp on Bighorn Plateau (about a mile and a half south), you likely hear coyotes early in the morning. Janine had borrowed the book and read the same section and we agreed it was uncanny. Again, I highly recommend bringing the Wenk guide book on the JMT, it is worth the weight to enrich your experience.
Big Horn Plateau was unlike any place else on the JMT. Dry and desert-y with 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks, grand vista because they were so far away. Having exited Kings Canyon NP over Forester Pass, the scenery was very different from the previous week. I spent almost a whole hour on the plateau taking it all in, including a 20 minute yoga session with the best views ever.
I followed the trail down into beautiful foxtail pine forest, the trees growing out of sandy patches between granite boulders.
Then, I took a snack break on a rock outcropping with expansive views before the trail drops down into the Wright Creek drainage. Janine passed me and I said, “The trail is too pretty! I’m never going to get anywhere today!” I took a third break in a lovely meadow and then lunched on the banks of Whitney Creek right after Crabtree Meadow.
There is so much variety in the scenery in this stretch of trail. How does the trail know I had just complained the day before about being scenery-ed out? It makes you just want to say “screw Whitney!” and keep hiking south on the PCT.
I found a quiet and excellent campsite on the bench and tarn just above the famous Guitar Lake, which was much less marginal that I expected for my last night on the trail. Guitar Lake is the last good spot to camp west of Mt. Whitney, so it is very crowded with hikers staging sunrise climbs of Mt. Whitney. Guitar Lake is at 11,500 feet. Because of overuse and the high elevation, you must bag and carry your poop out if you are heading west to Whitney Portal from about 2 miles east of Crabtree Meadow. The problem is there’s no tree cover around Guitar Lake and campsites behind every boulder so it’s not clear where one is supposed to deploy their wag bag. Do you poop inside your tent for cover then? I discuss this problem with a group of three High Sierra Trail hikers that are the only other party to camp on the bench that night. (The High Sierra Trail cuts east-west across the Sierra and also terminates at the top of Mt. Whitney.) I offer the HST hikers some stroopwafels and they are super happy, incredulous that I have extra food, since they packed really light. I’ve had too much food this whole trip! I try to convince them to climb Mt. Whitney for sunrise. We lounge on a dip in the granite on the edge of the bench shaped like a sectional couch and watch the sun set. Then I retire to get an early night for my early start.
It will be nearly 15 miles from here to Whitney Portal and 3000 feet up and 6000 feet down. The only other time I’ve done something like that was attempting to climb Grand Teton and the 6000 feet down from the lower saddle of Grand Teton after the whole scrambling/climbing part really killed my feet. I’m expecting a sufferfest.