Zero Camp to Whitney Summit – JMT #5

I’m starting this entry with a small recap of the first four. After months of planning we are finally off. Getting to the trailhead south of Mount Whitney is a two day trip. Day 1, fly to Reno, get our rental car and drive to Mammoth, CA. for a night sleeping in a hotel at 7,500’. Day 2 involves grabbing final supplies (cheese, bic lighter, new smart water bottles, ete.), and delivering our resupply to the Sequoia Kings Packer Station, resting, returning our rental, and getting a ride to the trailhead (Horseshoe Meadows) by the one and only “Lone Pine Kurt” (LPK). The idea to sleep in Mammoth and the trailhead was the idea of LPK. Helpful for altitude acclimation, and fit his schedule better 🙂

About two weeks prior to the trip, I started getting very nervous about the altitude because we were headed north bound +(NOBO) on the JMT, hitting the higher altitudes early in the trip. Including the highest point in the continental U.S., Mt. Whitney at 14,505. After learning and reading about “diamox”, a drug used for glaucoma patients and assist with altitude, I called our doctor and he prescribed 20 pills each. The idea is to begin taking it a couple days in advance. It’s basically a diuretic, so it is supposed to help keep the body from building up fluids, such as happens with acute mountain sickness (AMS), and developing high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or worse, high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). We both took a day’s course about one week to be sure we didn’t have negative side affects and to know what to expect. A dose is one to two pills at morning and night with food. Or 125-250 mgs. I took a single pill dose and Jean did a half pill. She’s smaller. She didn’t think it did too much but make her urinate more. I felt a bit like I had minor anxiety, plus urinated a lot more. So the balancing act is to take the drug, but not allow yourself to get dehydrated.

The morning of the flight we started taking our diamox dosages, however we didn’t take them consistently. And once we started on trail, we actually did not take any the morning of the 9th when we started hiking. I think we both felt good at 10,000′ and decided it was better to see what happens.

At the end of the day, we didn’t have serious impacts related to altitude. We both slept poorly the 2nd night at guitar lake at 11,600′, prior to Whitney Summit day. No real headaches, no nausea, and no loss of appetite. That written, Jean did have a headache of sorts that may have been more muscular tension from the backpack than a headache from dehydration or altitude. It appeared that second night and was around on night four at Forester Pass approach at 12,000′. Not noticeable in the day. Only laying down. But was in the area where the spine runs up the neck to the base of the skull. On the fifth day, Jean tripped and fell hard. Luckily not hurt bad. Ironically, she never complained of neck pain again.

LPK picked us up in Bishop an hour earlier than planned which was great. It was hot! And we were holding up under a tree near the closed car rental office. he shuttled us to the trailhead for $80 each. About a 90 minute to two hour drive. We could not see the Sierra’s through wildfire smoke that had blown in from the Dixie fire. We left the valley floor at 3,000′ and climbed the side of the mountain range past the Alabama Hills to 10,000′. What a road! he dropped us off about 6:30PM. I handed him $200.

Temperatures drop about 5 degrees per one thousand feet of elevation. So the 100 degree day in the valley put us at about 65-70 degrees at Horseshoe Meadows in the Inyo National Forest. The campground was really nice with plenty of space on a Sunday night. We were so excited!

Monday morning came quick. 38 degrees. Not bad! We started right away getting into the routine which we’d hold pretty well for the entire trip, which was starting to pack up from the inside/out between 5:00 and 5:30AM (using headlamps!) This got us on trail between 6:15 and 7:00AM. We slept with all gear in the tent, except the food and anything with odors (toothpaste, etc.), which lived in the bear canisters outside and away from the tent. For this trip, I had purchased us a Zpacks Triplex – a roomier version of the duplex. It fits three, but works best, in my opinion, as a roomy two-person. Whereas the duplex is snug for two and very roomy and perfect for one. the triplex weighs 24 ounces, plus I another 5 ounces of stakes. So 29 ounces in all not counting trekking poles, and doesn’t need a footprint. And it worked well for the 6 days I was solo at the end too. It (triplex) is a virtual palace!

Day 1 – Horseshoe Meadow to Rock Creek

Day one seemed straight forward enough. Hike 14 miles, set up camp. We would reach water in 4-5 miles at Chicken Spring Lake after going over Cottonwood Pass at 11,200′. Easy peasy. The morning was cool and hiking pretty easy compared to what we would be seeing later that day and throughout the hike. Ascending the pass we met two young ladies who were bailing on the JMT due to altitude issues. They did a loop hike over three days. Hmmm. It gives me pause but we carry on. At Chicken Spring we come across a couple doing a nude photo shoot. We give them space. Fill up our bottles and bags. I carry 3.75 liters, Jean, 1.75 liters. We have a 9 mile dry stretch and it’s getting warm. We would use nearly all our water by the time we make camp. The hiking was somewhat exposed to the full sun. Occasionally in sparse trees. We had a pretty big flattish area then a very long descent to 9,600′ at Rock Creek. By the time we pulled into camp, Jean was on fumes. Basically out of gas, overheating, and misfiring. I was only slightly better. We found a good spot right next to the trail and close to the creek. Some guys came by and caught some golden trout.

Nude photo shoot couple walked by and found a spot a couple hundred yards away on the other side of the trail. Later that evening, they bounced nude from camp to creek and back. They were extremely nice, and later when we met them again on Whitney (we were coming down, they were going up) we had a great chat and wow – they had energy! This day would ultimately prove to be rather typical in terms of time spent in transit from camp to camp. It was around 5PM when we stopped. Our moving time and actual elapsed time were quite different most days. It’s amazing how much time is spent stopped, whether taking a real break, talking to someone, or taking photos. And that ‘golden ticket’ photo is a bit of a misnomer. The so called, ‘golden ticket’ is not from Horseshoe Meadow, but if one is lucky enough to get a Yosemite or Whitney Portal entry. Most consider the Yosemite entry to be the ‘golden ticket’. Our only requirement for our permit was to start at the trailhead listed, on the day listed, and take the first day’s trail – if more than one option, which there was. That written, we had to fill out a complete 21-day itinerary just to show we were serious I guess. I wish I had downloaded a tree identification booklet or app. Someone told us the bark that looked like a jigsaw puzzle was a Jeffery Pine (bottom left) but I question that.

Our spot on night #1. We were dead tired!
Technically the Golden Ticket is winning the JMT lottery to start at Happy Isles in Yosemite, or to begin at Whitney Portal.

Day 2 – Rock Creek to Guitar Lake

We were at it shortly after 5AM, but did take a bit to motivate. I originally thought we might just pack up and be walking at first sign of light, and have coffee and breakfast after an hour or two. We did that just once together and I did it once solo. It was just easier to take care of business first thing. We found a good routine. Day 2 was a bit shorter. A little over 10 miles in 8 hours. It feels hot. We don’t need to carry but 1.5 liters, and could get by with less. We climbed over Guyout Pass through more sparse and large trees and granite rock. Mostly talus and sand, some slabs. We met up with some folks at Crabtree Meadow, which is about 3 miles from Guitar Lake. It’s doable to hike Whitney from Crabree, but adds 6 more miles. But technically only three if you do what we did, which is camp at guitar the night before and then break camp on the way down and travel back to Crabtree.

We chatted with some folks at Crabtree and then we walked up the trail. I acted like I knew what I was doing. Thinking I was headed to Guitar Lake. Whoops, the ranger station. Hmmm. Well, I wanted to see it anyway. There was a use-trail to the left so I took us down that and then some off-trail to the river and back in sight of the main trail. We were away from people We soaked our feet and had a nice break. Prior to making the river, Jean spotted some deer. Four deer in fact. And all bucks. This is known as a ‘stag party’. She was definitely the wildlife spotter on this trip. I usually had my head down cranking out steps, fidgeting with my phone taking photos or checking guthook and gaia.

The climb to Guitar Lake was a doozy. It was getting warm and we were tired. We decided to make camp up higher, before the lake to avoid being on top of everyone else. We had a nice inlet stream and watch folks walk past our camp. Right after we got the tent set up, I noticed a much better spot closer to the trail. It was actually hidden from the trail and everyone walked right past it. We were in camp by 3PM. Some clouds rolled in and the wind cooled things down. When the wind stopped, it was downright hot. When it blew, it begged for puffy coat.

Jean brought a small sketch book, but really didn’t have a lot of time, nor energy to sketch once we got to camp. Guitar Lake was one of the few times she was able to sketch. She like her new under garments which came by way of friend, Sarah who recommended them.

Day 3 – Mount Whitney Summit and down to Crabree Meadow

Neither of us slept very well. We went to bed well before sundown, tired but just laid there. I had planned for us to have a calorie-dense meal – Peak Refuel Pesto Pasta. A double serving each. 960 calories, but not a lot of volume. I don’t think it was the food, but camping at 11,600′. Our rates were running a little in overdrive, a classic symptom. Jean had that back of neck headache thing. Finally around midnight we began dozing off better. My plan was for us to start hiking between 1:00 and 2:00AM to experience the Whitney Sunrise. At 1:00AM I looked out the tent and saw quite a few headlamps. Some up pretty high already. But we both felt a bit crappy so stayed in bed. Finally, around 3:00AM, maybe a little before, I said let’s do it. We had both rested enough. It actually felt better to be up and moving rather than laying down. We made coffee and had a quick breakfast. We had ourselves set up for the day hike up.

We were hiking up by 3:45AM. I tried some night photography with my iPhone, which is supposed to be capable, but I never had time to fully figure it out prior to leaving an only ended up with one photo I could share, and it’s not very good. But it shows the milky way. Part of it anyway. The hike up was not bad. Part of the reason we delayed starting is someone who was descending from Guitar Lake the day prior said there was a slide area that was hard to navigate in the dark. This would be one in a long line of bad information we’d receive throughout the trip.

After a couple hours, we had enough light to turn off our head lamps. It was cool, but not cold. Perfect hiking weather. We made trail crest, the area in photos below with all the backpacks and bear canisters. This spot is 1.9 miles from the summit, and somewhere around 13,000′. It’s where southbound hikers exiting Whitney Portal, or northbounder’s coming from Whitney Portal leave their full gear packs for the summit push.

While we missed the Whitney Summit Sunrise, the sunrise we experienced on the climb was absolutely spectacular. As it turned out, it was the perfect timing. We were in the last 1.5 miles when the sunrise crowd was descending. This including a group of Scouts who spent the night on the summit. BRRRRR! I don’t recall our time of day for the summit, probably around 8:00AM. For a brief moment, maybe 3-5 minutes, we had the summit to ourselves. Shortly after, another couple, and then solo guy, showed up. Phil and Tish, and then Josh. We ended up talking with them quite a bit, and became good trail friends for the next couple days until our schedules veered in different directions. We met up again at VVR, a few days later.

Neither of us had problems with altitude after we were moving. We had great views. Smoke haze in the far distance, but clear up top. I was bummed the wooden sign was missing. I know it had gotten broken this summer and other signs were put in its place. I don’t know if it was removed for repairs, or just removed. We had our choice of five signs. We got pictures with three of them.

The descent was possibly more tiring than the ascent. We got back to Guitar Lake and just crashed for a bit. Rehydrated, ate some food, and broke camp to walk down to Crabtree. When we got to Crabtree Meadow, we scoped an area above the meadow for camping but it wasn’t all the inviting, so we just decided to join the crowd. While there were quite a few people, it didn’t feel overly crowded. And it came with an outhouse, so no digging a cathole. It was a true outhouse, as in no house. Jean saw a rat scurry under the board while doing her business. Ewwww! The thought of it. The platform didn’t feel all that firm either.

We had a happy-hour night cap with Phil, Tish, and Josh. Made dinner and went to bed. Tomorrow, is another day.

Choose your sign!
Loo with a View. It’s a 2-way view!
Crabtree Meadow

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