Our Last Night In The Wilderness…
From wanting to see a bear, to being desperate for more food, to developing the hiker ‘look’ and ‘smell’, to getting our kit off in the coldest of lakes, to finding our very own ‘trail angel’, to seeing some of the most stunning scenery we think this world has to offer…
What started out as a bucket-list dream for Wayne is nearing a reality as we come to the end of our JMT adventure. 26 days in the wilderness… John Muir would be proud!
The last rays of the sun on Guitar Lake, our final camp spot on the JMT.
Day 26 – Tyndall Frog Ponds to Guitar Lake (11.3 miles) – Tuesday 23rd September 2014 – ‘It Seems So Final’
Today it was just a leisurely 11 miles or so to Guitar Lake, our final camp spot on route to Mount Whitney. We left our camp at Tyndall Frog Ponds in high spirits as we knew we were that bit closer to a burger, beer and shower! (In that exact order!) But we tried to not to rush our final day away and really enjoy it for what it was. Overhead there was not a single cloud in sight. We were bathed in bright blue skies and took this as a good sign that the weather would hold for the next couple of days, allowing us to summit Mount Whitney without the threat of rain.
Surrounded by vivid blue skies as we leave Tyndall Frog Ponds.
As the ‘Big Group’ had also camped at Tyndall Frog Ponds last night, we became privy to a bit of insider knowledge courtesy of our new trail friend Jimmy. As one of the leaders of the group, he was taking them on a short detour off-trail to the top of Bighorn Plateau where you get an amazing 360° view of the surrounding landscape. He encouraged us to join them, convincing us it was an opportunity not to be missed. Having reached the top, we agreed with Jimmy’s opinion.
Following the ‘Big Group’, we head up to Bighorn Plateau.
We passed by a small lake on the way up. (Put some pink flamingos in there and we could have been in Bolivia’s Altiplano).
Trying to capture the essence of this boundless place.
The plateau was a vast, rocky landscape, the desolation of which makes you feel completely isolated, rather like our visit to the Altiplano in Bolivia. What made the unplanned hike so special was that we could see Mount Whitney opposite us in all her glory. She looked even more stunning reflected in the lake from the top of the plateau. From our perspective right there, we could see that she’s one mighty mountain, and we couldn’t quite believe that we’d actually be stood on the top of her tomorrow at sunrise. (Well that was the plan anyway!)
Playing around with shadows.
From the top of Bighorn Plateau we had 360° views of the surrounding mountains.
The dry, rocky landscape up here is in complete contrast with the lush, green valley bottom.
Looking straight across to Mount Whitney. It was hard to comprehend that we’d be stood on the top of her the following morning!
From Bighorn Plateau we headed down through Sandy Meadow, then on to Crabtree Junction where we stopped for our final lunch. It was here that we met Jarred, a German guy hiking the JMT, who we found out loves Pilsner and like us, is a big fan of ‘Breaking Bad’. We remember him so vividly as he made us completely jealous when he told us that he’d seen a bear crossing the trail along ‘Bear Creek’! We had hiked the exact same route after leaving VVR full of expectations of a bear encounter, with no such luck. Oh well, at least someone got to see a bear at last!
Crabtree Junction was our planned lunch spot today.
It was another couple of miles to Guitar Lake, first passing Timberline Lake which looked lovely surrounded by tall, green grasses growing in the shallows. The whole area looked really inviting, but camping is prohibited around Timberline Lake at present as it is undergoing a process of restoration due to overuse.
Taking our time and enjoying the walk to Guitar Lake.
Once again, we were lucky with the weather.
It’s surprising how much you miss the trees when you’re above 10,000 feet.
Timberline Lake looked perfectly inviting.
So we continued on to the famous ‘Guitar Lake’, appropriately named because of its guitar-like shape. There were already several groups of hikers that had pitched their tents in pockets around the lake, but it wasn’t too busy compared with the night we had spent at Lower Palisade Lake. We walked along the trail to the right-hand side of Guitar Lake and pitched our tent near to Katie (‘Crocs Katie’, whom we had first met at the top of Glen Pass a couple of days before. She earned her trail name from us for hiking the JMT in a pair of crocs, after her hiking boots had given her blisters). We kind of disturbed her sunbathing, but she assured us that she didn’t mind us taking a spot nearby. (The wonderful affability of the Americans!)
Looking towards Mount Whitney.
Gradually going uphill again as Guitar Lake is at 11,600 feet.
Our great camp spot close to the outlet of Guitar Lake.
We also saw Crazy Ivan and Randy again too. Randy is the husband of Shari (our ‘Trail Angel’), but he was looking rather perplexed as no one he had spoken to on arrival at Guitar Lake had seen Shari on the trail that day. Including us. Despite hiking as a couple, Randi and Shari walk at very different paces, so we didn’t actually see them ‘together’ on the trail that often. We wondered whether Shari had strayed from the trail, such as I had previously, finding myself unwittingly on another route, as it’s so easily done. An hour or so later, with still no sign of her, we were all getting a little anxious as to her whereabouts.
So we were all very relieved therefore when a few moments later she thundered around the corner looking for Randy. He was definitely in the bad books after not waiting for her at the trail junction to Guitar Lake. She had assumed he’d hiked on further, so she continued up the trail a few miles until the realisation hit her that there wasn’t any water. Begrudgingly, she had no choice but to make her way back down to Guitar Lake again, finding Randy camped up on the rocky ledge around the right-hand corner of the lake (out of sight from the trail junction!) Needless to say, we were glad we weren’t in Randy’s shoes at that very moment!
Wayne builds a rock wind break around the tent.
But after a quick rinse in the lake and a chance to warm up in the early evening rays of the sun, everyone (including Shari) was all smiles again and in good spirits. It helped knowing that this time tomorrow, we’d be making full use of the comforts of a motel room and smelling a hell of a lot better! We all chatted for a while, sharing our experiences of the trail as well as other travelling adventures and then dispersed to our own pitches to get on with the all-important task of using up our last few rations and cooking our final ‘hiker meal’.
Eating our final ‘hiker dinner’. The only items left in our bear canisters were 3 Clif Bars each for getting up and down Mount Whitney, plus our entire rubbish from the last 11 days. Definitely a lighter load!
We had picked the perfect camp spot to watch the sun set over Guitar Lake, whilst devouring our instant noodles and spicy salmon. And then it was ‘hiker bedtime’, an even earlier night than usual in readiness to get up at 2am to hike the final 5 miles to the summit of Mount Whitney in time for sunrise!
Looking on to the western face of Mount Whitney.
We’re treated to a ‘range of light’ as the sun sets over Guitar Lake.
Guitar Lake is bathed in a gorgeous glow from sunset.
The last rays of the day light up Mount Whitney.
To be at this point on the trail makes our adventure seem so final. After being in the wilderness for so long and adapting to all the different aspects compared to ‘civilisation’, waking up in a tent now seems the ‘norm’, as does washing in a river. (You’ll never get me saying that about ‘crapping’ in the woods though!)
Are we ready to go back to reality – yes, for a while. Will we miss being in the wilderness – yes, of course. It’s part of us now. Hiking and camping are in our blood. As I’ve said previously, on a long distance hike you seem to become part of the trail and the trail becomes part of you. We’ll just have to concentrate hard on earning the funds and planning our next adventure! Watch this space…