August 28, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 25 – Tyndall Frog Ponds (11,030ft) to Guitar Lake (11,470ft) – although no passes to climb the trail climbs up and down several ridges.
Camped near the outlet of Guitar Lake.
By morning it’s nearly as cold as it had been the night before. Don’s air mattress manages to hold pretty well although it’s somewhat deflated. The bright spot of the morning is the crystal clear blue sky that is to last all day. Not a speck of haze on the horizon.
We get an early start and are off through the forest by 7:30AM. It’s a gorgeous, still morning as we climb up to Big Horn Plateau. The austere landscape – first barren terrain strewn with boulders then grasslands surrounding a small tarn – is a stunning setting with great peak views.
Off the plateau we start the descent down to the High Sierra Trail junction, the low point of the day. The day is really a series of short climbs and descents, rolling over the ridges that traverse a wider valley. Although there are some steep sections they never last too long.
Dry forest covers the tops of the ridges. The golden trunks of the pines are magical against the deep blue sky. At the bottom we cross a meadow or a stream.
At Crabtree Meadow starts the final ascent to Mt. Whitney, but first Guitar Lake where we will spend the night.
The climb up the valley is prettier than many of the starker pass climbs we’ve done in recent days – heroic pines persist in the molded white boulder cliffs. Traversing green meadows alongside Timberline Lake, the nearly 500ft climb is steep in sections, sometime up stairs. I hate stairs, especially at altitude because they make it harder to regulate your pace.
Soon we reach the top of hill and are overlooking Guitar Lake. At 2:45PM a number of groups are already camped near the lake but there are still plenty of sites available.
On this still, sunny day the sun pounds on the shadeless lake. The landscape, rocky with areas of green, is more picturesque than I imagined it would be. The west face of Mt. Whitney looms over the lake, a glaring white against a Himalayan blue sky in the harsh afternoon sun. As the light begins to soften, colors and contours emerge from the towering mass.
A soft breeze blows up the valley and over the lake but otherwise it’s calm and quiet. “If this weather can hold for just one more day”, I whisper to myself.
At dinner we have a visitor. As our meal sits rehydrating, a fat marmot comes poking around camp. Watching from nearby rocks we catch him before he gets too curious. Then, as I’m still at the face of a rock ledge watching over our dinner more closely, he sneaks up behind me, peering over my shoulder from the top of the boulder. Feeling a presence I jump, startling and scaring him away. He continues to lurk around until after we’ve finished eating and clean up and he realizes there is nothing left for him.
We go to bed early as we are planning a 5:30AM departure for the ascent up Whitney. I have a hard time settling down and keep popping up to watch the changing colors of the last rays of sun on the face of Mt Whitney.