Friday, October 18, 2013

Johm Muir Trail (part VI, THE END thank goodness!)

And so, after a brief period on Mt. Whitney summit we began our descent.

 Here's a shot looking back.  Whitney is the rounded non-peak-looking peak on the left (over the sheer rock rather than the scree that surrounds it). The pointy peak in the middle is Mt Muir, and the pointy peak to the right I have no idea if it's even named (looks bigger as it's closer to us).

 Here we are looking ahead, towards Trail Crest. Quite the scenic rock formations for sure.

We're past Trail Crest now, heading down the 99 switchbacks. That's Greg below me making great time. Me, I'm taking it EASY, doing my very best to NOT come down hard on either foot from the steps made from rock. I did that (came down too hard too often) on both prior Whitney descents, and I was almost crawling due to unbelievable knee pain well before I reached the bottom. I did NOT want to repeat that. In the center top of the picture you can still see Mt Whitney, the rounded peak.

Looking DOWN a pretty steep face, this is what the 99 switchbacks take us down. You can see many of the switchbacks below. I think that might even be Greg again WAY below me. It's about as barren as it can possibly be up here.

An easy section actually, but you can see the danger (if you were to fall/slip off to the left you'd have a very long slide to your death). That's a lot of work done LONG ago to put those posts and chains into the solid rock of the trail. And they had to blast/dig the trail through can see what we are descending by the angle of the rock on the right side.

We've made good progress heading down. The green and trees in the far off middle is what we've been calling "Greg's Meadow" all these years. I've now passed Greg (he was hoping we'd camp at "Trail Camp" which is basicly a rocky spot where EVERYBODY camps at the base of the switchbacks. I had no intention of staying there if my legs were still working, so I continued down. My goal is to get us to Greg's Meadow. It's still a ways off, but seeing it gives me great hope. 

Just getting to the top of the tree line, you can see some of the higher Bristlecones. Also you can see how steep this valley is that we are descending.

xxx Lake. No camping allowed (darn it!) I would have easily stopped here if we were allowed. Alas, it was just a beautiful spot on the trail teasing us.

 And here is the far end of Greg's Meadow (we've hiked the length of it to get to here, and this is where we camped for our last night). This is the view from camp...not too shabby if you ask me!

I included this shot to show you how hardy the Bristlecone pines are. You can see these little guys are growing literally on the side of a cliff, probably rooted in a tiny crack. Somehow they can survive this kind of environment, which is just amazing! In the bottom to the left of the living tree you can see a dead one. It's a pretty harsh place to live for sure!

Just a shot looking back up the trail, we are getting close to Whitney Portal (the trailhead) now. The high peaks are WAY up this valley, from this view it's hard to believe what's in store for you as you ascend for the first time. You'd think it will just be green and beautiful everywhere, but it turns to sheer rock.

We MADE IT! And this is what's been on my mind for the entire hike down on our final day: a Whitney Burger! I can't tell you for sure if it's the best burger on the planet (considering we've been eating freeze dried food for 4 days now)...but it sure is tasty! And those fries...OMG are they GOOD!! (the burgers are as big as they look too...quite a meal for some hungry backpackers!)

Looking back up Whitney Portal road, this is the view of Mt Whitney you get from the highway going thru Lone Pine. That's Whitney dead center, with Mt Muir the closest jagged 'tooth' peak to it's left. It doesn't look like the highest peak, but it's much farther back than the other mountains in the foreground. If you like to watch old westerns, then you've seen this view MANY times as they did a LOT of Hollywood filming in this area. All the restaurants in town are filled with signed pictures of the stars, movie posters, etc.

And this is a zoomed in shot of Whitney, our final view before we head home. There is a "Mountaineering route" that goes right up the face, but obviously that requires actual mountain-climbing skills with ropes, equipment and such. Nothing I'm interested in. I much prefer the "yellow brick road" approach used by tens of thousands every year. I won't be back up here anytime soon, that's for sure. But it was a great hike and we both ended it without any injuries, and our knees even held out very nicely. Goodbye Mt Whitney!

And so...that wraps up our backpacking trip. I can FINALLY write about something else (hooray, it's about time you are probably saying to yourself). 

Sorry it took so long to finish this, my life has been QUITE busy with the granite counter-tops these last few weeks. It's safe to say it has consumed my life. But they are finally in, the sinks are all in and working, the doors area ll back on the cabinets, and tomorrow (Saturday) we will order our cut stone for the back-splash's. I'll work on those when I can, no huge rush but I just want to get it over-with.



  1. Matt, Mountaineers route is definitely not for the 'faint of heart'. An alternate for your consideration: take the mountaineer's route trail to the base of the East Face. Camp at Iceberg Lake approx 12K ft.(the lake you look down on from the top) then you approach the summit via the collier to the right of your picture to the north saddle. A scramble from there to the top and viola!

    1. David, have you done the mountaineers route?? It would be terrifying unless you are a 'mountaineer' (or a Mt goat). I doubt very much we'll be back in the Whitney vicinity anytime many more places to go (we have a lot of the JMT still left to do, hopefully another section next year).

    2. Matt.

      Mountaineers trail off the Main Trail from Whitney Portal takes you up to the base of East Face and Iceberg Lake 12,700 Climbers ascend from there. You can hike up the collier to the right side saddle between Whitney and Mt Russell and ascend Whitney from the North Ridge. (1989?) Maybe I'll put this on my list go back to for 2014.