John Muir Trail Thru Hike: Day Ten

Tyndall Creek to tarn above Guitar Lake: 13.5 Miles

Sept. 21st, 2011.

This was a relaxing day with low mileage and easy terrain. I stopped to clean up a bit at the Tyndall Creek crossing and made my way through some lightly forested areas toward the Big Horn Plateau. The amazing views of the Kaweah mountain range started to open up through the trees. . .

and soon I was on the plateau. . .

Big Horn Plateau

After passing through I realized there was plenty of time left to take a break on the plateau. I made coffee and relaxed in front of the large shallow lake. The Big Horn Plateau would make a great camp (some other time). For the first time I saw another hiker in this area, which was rare this late in the season. The view of the lake and the mountains in the distance was spectacular. I could make out the Kaweahs, Kings Canyon and even Sawtooth Mountain all far away in the distance to the west. . . and to the east the first view of Whitney.

Video from the Big Horn Plateau.

The view to the north looking back toward Forester Pass and Diamond Mesa.
View to the West/Northwest.
View to the West of the Kaweah mountains.
View to the Southwest of the Kaweah mountains. 
After my break I headed down toward the Wallace Creek junction and past some of the amazing trees in the area. The forest just to the east of the plateau is beautiful and full of strangely distorted trees and some nice meadows.

After descending for a while I came upon a large group of young people getting ready to get back on the trail after a break. I learned from Mike Clellands book (**see below) that I could hike all day at a leisurely 2 mph pace and still keep some energy in reserve when needed for a creek crossing or whatever. Keeping this in mind I made a quick jump over some boulders in Wallace Creek and headed right up the switchbacks. They all looked to be in their early 20's and although they were carrying seriously large loads I figured they would be passing me in no time.

A while later I noticed a few of the people from the group grinding up the switchbacks below me. I must have forgotten about them because I had fallen into my usual trail meditation or singing or some other possibly strange solo discussion (the result of too much time alone in the wilderness). I was only carrying a days worth of food and didn't realize I was moving effortlessly up the switchbacks after being at high elevation for 10 days. I never saw them again.

**(Check out Ultralight Backpackin' Tips  by Mike Clelland).

I met a group of three guys at the Crabtree Ranger Station who were on their way home after doing trail work all summer. They had been pounding out trails and were finally on the way up to Whitney and eventually back to the real world. It was interesting talking to them, but it felt awkward trying to socialize after being alone for so long. I picked up my 'wag bag' and headed toward Whitney. The wag bags are plastic bags for use in the Whitney zone. Since it is so busy in this area and there are very few trees hikers are required to carry out ALL waste.

Container with Wag Bags. 

I made it to Timberline Lake and started up the stone trail toward Guitar Lake.

Timberline Lake. Whitney in the background. 
I was looking forward to seeing the Guitar Lake and Mt. Hitchcock and before long the west side of Mt. Whitney was visible. This is an amazing alpine area. A vast land of granite with very little else. Huge mountain faces with small seeps and a single creek. It was still early afternoon when I reached Guitar Lake and I loaded up with water. I had read that there was no water from here until Trail Camp on the east side, but there are a few more creeks and even a tarn with plenty of water.

The west side of Mt. Whitney from the JMT.
I could see a few people camping near the trail around Guitar Lake so I decided to keep going. I remembered that there is a small tarn just past Guitar Lake and it turned out to be an amazing spot, and I had it all to myself. I decided to call it day early and chill out, do some laundry, make an early dinner and get an early start for Whitney tomorrow morning. I spent the rest of the day exploring the area, and trying to keep the local marmots from eating my food. Two of them were fearless and came right up to me while I was making dinner.

My dinner compadres.
Camp for the last night at the tarn above Guitar Lake. 

West side of Mt. Whitney from camp.
I set up my bivy and slept under the stars. While I was watching the alpenglow on the side of Mt. Whitney a  small group set up camp on the other side of the tarn. I fell asleep looking at the stars. I felt  total serenity. I woke up once to what felt like someone nudging my feet, but it was just the wind pushing against my bivy. I was warm and cozy in my home made quilt. The trip was almost over. I was filled with a sense of accomplishment and peace. Tomorrow I would climb Mt. Whitney and have a real cheese burger at the Portal!

Alpenglow on the west side of Mt. Whitney from my bivy. 

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Click for John Muir Trail Thru Hike Day Eleven


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  2. I like how you put this: ...I had fallen into my usual trail meditation or singing or some other possibly strange solo discussion (the result of too much time alone in the wilderness)" Hahaha. It's funny, because of course I do the same exact thing. ;)

    1. Hi Randy! Thanks man, it is good to know that I'm not the only one who gets this way on the trail!!