John Muir Trail Thru Hike: Day Eleven

Tarn above Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal: 16.5 Miles

Sept. 22nd, 2011.

I woke up to the sound of groups of hikers passing by at 3:45 am. They were heading up the switchbacks by headlamp. I wasn't comfortable hiking on an unfamiliar trail at high elevation by headlamp, so I relaxed and dozed off.

Within an hour or so I could see their headlamps on the side of the mountain, way way up toward the top. A friend had told about seeing this same thing many years ago, and now here I was.

By 6:30 am I had gathered my gear and while wearing every piece of clothing I had I started up the trail toward Mt. Whitney. For the first 20 minutes it was seriously cold, but soon I removed almost everything and hiked there rest of the way in shorts with silk long johns, a wind breaker and lightweight hat/gloves.

The views of Mt. Hitchcock and Hitchcock Lakes in the sunrise was beautiful. While hiking up toward Trail Crest I passed a few bivy camp sites (possible camp spots for next time). The trail was basically dug out of the granite most of the way. There was a storm passing from the east and although it was sunny there was snow blowing over from the other side of the ridge.

Sunrise on Mt. Hitchcock.

Looking back down from where I started. 
It wasn't long before I made it to Trail Crest. There was a large pile of backpacks as most people leave there heavy stuff here before hiking the remaining 1.8 miles to the top. Somebody asked about my homemade backpack so I stopped and had more awkward conversation with other humans before heading up to the rest of the way. I was just carrying my base weight plus a liter of water and my remaining Pro Bar so it was easier to just bring my pack along.

Approaching Trail Crest.

The final 1.8 miles to Mt. Whitney. 
The rest of the trail is an amazing wonderland of granite spires and rocky trail cut right into the talus. There was a small snowy area just before the final ascent to the top, but a nice trail had been cut through it months earlier.

Looking down toward the Owens Valley. 
Remnants of a snow field. 
I passed a group of well groomed day hikers who were catching their breath on the way to the top. The good thing about saving Mt. Whitney for last is that I was totally acclimated to the 14,495 elevation. Most of the people I saw on this last section were coming up from Whitney Portal, and most were moving slowly while trying to catch their breath. I must have been grinning from ear to ear as a cruised by because one of the people said, "man you look happy". I was a little caught off guard, but somehow I managed, "yeah, I'm just finishing the John Muir Trail". . . "right on dude, how long did it take you?". . . I had to stop and think, but then realized, "this is my eleventh day".

Before long the stone cabin at the top was visible. The view from the top was amazing. The storm had passed and the views were incredible. . . and it was windy! I was taking pictures, some videos and just trying to take it all in. 

The end of the JMT.

After I signed the register I noticed a famous ultra runner named Catra Corbett, also known as Dirt Diva (check out her blog: Dirt Diva). She and her friend were hiking up and down Whitney as a day hike. 22 miles and over 12,000 feet of combined elevation gain and loss in a day. Just a typical weekend workout for ultra runners. They were very friendly, but soon they were off to climb Mt. Muir. I ran into them again on the way down and we hiked together about half the way back to Whitney Portal. Their pace down the 100 Switchbacks was intense! Meeting Catra felt like a great way to finish the trip. Many thanks to Catra and her very cool friend Jerry.

Ultra runner Catra Corbett. 

View from the top.

Chasing the ultra runners down the '100 Switchbacks'.
I lost Catra and Jerry about half way down. After eleven days solo on the trail I had gained a sense of connection with the Sierra's and experienced amazing peace in nature. I lost over 10 lbs and was feeling a very strong desire for a large cheese burger at Whitney Portal!

There was still some snow melting along the trail on the way down to Whitney Portal.

Click for full size.

Click for full size.


  1. Really enjoyed the report. JMT is on my bucket list!

    1. I'm glad you liked the report! The JMT awaits!

  2. Awesome! I cheated and came right to your Whitney post, but will start at the beginning now. Especially love the photos! (My JMT thru-hike was last summer. I'm gradually getting my journal entries posted (at I also have a Marry Me, John Muir Facebook page - would love you to check it out and LIKE if you like. :)

    Thanks for sharing your report! I know it's a lot of work to put it together, and you did a great job. (And dang -- if you kept up with Dirt Diva for any portion of the trail, I'm impressed! I saw her BLAZING up a pass while I was laboring down it.)

  3. Thank you Beth, I'm glad you like the report! Your FB page Marry Me, John Muir is a blast. What a great idea. I've been reading your MMJM posts (and 'liked' the FB page). Maybe I'll see you on the trail next summer.