JMT – Day 20 – Wallace Creek to Mt. Whitney Summit
August 22, 2014
It’s here. The last day on the JMT. The summit of Mt. Whitney is less than 15 miles away, a distance easily cover in a course of one day.
My legs feel heavy as we leave our campsite at Wallace Creek. My slowness today can partially be attributed to the character of the trail. With it’s constant ups and downs it does not match the elevation profile we were given for this part of our hike. In my mind a fight between my desire to complete the trail and my wish to prolong the experience as much as possible takes place and it drains my energy more that the uphill. It’s after 10:00 when we finally plow to Guitar Lake.
I like this area a lot. There is a lot of green grass around the lake. And marmots. They play on the rocks nearby undisturbed by the presence of humans. The surrounding cliffs reflect in the still water of the lake. There are the typical browns and grays but also hues of red in the rock. It’s a perfect place for a lunch before the final push to the summit.
From guitar lake the trail does not waste time. We pass a small tarn, somebody camps next to it, and then come switchbacks that exceed the intensity of any of the mountain passes we climbed in the last three weeks. Soon the tent we just passed is no more than a small dot of color.
Parts of the trail are narrow and much too close to the cliffy slope. I’m not keen on the exposure and to avoid dizziness I keep my eyes glued to the trail just few feet ahead of me. I don’t look up. I don’t look down. It works. With the summit within reach I feel the call of the mountain and my legs do no longer struggle to move and carry me up the approximately 2000 ft without stopping. Still it takes forever to climb out of the basin and we are happy to finally see a bunch of backpacks sitting on the trail ahead of us and few people around them. This is Trail Crest, and from here the route to the summit branches off the main trail. Many hikers drop their backpacks, or at least unnecessary weight from their packs before they commence the climb. We continue with full weight. We’re not trying to punish ourselves but our objective is to spend the night at the summit and for that reason we cannot not leave any gear behind.
The summit is now only about 1000 feet above us. Well trodden path leads towards it. The path is in a good shape and except for two very short slightly exposed spots where we get a peek-a-boo views of the South side there is nothing to be afraid of. Later it takes us through a boulder field where we occasionally have to hop over a rock or two and finally it drops us onto a wide open ridge. The anticipation grows with every step, and there are still many left, and by the time the roof of the Smithsonian Institution Shelter cames to view we can hardly contain the excitement. Sarah and Michelle wait at the summit and all four of us burst into a celebratory rejoice.
It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon atop the highest mountain of the contiguous United States. The wind is strong but we don’t care as we pose for variety of pictures. We have done it. We have thru-hiked the JMT. We still have some 10 miles of hiking left before we reach civilization at Whitney Portal but the trail we came for is now completed. Sarah and Michelle eventually say goodbye. They hope to get a head start on those 10 miles and will camp at Trail Camp tonight, a busy base camp at 12,000 feet where there is usually as many people as there are marmots trying to rob them of their food.
Dave and I would spend the night on the summit surprisingly with no company. On a day like this we were sure other hikers will join us. We won’t complain. It’s awesome to have Mt. Whitney all for ourselves. When tomorrow comes we will descend the 10 miles to Whitney Portal and from there hitchhike to Lone Pine, hoping we can find a place to stay for the night since we are coming out a day ahead of our schedule. From Lone Pine we will take a bus back to Reno and from Reno we will fly back to Seattle where our ordinary everyday lives passionately await our arrival. Lives that will forever stay enriched by the extraordinary experience of hiking the JMT.
Miles today: 14.6
Cumulative miles hiked: 211 Miles left: 0