|2007/08/18 2007/08/10-17: John Muir Trail from Bishop Pass to Mt Whitney|
π 2007-08-18 13:29 by Merlin in Hiking
Jennifer had started the John Muir Trail southbound several years back, but her group hit a freak snow storm in early september and had to back out from Palisades Lakes back down to the Golden Staircase, and out Bishop Pass (with much difficulty since this was in fresh snow). Since then, she had wanted to go back and finish the trail, which is what we did this time.
We had planned for up to ten days of hiking, hoping to finish it in 9. We actually managed to get out at the end of day 8.
I had no desire to do the lonely and long 6-8 hour two car drive to Lonepine and Bishop to have a car waiting for us at the exit while leaving the first car at the entrance, so I managed to find a plane I was able to rent for 10 days (which is a bit hard to do), and we ended up flying to Bishop (the other option being to fly to lonepine and catching a bus to Bishop, which was a bit iffy if you missed the bus).
Of course, this now meant that we had to find a ride from bishop airport to city center, one from the hotel to the trail head the next day, and then one from Lonepine back to Bishop at the end. This isn't as easy as it seems because there is virtually no public transportation there (Bishop has a dial a ride system which doesn't work on weekends), and no taxis. Luckily, we found some nice locals who offered their driving services for a fee. Getting dropped at South Lake Trailhead in Bishop was $50, and getting a ride back from Whitney Portal Trailhead, through Lonepine and to Bishop was $100, which was actually a good price considering it's a 1H+ drive.
That whole plan worked out fine, except for the fact that like an idiot, I forgot half my luggage in the trunk of my car in Palo Alto and only found out after landing in Bishop, so I had to fly back to Palo Alto to pick it up (that was thursday 9th). Luckily, I had a fast plane and did the round trip in less than 3H (vs 12H+ of driving) while Jennifer went to the ranger station and picked up our permits.
As for our backpacks, this time we had to carry a fair amount of food to last 2 people for up to 10 days. Neither Jennifer nor I had much spare fat to burn, so we couldn't go too low on the calories. I figured we had to eat at least 2500cal/day, which was still a good 1000 to 1500 calorie difficiency per day, but with each gram of carb/protein giving 4 cals, and each gram of fat giving 9 cals, it worked out to one pound of high fat foods was about 2500 cals. So, in theory we needed 20 pounds of food for 2 people over 10 days.
The food that Jennifer computed separately ended up weighing 25 pounds when you add the two packed ursacks S29, which was very darn close to what I had computed.
While we found out later that unfortunately, some bears around Rae Lakes actually beat the ursacks (one chewed through the bag and the aluminum liner apparently, while another bear walked away with the ursack to work on opening it later), I was still thankful that there were conditionally approved at the time and that we were able to shed some load and space compared to the heavier and bulkier bear canisters.
In the end, my pack (which was an ultralight 2.2lbs 60l bag) weighed a hefty 52lbs with all the food, cooking ware, water filter, clothes, and more. On top of that were several pounds with the water (up to 9lbs if I filled up my camelback and my nalgene), to which I had to add my fanny pack with another 8lbs of stuff (emergency radio, GPS, batteries, solar chargers, cables, swiss army knife, duct tape, med kit, etc...). I know I could have shedded some weight there, although I wanted to test some of the equipment and I was hoping that I'd be able to cope with a 60-65lbs load, even if my weight was around 157, and it was clearly way beyond the recommended "not more than a third of your weight" rule.
In hindsight, I could have shedded 2-3lbs without missing anything, but the rest would have been at the expense of the trip quality (no GPS, camera, etc...), or safety (no radio), so I don't have much regrets. I was almost tempted ot bring a second water filter, seeing how many moving parts and seals those things have, and little it takes for them to fail, leaving you with drinking questionable water.
Jennifer had 25-27lbs in her pack, which is obviously less, but was plenty of challenge for her uphill (she would however beat me downhill because I just wasn't nimble enough with all that stuff on my back and had to step down carefully). She was a bit disappointed for not being able to carry more, as she had been training for the last year, but my guess is that while she had plenty of cardio, she was light on core body strength and leg muscles (squats, walking lunges uphill while carrying weights, etc...). For me, since I had been doing boot camp for the last 4 years or so, I was actually doing well enough with the 65lbs uphill, and felt fine when my weight dropped to 55lbs or so.
On the GPS front, I had just bought/upgraded to a Etrex Legend HCx (I bought the legend initially because I'm pissed at Garmin for not allowing me to turn off incorrect baro altitude in pressurized planes). The Etrex did a pretty good job of recording the track, although it kept telling me that I had less than I really did, and then would record longer tracks each day (no, it's not user error :) ). I also still had the forerunner for the convenience of having altitude and distance done each day at my wrist, as well as heart rate to see if I was pushing a bit too hard when going uphill with all that weight.
Here are the results for the trip (the calories are of course all wrong, Garmin doesn't know how to compute them, but it gives a point of reference):
Total Ascent: 34,807ft (> 10,000m) Total Descent: 34,835ft (> 10,000m) Total Distance: 93 miles (> 150km) Min Altitude: 7,867ft Max Altitude: 14,514ft
you can click pictures or waypoint on the google map, switch from terrain mode to satellite or mytopo. You can also click on all the pictures below to see where they are on the map
Day 1: Bishop Pass
We got a ride up to South Lake and arrived at the trail head around 10:00.
The funny thing is that we met my friend and coworker Arturo and ski buddy Bill at the trail head. What are the odds of that?
We were however not able to keep up with them since they were lighter weight, and Jennifer had tried to take some weight off me, which slowed her down too much (I took that extra weight back soon afterwards and we did better).
Obviously, I did feel the almost 65lbs on my back (with water), but I was able to carry them up to the top of Bishop Pass without any major problems. That was our first 12,000ft peak (well, close to it), and we went through it fine (the diamox probably helped a bit).
We had enough time to hike down to LeConte Canyon and log a mile or two on the John Muir trail before finding a nice camp site where we were able to have our first and only camp fire (every other night, we were higher than 10,000ft and fires were forbidden there)
Day 2: Golden Staircase
We were a bit slow to get ready in the morning due to bad synchronization and we both already had to fix our feet since we both have weird feet that don't fit in boots), but we got out eventually (10:30) and headed for the Golden Staircase. Oh, I also forget that we were greeted by two little bambies with their mom. It was nice to see them around us, they were quite cute :)
Oh, also some very small chipmunk managed to eat through an odor proof bag I had to stash under some rocks (it didn't fit in the 2 ursacks). To this day, unless the odor proof bags are a scam (it was well sealed), I'm still not sure how it found the food. It only took a couple of small bites though, so no biggie.
Note that there is nothing golden about that staircase ;) but we got up it and to a stream dumping into Palisades Lake and snatched the only nice campsite by beating the other hikers who made the mistake of taking a break in the wrong place :)
Day 3: Mather Pass
Luckily, our hike was timed well so that we only had to worry about Mather Pass on the 3rd and not have to do it right after the Golden Staircase like some. It was one of those passes where the grading and the size of steps made it more challenging than it should have been, but since we were already starting from 11,000ft in the morning, it wasn't that bad.
Jennifer was also excited because this is when we started going beyond where she had to turn back last time: new terrain for both of us.
Day 4: Pincho Pass
Day 4 was Pincho Pass, a mere 30 feet higher than Mather Pass, nothing to see here, move along :)
It was just one of those "go down forever" on dicy terrain. I was actually slower than when going uphill because the weight on my back made it hard to jump those big steps without sliding and falling on the loose gravel, but going down didn't take as much energy. At least, once all the way down, we were rewarded by the suspension bridge, but it also meant we'd have to climb all that back up.
This is also the first night that we entered bear country (as in more numerous and smarted/more motivated bears). Thanks to my GPS, I had a list of all bearboxes in the area. For some reason, everyone stopped/stayed at Dollar Lake and was crowded together with no bear box, and we had a huge camp site at Arrowhead lake with our own private bear box.
Incidently, it's also the night where I heard (but never saw) a bear going around our site, so we locked everything up in the bear box and the bear probably got tired and went to check all the fresh and tasty scouts at Dollar Lake :)
Day 5: Glen Pass
Day 5 was Glen Pass, a nice long climb up the face of the mountain, and the terrain continued on top of the ridge for a nice view.
On the other side of the peak, we got to meet the some CCC guys (California Conservation Corp) who were trying to even out some really big and jagged steps.
We again scored huge camp site with bear box that night. It was great to have the GPS and know exactly where to go.
Day 6: Forrester Pass
Day 6 was Forrester Pass, our highest pass yet at 13,120ft. By then, things were definitely getting easier for me due to reduced weight, but poor Jennifer was still lugging the same 25lbs+water. She did a good job getting up though, and on the way, we got to see and touch our first glacier on the way (although what was left of it was fast melting). On top, we met a funny guy who pulled out a budweiser from his pack and lit up a smoke to celebrate his climb: he was doing portion of the trail to Whitney and back as a bet.
On the way down from there, we saw the cutest fluffy furry mouse ever, that thing was to die for :) and we pressed on down to the Valley of Tyndall Creek to make it to the 3rd bear box waypoint I had, and due to some good hiking speeds from poor Jennifer who was suffering from poor digestion of those Pemmican bars (those things are really tough to eat and digest), we made it to our next waypoint and another nice and big camp with bear box (Wallace Creek), although this was the first night we actually had to share the camp site with other folks, but considering that was the only night we had to do so, it really wasn't that bad.
Day 7: Guitar Lake
After a long hike on Day 6 to make it to the next bear box and not lose 4 miles by stopping at the previous one, day 7 was a nice and easy hike to Guitar Lake where most people stop overnight before climbing Whitney the next day.
This one of the days where Garmin selling 24K topo data version 3 that just came out, showed that they are still using data that is 15 to 20 years old in point. The JMT has been rerouted in several places, and the GPS was still showing a very old and obsolete route. Bad Garmin!
We stopped at the Crabtree ranger station on the way to get some wag bags (their container was empty) and chat with the ranger there, and got to Guitar Lake quite early. Jennifer and I agreed that we should just fill up on water (we had 8-9l carrying capacity) and continue on to a dry camp 600ft higher 1.5 miles further, putting us closer to the peak for the next morning, and giving us a nice quiet spot just for us.
We still had time left over to lounge around for the first time. It was quite nice to do so for our first time :)
Day 8: Mt Whitney
Day 8 ended up being our last day. We got up at 6, and were on the trail by 08:00. That said, by then already 10 people had passed our position. Some got up as early at 04:30 and started in the dark...
Either way, it's not like it was a race, we got up with plenty of time to spare. At the trail junction around 13,000ft, we dropped our packs and I started going up pretty fast without all that weight on my back. I had to turn around and make sure I wasn't leaving Jennifer too far behind :)
As the average heart rate per day trend showed, my body had been getting used to both the altitude and the exercise, so climbing what was left of Whitney when I only had my fanny pack and some water, was a true piece of cake.
After a lunch at the top and some pictures, Jennifer and I started heading down. My GPS made it clear that by having left the top around noon, we would make it to the exit that day, so that helped us getting down at a good pace. We were happy to reach trail camp after 3 miles of switchbacks downhill though because our 8 litres of water from the previous day were almost gone (with the dry camping and the total absence of water).
A few hours, and many many switchbacks later, we made it to the bottom and I was able to get a couple of bars on my cell phone so that our driver from Lonepine had started coming up and met us at the trailhead 18:00 to get us back to Bishop. By 20:30, we were showered with fresh clothes and enjoying Sushi in Bishop. That was quite nice :)
It was nice to finish the hike, I know Jennifer was ecstatic to have finished the trail she started and despite some problems digesting the food we had, and feet issues (same for me, my two little toes got pretty badly mushed due to my feet being too wide, even for wide boots), we did pretty well on the trail.
She lost a couple of pounds, I lost 4 to 5 (although I'm regaining them quickly :) ), and we were happy to make it back to civilization with lots of pictures and the experience of this long trip.
For the rest, you can look at all the pictures of this hike from the John Muir Trail from Bishop to Mt Whitney