Last Camp below Guitar Lake
Side note: we camped on a flat just below Guitar Lake. We set up camp at Guitar Lake and a ranger babe came flying down the Whitney trail out from the misty clouds, swooped down and drank from her Sierra Cup® directly out of the stream, and warned us to hunker down because a lightning storm was on its way. Guitar Lake is above treeline in a rather exposed bowl, and this freaked Dave out and he packed up and went flying down the trail. Dave has a lightning phobia. By the time Jim and I saw Dave as a little speck down the trail, descending quickly (Jim hates backtracking, especially when steep elevation is involved, and I admit I'm not too fond of it either unless absolutely necessary), Jim finally screamed, "DAVE.... DAAAAAAVE!!!". Jim's voice was louder and more threatening than the thunder itself, so Dave stopped in his tracks and we found a spot just below Guitar Lake, still above Timberline Lake, with a neat little creek nearby. It was a nice spot and we were all happy. We got up at 2:30 a.m. that morning for our summit bid... or, as we like to say, our summit assault. It sounds more aggressive and manly to assault the summit than bid for it. We hiked up to Trail Crest® in pitch darkness with our headlamps, which, for Lightweight Jim, meant he duct taped his LED pinchlight to his Krispy Kreme® baseball cap. We're hardcore. But... long story short, you can tell why they named the lake Guitar Lake... from up high it looks like a... guitar.
This was taken fairly late in the evening so I had to boost up the
lighting and contrast in the scan (slide has cloud detail). I took it from our perch above
our campsite, which was between Timberline Lake and Guitar Lake. Have you heard of Guitar
Lake yet? Okay then. This is looking westerly towards the sunset, and the Great Western
Divide is the distant range. This plateau was a wonderful place to watch the various
changing colors of the sunset. Earlier in the afternoon the clouds were really dark and
threatening, and that's when the ranger gal came dashing down from the misty clouds at
Guitar Lake and told us about the coming lightning storm, which never really materialized.
By the time I could turn around and ask Jim what he wanted to do, Surfer Dave was well on
his way scurrying down the trail. If Jim didn't scream "DAVE" in his booming,
thunderous voice, Dave would've been way below Timberline Lake and deep down in that
canyon beyond the lake. I know, I mentioned all this before. I'm getting old. That's just
what old people do... repeat the same stories over and over. At least now you can
see how far Dave could've taken his phobia... 1,500' into a canyon.
Here's a shot of Jim above our last night's camp (Guitar Lake is in the
first bowl on the left side of photo), and he's gazing at Mt. Whitney, just out of view to
the left. The evening golden light spills onto the high plateau, but his mind is focused
on the ever threatening dark clouds that won't seem to let up. He's thinking, "We'll
NEVER get over that freakin' pass". We were basically out of food, we have been out
on the trail 18 days straight and come nearly a quarter thousand miles from Yosemite
Valley, and the last piddly 5 miles seemed unatainable. At this point Jim just wanted to
get over Trail Crest and over to the east side, where we had access to the exit trailhead.
But Trail Crest is well over 13 and a half thousand feet in and of itself, a major
undertaking and certainly not someplace to be while dark clouds threatened. Most likely if
we were able to dash over Trail Crest, we could dash the extra 4 miles round trip to the
summit and back. We were so close, yet so FREAKING FAR, held hostage by unrelenting
storms. We thought about the prospect of hiking all this way and not being able to make
the summit of Whitney, the official end of the JMT from the direction we were going. That
would suck. But so goes life on the trail. Fortunately the clouds broke in the middle of
the night and we found our window of opportunity early in the dark, starry night. We came,
we saw, we conquered, oh yaaa baby.
Despite the grumpy clouds, the sun managed to sneak back into the bowl
where the Hitchcock Lakes rested, at least for a bit anyway. I think this is what the sky
looked like when Ben Franklin decided to fly his kite.
Jim and I were standing there on this high plateau above our campsite,
Dave was hunkered down under the tarp waiting to be struck by lightning. We were watching
the sun set behind the Great Western Divide and enjoying the colors, when all of a sudden,
like a tractor beam, the sun lit up this ridge beside us. It literally turned the ridge
into gold, slates and slates of gold, shimmering pure gold. As I always say... I've traded
cash flow for stream flow, and my gold is in the sunsets. Here, my gold was an entire
mountain. My camera didn't capture the brilliance of it all, but this is the best I could
do. The gold didn't last long that evening, but I'm sure it happens often up there. Soon
after the gold disappeared, Jim walked the quarter mile back down to camp, I snapped a few
more shots of the sunset, and then it started sprinkling so I made my way back to my tarp,
feeling very content... and very rich for what I just experienced. God is so awesome.
There's some foreground trees to give scale here... these are huge ridges. You can make out all kinds of crazy faces in all the rocks and cracks if you stare at it long enough. It's funny because as eager as I was to get off that trail at times, now I reeeeally miss it. Now I wanna start at Whitney and hike north. And I won't be underestimatin' the amount of toilet paper I'll be needin' this time.
The view during this sunset was amazing, from this high perch we could
even see the Great Pyramids of Egypt on the horizon. Then I looked down at my feet, and lo
and behold, a set of etched stone tablets lay beside a burning bush, which oddly enough
didn't seem to be consumed by the flames. Across the top it said, "The Revised 10
Commandments". It caught my attention, but I just left it there. It was probably
nothing. Anyway, I don't like scanning really colorful sunset shots because the slightest
adjustment in contrast seems to make the colors look fake, but they aren't. So this is
pretty much a straight scan, duller than real life. It was very soon after I snapped this
shot that a light rain forced me off the plateau, but I liked being up there in this
basin, and even the rain felt nice, so as sang as I hiked back alone to our camp and then
underneath my MSR Heptawing tarp which was supported by my Leki Super Makalu lightning
rods... I mean, trekking poles.
The previous few days were stormy. The night before was thundery and lightningy. Dave had accidently left his tent poles for his North Face Tadpole back at our camp at Big Pete Meadow, so we shared my tarp. In the middle of the night, as we were camped at Wright Creek, he kept nervously saying, "Brian, that one was close, wasn't it?". "Brian, that one almost hit us, didn't it"?. "Brian, should we run out in the cold dark rain screaming for our lives?". Etc., etc. It was a cycle, it would clear for a bit in the morning, then storm in the afternoon and evening and sometimes all night. We were worried about not being able to summit Whitney, and even concerned about a long enough window to jam over Trail Crest to the east side. We decided to get up at 3:00 a.m. and if we could see stars, we'd go for it. At 2:30 a.m., from under his tarp, Jim asked, "Buck, you awake?" "Yep". "I see stars... there's still some clouds over Whitney, but I see stars." That's all we needed, so I got up and boiled me some water for my rationed 2 packets of Quakers® Maple Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal. While the water was still boiling, a headlamp points in my face from close range. It was a 61 year old man named Reinhold Metzger who needed me to document his time and place because he was trying to set a new JMT unsupported thru-hike of 5 days. Yes, 5 days. We did it in 19. He was a fascinating guy with a German accent and I'll tell that story later, but he had slept on top of Whitney in the hut and left at midnight. He said it had snowed that night and was whiteout conditions, but it had cleared. SoooOOOoo, we broke camp and we were the first tiny headlamps to be up on Trail Crest. People asked/talked about us on the summit, as they saw us way up there in the darkness. We're legends. Ha! Earlier in the trip we did two passes in one day, both Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass, and by the time we got to Rae Lakes, people were asking us if we were the ones who did two passes in one day. We strutted... OF COURSE THAT WAS US! We're the JMThree, aka The Pirates of the JMT. Anyway, enough about us, let's talk about me. Ohhh Buck, you're too much.