It isn’t long before I reach the trail crest. Others have left their belongings and continued up to the summit. I unpack my bear canister, but keep my Mariposa on. It’s been a trusty pack and I want to bring it on the entire length of the trail.
The sun begins to rise, but the trail swings left, blocking the sun for quite some time. I bear right and go off trail, climbing over a few boulders and take a seat to watch the sun rise.
The last two miles are long, but not in an agonizing “I don’t want to be doing this anymore” way. The summit is so close, but I have many switchbacks to hike, building the anticipation even more.
There are large patches of snow that people wrote notes in. Someone is celebrating their birthday atop Whitney! I pass a few more people and make the final push to the summit. My hands feel frozen tucked into my jacket sleeves. Breathing is more difficult, but I still feel great at this altitude. I pause when I see the summit building. The wind whips around me and the sun warms my face. I feel so small up here. It feels like another planet. I think back to when I was planning this hike and how many people doubted me. This ultralight packing gal from New England made it to the summit of Mount Whitney the long way. I’m actually here. I feel a little overwhelmed by the experience and for a while I don’t think about this adventure coming to an end.
I see John and run over to him. We congratulate each other and he asks where Andy and Kayla are. Kayla had told me to go ahead when I tried waiting for her. Andy stayed back so they could finish together. We go into the summit building with a handful of other hikers. I pull out my wool socks and stick my hands in them. John and I play a game of “who can open their hand faster”. We’re so cold I think we both lost.
Andy and Kayla make it up to the summit and we cheer in celebration. This hike was very different than what I expected. I was prepared, but also surprised. I finished a day earlier than I thought I would and with a trail family. I never thought I would be hiking multiple 20 mile days or never getting my Muir Trail Ranch resupply. I didn’t realize how much hiking in New Hampshire would prepare me for this high altitude trail. The terrain, elevation gain, and monsoons were not seen as an obstacle because I had prepared so much. Some may argue that you can only be successful if you’re a seasoned Sierras hiker. Others say it’s a trail for everyone. With enough research, preparation, and the right mind set, you’ll be fine.
After we take some photos there isn’t much to do but hike down out of the cold. I officially completed the JMT, but I still need to make it down. And it’s a long way down. From the summit of Whitney I hike back down to the trail crest to pick up my bear canister. I see two guys I met on Glen Pass and they ask how long it took me to get to the top.
“Three hours,” I reply.
“There’s not way I’m doing that!” he replies.
“It was three hours from Guitar Lake,” I clarify.
I find out later that they decided not to hike up to the summit.
I see the sign pointing toward Whitney Portal. Before I begin my descent, I look back at where I came, seeing what I hiked in the dark for the first time. Satisfied, I begin to hike down. There are 97 switchbacks from here to Trail Camp, losing 1,600 feet in 2.2 miles.
As we hike down, we contemplate what we’re going to eat. We had joked about our first meal throughout the trip. On Forester Pass, this meal evolved into and burger pizza inside a taco. It still sounds good. 87 more switchbacks to go… okay, I actually didn’t count!
|Looking back up the switchbacks|
The further I hike down, the hotter it gets. It reminds me of my first day on the trail. I don’t realize how close Whitney is to Death Valley until I can see it. I eventually slather on sunscreen from one of the three bottles I picked up along the trail and packed out. Unfortunately I was too focused on hiking down to slather it on before I got burned.
One mile before the Whitney Zone boundary I stop for a break. A ranger is making his way up the trail and starts up a conversation with me. Eventually he asks to see my permit. The first time I’m asked for a permit, I’m no longer on the John Muir Trail!
I spend the rest of the descent thinking about food and how these day hikers plan on summiting the highest peak in the lower 48 with one water bottle per group. As I try to wrap my brain around their logic, I see a much older woman with a heavy external frame pack.
“Did you just finish the John Muir Trail?” she asks.
“I sure did!” I respond.
“I am so proud of you!” the woman exclaims.
We talk for a bit and she tells me this is her 30th hike up Mount Whitney and when she was younger she thru hiked the John Muir Trail twice! She enjoys taking young adults, mainly from her church group up. Today she’s hiking it with her niece.
“I just go slow and steady,” she tells me. “I see all these hikers pass me in the morning with almost nothing and I’ll see them hiking back with their heads down an hour later.”
She’s definitely the coolest person I met on the trail.
When I get down to Whitney Portal I buy two patches as a souvenir and a chocolate milk. I know, I didn’t see that coming either.
Andy, Kayla, and I plan on hitching a ride to Lone Pine where Kayla’s car is parked. John had made it down earlier and is nowhere to be seen. We do not have any luck getting a ride as no one is leaving. Andy calls John and finds out he actually got a ride with the DC crew in the shuttle service they had set up before the hike. Kayla gives John instructions to get into her car so he can pick us up. She realizes that she was almost out of gas when she parked in Lone Pine. We walk down the road while
we wait so he doesn’t have to go uphill as far.
John makes a quick U-turn as he arrives and we hop in with the car still running. As soon as the doors slam, we drive to the closest gas station. Kayla’s car is old and the ac does not work. We drive with the windows down to enjoy the hot Sierra “breeze” and air out our stench. We’re off to Lone Pine.
Last modified: December 6, 2014