Okay, so if you’ve been paying any attention, we obviously kept going and made it to Whitney.
Joan is a fucking hardcore badass (obviously, she hiked 9 miles with food poisoning) and was fine the next day. Don’t we all wish we could recover like that?
We hiked with William down to the Bishop Pass junction, where he was meeting his dad, and then continued onwards. Don’t stop can’t stop.
Monday (Day #15)
15.9 miles – Deer Meadow -> Lake Marjorie
Tuesday (Day #16)
16.2 miles – Lake Marjorie -> Sixty Lake Jct
Wednesday (Day #17)
19.0 miles – Sixty Lake Jct -> Shepherd Pass Jct
Thursday (Day #18)
11.4 miles – Shepherd Pass Jct -> Guitar Lake
Friday (Day #18)
15.0 miles – Guitar Lake -> Whitney Portal
Weekly total: 77.5 miles
TOTAL total: 436.2 miles
Things were a little different during this last section. We really needed to push out some bigger miles to make it to Whitney in time, because we had to be back in Utah for the start of the semester on Monday, so we couldn’t be as chill about hiking during the day.
This last section of trail is also higher in elevation than what we’d already done, so the landscape changed. It became more barren and open than before. As someone who is used to the dense forests of the southeast and upper midwest, being so exposed is kind of scary. As a westerner, Joan understandably laughed at me every time I said I was uncomfortable.
We also had to go over four of the five big passes (Mather, Pinchot, Glen, and Forester, having already gone over Muir), which meant a lot more elevation change each day. Honestly, I thought all of the passes were harder than getting up to Whitney. Which seems crazy, but realtalk.
Mather Pass felt the most difficult to me. It was just relentless uphill that went on forever.
Pinchot also felt pretty hard, but I think it was just because it was so early in the morning. It was a short two mile climb for us from a campsite at Lake Marjorie, where we had hung out and shot the shit with three Texans.
At the bottom of the valley between Pinchot Pass and Glen Pass, there’s a bridge that’s apparently referred to as the “Golden Gate of the Sierras”, which is dumb. We met an engineer who called it the “Tacoma Narrows” instead.
We hung out with the engineer’s hiking partner Cindy at the bridge. She had thruhiked the AT a few years and her trail name was Centipede. They had been camped near us the night that Joan had food poisoning, and she had helped us find a campsite and gave us some good advice because she was also a nurse. Fuckin lucky.
We hiked through the area leading up to Rae Lakes that night. Joan said it was the most beautiful part of the trail, but she might have only been saying that to make my grumpy ass feel better. It was gorgeous, though. I also seem to have given up on taking pictures at this point, but she got some great ones of Fin Dome and the lakes.
At our campsite near Sixty Lake junction that night, the poo nightmare started. Every single rock had the feces of other people underneath. We were afraid to touch anything out of the fear of touching something undesirable. We couldn’t figure out why it was so bad in this particular area. It seemed like it was high-use for weekend warriors, and the ground was kind of rocky and tough to dig holes in, but seriously. That is fucking disgusting. Please please please, always dig proper catholes and pack out your TP.
Because of campsite locations and mileage requirements, the next day was our biggest day. Nineteen miles over both Glen and Forester passes. My guidebook said Glen was narrow, which I didn’t understand accurately until I was on top of it.
We started leapfrogging with a thruhiker named Crosby after Glen Pass. He was doing really high miles, like 25 a day, and was set to finish in 12 days! He said it was because he was solo hiking, so he didn’t have anything else to do but hike all day, and I totally believe him. Being in camp is kind of boring when backpacking alone. I met him several times throughout the day, but somehow Joan didn’t meet him until the top of Forester Pass.
Doing Forester felt really good. We’d been hearing that it was a tough pass, and it’s the highest on the JMT, so I was mentally ready for it. I just busted up that shit without stopping. It was getting cold that late in the day, so I had to keep hiking to stay warm, and some clouds were rolling in and I was worried there would be some weather, which also helped.
We made it and then hiked down to treeline and camped with Crosby. Long but good day.
Our last night on trail we camped at Guitar Lake, like most people do. This was poo nightmare redux. The deal is that between Crabtree, right before Guitar Lake, and Whitney Portal, all hikers are supposed to pack out their shit in what are referred to as wag bags. This is due to the high volume of people in the area; if everyone pooped everywhere, it would be absolutely nasty.
Well, the moment we got to Guitar Lake, Joan saw this couple both squatting down behind some rocks. They then stood up and walked away, EMPTY HANDED. No wag bags. This very reasonably sent Joan into a rage, and she angrily vented about the orange-shorted asshole for the next two days. We also had the same problem with turning over poo rocks at our camp that night. Ugh.
There were also way too many people around Guitar Lake.
One reason Joan and I were compatible hiking parters is because we both had no desire to wake up early. I will never understand people who are on VACATION waking up at 5am while it’s still cold and their tent is covered in condensation. We made it our goal to roll out of camp around 10am, and this happened pretty much every day.
A lot of people like to be on Whitney’s summit for sunrise. It’s supposed to be amazing or something. Most hikers we talked to at Guitar Lake were therefore planning on waking up at around 2am to hike up to the summit. So we said fuck no to that idea, and instead got out of camp around 8:30am. A little earlier than usual, and it sucked because it was still cold and my tent was covered in condensation.
The hike up to the Whitney trail junction was totally cool, but it would have been scary to do in the dark. Like everyone else, we stashed a bunch of our stuff at the junction and headed up to Whitney.
And then we made it!
The hike down to Whitney Portal was actually way steep and took far longer than we expected. We got a hitch into Lone Pine from a couple of older ladies, who told us that the area around Lone Pine was where tons of old westerns has been filmed.
We stayed in a hostel in town that night, and we ended up sharing the room with a couple of Germans who were on vacation. They came back right after we’d stuffed our faces with Mexican and ice cream and bacon, and Joan was completely passed out on her bed.
The next day we began the loooooooong journey back to my car at Glacier Point. It took 5 hitches (pharmacist-turned-trucker, Burning Man group 1, awkwardly naive Chinese couple, Burning Man group 2, and photographer Gabriel), a mile-long walk through a tunnel, and 11 hours, but we made it and my car was still present and functioning. Then we drove through the night back to Utah, during which I got extremely strung out and sick of gas station food. And that was that.
We ended the trip like we started, hanging out in the Glacier Point parking lot.
Basically, the JMT is the shit. If you’re thinking about hiking the JMT, and you should be, you should be interested in things like meadows, laughing at your own bad jokes, laughing at other peoples’ bad jokes, little dudes, being hangry, loud explosion sounds, surprising amounts of water, walking, being quiet (sometimes), wildflowers, coldness, walking, incorrect signage, tall ass trees, being dirty, being smelly, not showering for more than a week, jumping in cold lakes, meeting people who are slower than you, not meeting people who are faster than you, watching the original television (i.e., fire), walking, complaining, shit under every rock, too much beautiful, being offered whiskey, chippies, happiness, some real blue sky, clouds that don’t do anything, meeting the best randos, carrying bear cans (over two pounds yo), finding out that your hiking partner is carrying two lighters, down-valley up-valley pass repeat, stream crossings with wobbly rocks, stream crossings with huge bridges, dead pictures, poop waves, being higher than anyone else in the lower 48, crying at least once, bigger miles, blisters, thinking you’re not going to make it, fatty marmots, lakes, occasional freakouts, docile deer, and walking. You can also contact me with more specific questions, though I’m by no means an expert or anything.
And I’ll wrap this all up by leaving you with the funniest picture of them all.