I was looking forward to a more leisurely day to set up Mt. Whitney since it will only be about 10 miles and does not include a pass or major inclines. The night wasn’t too bad for camping at 11,400′ on a plateau as the wind died down in the evening and there were only a few moments of gusts during the night. A bit cold, but my mummy bag (which I just started to use in “full mummy mode” this trip) served me well. I awoke to a beautiful morning.
I also allowed myself to sleep in a bit and didn’t start on the trail until 8am. I took it slow and didn’t bother too much about making time. I ended up having leaking issues with my Vapur bottle due to my not handling it carefully enough, so I had to switch back to my 2 liter reservoir, this time keeping it on the outside of my bag in order to avoid crushing it. This seemed to help the leaking issue, and something I should have considered doing earlier.
Surprisingly, I met a few new people on the second last day of the trail! Scott, a retired fireman from Vancouver, BC started the trail a day after me and didn’t take a zero-day, so we were essentially on the same pace. We had a great time talking about the common people we met on the trail and different hikes we have done. I spent a long time probing him on the Wonderland Trail, for that is one that has perked my interest lately. I also met Andrew and Melissa, a young couple from the LA area. They were really nice and were kicking butt on the trail.
A common topic was the strategy people were taking for Mt. Whitney. The most popular option was to camp at Guitar Lake and depart by 2am so you can view the sunrise from Mt. Whitney. Doing this wasn’t a high priority for me, so I knew I would be starting out later. However, I started calculating how long it would take to break camp, hike up to Whitney, hang out on Whitney, hike down to Whitney Portal and then get to Lone Pine. I realized that if I wanted to get to Lone Pine at a reasonable time (late afternoon), I would have to depart not too long after they did, so set a target to wake up at 3am. As has gone the entire trip, whenever I think a hike is not going to be that difficult, it ends up much harder than I thought.
While it wasn’t terrible, there were some ups that were steep and not expected, thus making this day more of a slog than expected. The low mileage helped, and I reached Guitar Lake around 2pm, which was great since I was looking forward to really relaxing and enjoy the afternoon and views before the big, last day. It was very windy at Guitar Lake, and I thought I found a neat, small site alongside a boulder that would help protect me. Andrew and Melissa camped on the other side of the boulder, Scott not far away, and Leo and Noelle next to Scott. Later, Hilda and Sebastian arrived and camped in between us all.
As I was going to hang out at Guitar Lake and soak my feet, Leo told me how great the water was and I should take a dip! I hadn’t intended on doing that, but once I made it around the corner and was soaking my feet, I decided it would be a great way to commemorate the trip and rinse off. It was cold, but wonderful and well worth doing!
I organized a lot of gear and prepared for a “quick” getaway the next morning. I figured out how much food I needed and gave the rest to Melissa and Andrew (the young ones were packing it away!). Additionally, I studied the contents and instructions for the “WAG Bag”. For full disclosure, this is a bag that you have to do your #2 business in along the last 20+ miles of the trail through terrain that cannot support this many hikers, as well as carry it out with you. While at first it sounds nasty, in practice, after 17 days of doing your business in nature, it really is not that difficult and I did not have any issues with the smell (there are chemicals that assist). If you are requested to use this method, for the sake of the environmentally-sensitive area and future hikers, PLEASE-PLEASE-PLEASE use it.
After an early dinner, it was a very pleasant evening, everyone sharing one last night on the trail and stories/discussions about the trail. There was a definite camaraderie in this area of camping, and I am really glad to have spent it with that group. It would have been great if Mark, Jason, Cassie and Wyatt were also there. As the evening wore on, we were treated to another spectacular light show on Mt. Whitney and across Guitar Lake.
I went to bed as soon as it was dark, finished the book I brought (Day of Infamy – detailed account of the attack on Pearl Harbor – very good) and was probably asleep by 9pm. Unfortunately, the camp site I selected ended up being a wind tunnel that night, and given the small amount of real estate to stake the fly, the parts I used rocks to secure the fly did not work out and my tent flapped for a large chunk of the night. It started around 11:30pm, and I figured I was up for well over an hour. I finally gave up when everyone else was waking up and got out of bed at 2:30am.