Wow, this is it! There is so much adrenalin from the culmination of the journey, the thought of being on top of the highest mountain in the lower 48, the thought of real food and a real bed and the accomplishment of completing the JMT, you are bursting with energy instead of the thought of the hike ahead of you (over 15 miles, 3,000′ incline and 6,000′ decline!).
After being the last to wake up, I was the last to leave from my camping area at 4:00am. As I was getting ready, I was mesmerized by the trail of headlamps you could see going up the trail below Mt. Muir, and later in the morning, along the ridge to Mt. Whitney. It would make an excellent time-lapse picture (and show the entire trail up), if possible.
Of course it was still very dark when I left, and I needed a headlamp all the way up to Trail Crest. I still had Jason’s headlamp, and it was much better than mine, so I used it up the trail instead of mine. I figured since I have carried it for 10 days and would send it back to him, I was allowed to use it!
And you need the best headlamp you can have. I lost the trail at one point after the first mile and before the switchbacks, and fortunately there were a couple hikers behind me that were still on the trail. Once you started doing the switchbacks, there were several times where the trail was very narrow or you had to step over rocks that I could very easily see someone slipping. Add to it the conditions brought on by the strenuous nature of the trail and the elevation, you really had to concentrate closely.
I was alone the entire way up due to the time I left. Two guys at the beginning asked if we were the lazy ones given the sunrise watchers that were almost to Trail Crest at 4:30am. I said we were the “don’t care about sunrise and want to make it to Lone Pine at a reasonable time” people. I think I made it up to Trail Crest just after 6am, about 20 minutes ahead of the schedule I expected. I dumped my pack next to the others, and started my way up to Mt. Whitney in the daylight and the sun starting to make its way out.
At Trail Crest, you start to intermix with the hikers that came up from Whitney Portal and are just doing Mt. Whitney. This is definitely a different crowd than what I have been used to for the past 18 days! It was a weird intersection, and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking (selfishly) that they consider what they are doing so special, while I just hiked 220 miles with at least 40 pounds on my back!
As I went up, the sunrise watchers were on their way down. I asked a bunch of them how it was, and almost everyone said “cold!” as the first thing, usually followed by “but spectacular”. It seemed that they froze their buns off waiting for the sunrise, and as soon as it was done, they high tailed it out of there. Scott made it up there just in time, and said he signed the register, saw the sunrise, and turned around.
I made it up to the summit by 7:30am. It was cold, especially on the east side where the wind was whipping up. Once you went further down to the west, and behind some boulders, it wasn’t as bad. As you can expect, the views were phenomenal. You could see forever, and it was amazing looking beyond the mountains beyond the mountains beyond the mountains.
I was able to get a connection and talk to both Ann and Matthew. I was especially glad to reach Matthew as he was enroute to Sweden for a class trip and I could catch up with him before he left (and find out the Indians still were in the Central Division lead!). I spent about 75 minutes on Whitney, and started my way down. Part of me wanted to get down as soon as possible, but I couldn’t help lingering all the way back to Trail Crest and enjoy the incredible views.
Once I got my pack back at Trail Crest, I started hoofing it. After an initial incline up about 100′, you get over the ridge and it is pretty much all downhill from there. I was really humping it, passing a bunch of other Mt. Whitney-only hikers who were exhausted from the trip. My eagerness got the best of me when I realized I had been hiking over an hour at a very, very fast pace and I still had over 2,000′ to go! I decided I had to slow myself down, get something to eat and treat some water in case I ran out (it was getting hot). The trail down did get to be a slog, and I got to the point where it couldn’t end fast enough.
I believe the hike between Whitney Portal and Trail Crest is a really nice hike, but I have to admit I did not pay much attention. I became relieved and motivated when I saw the first paved road in 15 days a couple miles from the end. I also noticed more birds for the first time in a long while (I missed birds). Finally, day hikers without much water and finally buildings came into view. Before long, I was in the parking lot at 2pm, saying hi to Scott while I dumped my WAG bag, and hearing about a hiker’s shuttle to Lone Pine I could catch. Sold! Many hikers like to celebrate at Whitney Portal with a burger and a beer… I just wanted to get to Lone Pine!
Thus, the end of an incredible 18 days. I can’t say enough about the experience or how fortunate it is that I didn’t not experience any major physical, gear, weather, fire or animal issues. It is definitely a life moving experience, one in which you find yourself in amazement that you are experiencing such beauty day after day, moment after moment. If you have any thoughts of wanting to do the John Muir Trail, I strongly urge you to pursue it!