We woke up in the warmth of the lower altitude, enjoying the luxury of lots of oxygen. We went to the portal cafe!!! The pancake and bacon and coffee breakfast was wonderful. At 12:45 the rest of our group arrived from their Whitney aerie happy and thrilled to simultaneously see the sun rise and the Claremont-bound van arrive. We hit a restaurant in Lone Pine for a fast lunch and toasted everyone involved in this complicated and challenging enterprise and our two other members of the John Muir Trail team: Carter and Sparkey.
And then we hopped into the van, headed down the highway and everything was fine.
To all our Pitzer community friends and supporters, thank you for your good advice, best wishes and financial support for our students. And on a personal note, I am so deeply appreciative of this opportunity to have such a wonderful experience with such kind and caring people.
Happy 50th Birthday Pitzer College! Provida Futuri!
And now I will tell you the amazing story of our last day in the wilderness.
As it turns out, I don’t sleep well at 10,000′ elevation so for the past two nights I haven’t slept much at all. When I would try to go to sleep the elevation headache would hit and it felt like the three extra oxygen molecules I needed to breathe were just out of reach, pretty miserable in all.
So around 2:00 am I heard this slow rumbling sound high up on the mountain that kept growing louder and Lisa2 (my tent buddy with Sparkey’s exit) asked: “Are the rocks going to crash into us?” I poked my head outside and looked up. High up on the mountain I saw a headlamp light moving down the mountain with a flashlight pointed in the direction of the rockfall. I assured Lisa2 (or “tick tock” as I have nicknamed her because she walks like a metronome) that we were fine. I never realized this before but there are a significant number of people who like to HIKE AT NIGHT! What is that all about? Go figure. After the sound died away I tried to go back to sleep with little success.
We all woke up early because we knew this would be a tough day. The morning is my high energy time (“high energy” is definitely a qualified statement) so I figured I had better get going while the spirit moved me and I set out alone. I tried to really motor past the new rockfall as fast as possible and proceeded to climb 3,000 feet over three miles to Trail Crest from Guitar Lake. That’s where you dig deep within to keep climbing. I did my counting trick, counting to 40 before desperately gasping to try and fill my lungs with air. The scenery was breathtaking and I gaped at the beauty of the mountains and craggy cliffs and azure sky.
I arrived at Trail Crest and awaiting me were two signs, one pointing to the summit of Whitney and the other to the Whitney Portal, and it took me about five minutes to realize that after all this struggle I had finally arrived at the finish line. Overwhelmed, I began to weep hardly able to believe that I had actually arrived. I waited for the rest of our group to arrive and three of us left our packs at Trail Crest and took day packs containing water and lunch to the summit, and Lisa1, Alyssa, Sasha and Eric took their full packs with them because they wanted to spend the night on the summit.
The 1.9 miles to the summit was truly frightening with rock bridges between sheer drops and boulders that totally obscured the trail that you had to scramble over. I did my best not to look over the edges and keep repeating to myself, “It’s all finite, I just have to keep taking steps.” The summit was beautiful, the weather throughout the trip has been utterly spectacular, with clear skies. We were all so thrilled and just humbled and amazing by our achievement and celebrated the official end of the JOHN MUIR TRAIL!
We bid our four fellow hikers adieu until the morning and left them to spend the night and enjoy the break of dawn, and the three of us proceeded to descend, descend, descend, descend–6,000 feet. We walked forever and after darkness fell we hiked with our headlamps on and miraculously managed to do three creek crossings in the dark–one was four telephone poles high above the water, another hopping across boulders, and the third trudging through shallow water. I figure we walked 3-4 miles in the dark, with Brian in the front calling out “rocks,” “roots,” “high step.” Thank heavens for him. We stumbled into the the Whitney Trail Portal Trailhead at about 10:30 pm. We walked for 14 1/2 hours in one day–a new personal record I plan to never, ever repeat. We figure the total distance was approximately 16 miles–hey, a new personal mileage record as well!
In the darkness we found a campsite, set up our tents in milliseconds and fired up the jet boil for a fast dinner. Totally, completely, utterly spent we staggered into our tents and passed out.
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