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John Muir Trail

Day 20 of 22

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Tuesday, August 4th
Tyndall Creek to Guitar Lake
11.6 miles
2320 vertical feet (ascent)
1820 vertical feet (descent)

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During the middle of the night, I heard people come into camp late. I didn't look at my watch, but I'm guessing it was 10pm or 11pm. In the morning, I saw that they took the sites right next to the bear box. Inexplicably, it looked like they were hanging their food in sacks - 4 feet off the ground!

As we were getting ready, a stream of hikers passed our camp, headed up toward Forester Pass. They were all carrying equipment of some sort. I asked and apparently they were doing soil samples.

Just like yesterday, in the morning I saw deer (this time two of them) running around, looking like they were just playing. The skies were clear for now, though I could still smell a bit of smoke from the fires.

We got started at 8:55am, crossing Tyndall Creek and then climbing steadily through the forest. We passed a second bear box where there were vacant campsites. We passed through a pretty pine forest, then emerged from the forest to find some great views of the mountains to the west. I stopped here to take pictures as a large number of hikers passed by in our direction.

Through the forest


View to the southwest

Climbing toward Bighorn Plateau

View to the northwest

Panoramic view to the west
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View to the west

Looking back at the trail to the northwest

After re-entering the forest and having climbed for about 500 feet, we took a food break on the edge of the forest. Afterwards, we emerged from the forest again and passed through mostly treeless Bighorn Plateau. We noticed two campers packing up near the small lake here. The trail flattens out for a bit, then starts a descent to Wallace Creek. We started to see more haze in the sky from the fires again. It would get worse before it got better.

Pine tree

Tree and view

Bark close-up

View to the southwest

Approaching Bighorn Plateau

Hiking through Bighorn Plateau

Tawny Point

Pond at Bighorn Plateau

Hiking south on Bighorn Plateau

The descent to Wallace Creek is steep at times, especially toward the bottom. We crossed the creek and braced ourselves for another climb. Today would be an up and down day, with 4 different climbs. This second climb was about 550 feet. After almost reaching the top of this climb, we stopped in the forest for a food break. There weren't many views from here, but the sky was so hazy that we wouldn't have been able to see much, anyway.

Descending from Bighorn Plateau

Meadow and haze

Easy crossing of Wallace Creek

Hazy view to the west

After the break, we descended again. We passed an unnamed meadow, then were stopped by a ranger. She checked our permit, asking how long we had been out here, how many bear canisters we had (4), the ages of the kids, etc. I asked her about the WAG bags and she told me there was a box at the ranger station junction. She said that although they preferred us to take 1 each, if we knew we needed more, it was ok to take 2. She said the fire was a 2000 acre fire to the south, and it was even smoky on Whitney.

Hazy forest

Through the hazy forest

Ten to fifteen minutes later, we ran into a man asking about the ranger. He wanted to know if she had a backpack and looked like she'd be out for a few days. Was she moving fast? He also took the time to ask me about my solar charger, which seemed odd since he seemed like he wanted to catch her and talk to her for some reason. It all seemed a little strange.

We made another brief climb (about 200 feet) before descending a bit to reach the next junction. Here the PCT and JMT diverge, with the PCT heading south to Crabtree Meadow. We turned left to stay on the JMT headed toward Guitar Lake. The trail continues to descend a little before leveling off. At this point the trail was flat and sandy and the air was smoky and hot.

Less than a mile later, we reached the WAG bag box. Past this point, you're supposed to use the bags instead of digging holes. Since we would be camping two nights in the Whitney zone (Guitar Lake and Trail Camp), we picked up six bags (we'd use them all).

From here, the trail climbs almost 900 feet to Guitar Lake. Along the way we stopped at Timberline Lake (still just below timber line) for a final break. There's no camping allowed here. At least we noticed that the smoke had begun to clear.

Climbing toward Timberline Lake

Looking back, approaching Timberline Lake

Timberline Lake

From here, we continued climbing, later passing a small pond and then seeing Guitar Lake below us. The backside of Mount Whitney rises above the eastern shores of the lake. What I noticed most, however, was the huge number of tents already set up. It was around 5pm and my first impression was that I had somehow landed at Everest Base Camp. Tents were set up all over the knoll between the trail and the lake. Tents were also set up well above the lake, along some streams to the north. We took the use trail to the right (west) and then eventually scrambled uphill to find a nice unused site with great views.

Pond before Guitar Lake

Tents at Guitar Lake

Mountains above Arctic Lake

Guitar Lake

We were a bit distressed to see campers camping on the grass here, despite the fact that there were still plenty of little sites scattered amongst the rocks here and there. Even though there were probably more than 30 tents set up around the lake, it still wasn't hard to find empty sites. For those of you who aren't aware, backpackers are supposed to camp on durable surfaces. That means no camping on the grass!

Mount Whitney (western side)

Mount Hitchcock above Guitar Lake

Mount Whitney (right)

Despite the crowds, our site was somewhat isolated. It took a little work to go down to the lake to get water, but that was fine. We also had excellent views of the sunset. I could quickly climb up onto a plateau above our campsite and get multiple views of the lake. As the sky changed colors, I could be seen scrambling around from spot to spot, taking pictures as fast as I could. I think I may have been the only one at the lake to see the colors in the eastern sky reflected nicely in the lake, as no one else had my vantage point.

View to the west

Guitar Lake sunset

Sunset to the west of Guitar Lake

Sunset clouds reflecting in Guitar Lake

Sunset over Guitar Lake

Guitar Lake sunset

Fading sunset

I took a few night pictures, as well. It was fun to see the lights of other groups far on the other side of Guitar Lake. They'd be getting a little head start on the way to Whitney tomorrow.

Stars over Guitar Lake camps

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