Read about my complete John Muir Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
This was probably my easiest day on the trail since Day 1 in Lyell Canyon. To be specific, the hiking was much more difficult than Lyell Canyon. It’s just that compared to several straight days of battling mountain passes, this was relatively easy country to traverse.
I climbed the 3+ miles up and over Forester Pass. Once again, I was in the shade until I made the summit. I had been told there was a cell signal on the mountain and that proved false as usual. The switchbacks down the mountain were a lot of fun. They featured the sheer cliff faces that I like so much. I was literally skipping down the mountain.
Once the elevation leveled out for the most part, I cranked it into high gear. I was going treadmill speed. I’m talking 4+ MPH for at least 2 hours. People thought I was crazy, but I was in the zone and ready to be done. I had finished my second trilogy of audiobooks and decided to listen to music for a while. The change of pace had me moving with the beat.
The landscape changed wildly from my previous experiences on the trail. I guess it had to do with the fact that I never dropped below 10,000 feet that whole day. This was some of the most desert landscape on the trail. Some of it was due to the desolation of recent forest fires, but other stretches featured sandy ground and a noticeable lack of trees. I half-expected Bugs Bunny pop out of the ground and ask if he’s close to Albuquerque.
I cranked out the miles until I was forced to start climbing again. Even then, I was still booking it. I was determined to make a 20-mile day feel like a 14-mile day, and I did.
When I got to Guitar Lake—the standard staging area for a SOBO Mt Whitney summit—I was shocked. I felt great and it was relatively early. Yet even with my early arrival, I was beat there by probably 25 other backpackers who had the same idea. I had never met any of these people before. That means they probably finished that early every day. What did they do with their non-walking time?
I’ve said before that I’m primarily a backpacker. Even though backpackers camp and campers backpack, I derive enjoyment from hiking the trail more than from camping. I felt lazy wasting half of my afternoon simply waiting for the morning.
The other campers had claimed all of the good spots along the lake bed and in the area just above it. They had even claimed most of the bad spots that were rocky but relatively flat. This worked well for me because I didn’t mind squeezing some climbing into the afternoon rather than doing it all the next morning.
My map and phone app showed that there were a few more campsites between the lake and the intersection of the John Muir and the Whitney Summit Trails, so I kept climbing.
When I reached the next campsite, there was no one there. I did have to divide the site with a very fluffy marmot, but we had plenty of space between us.
As I was heating the water for my final trail dinner, a hailstorm popped up. When it let up, I started to eat my meal. I had specifically saved this meal for my last night. It was the Penne in Marinara Sauce from Good-To-Go, one of the more expensive freeze-dried food purveyors on the market.
Unfortunately, I bit into something hard and loud. It sounded like I was chewing on ball bearings. It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that silica gel had gotten into the packet.
I want to stress that I remembered to remove the packet. I thought it might have ruptured, but I checked and it was still intact. I’m not sure what happened. It doesn’t really matter; the damage had been done. I spit my mouthful of food back into the packet and was disappointed that I’d have to carry this 1+ pound rehydrated meal up and over Mt Whitney the next day. The smell would taunt me as I went without dinner on my last night on the JMT.
I crawled into my quilt early with the intention of waking up around 4:00 am to start my sunrise hike to the Mt Whitney summit. I found it difficult to sleep with the anticipation being done with my thru-hike, so I downed my last Tylenol PMs and drifted into a dream.
Watch the video
Follow in my virtual footsteps as I make the 200-mile journey from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park to the Mt Whitney Portal. Watch the entire video or jump ahead to specific days. You can find more information to help you plan your own JMT hike at cchikes.com/JMT17.