Friday, July 24, 2009

Whitney Backpack Trip - HP #7

From Whitney 2009

Day -1 (7/18)
As planned, Marcel, Wes, and Wyatt Bussler arrived at the Reno airport to meet W, N and R. Then good-byes were said and N headed back to St Louis. Wes had a very impressive waterproof yellow cover for his pack, resembling something that would be used while hunting whales in a brisk Nor'easter. This caused W to optimistically
predict that there would be no rain whatsoever on the Sierra trip. The now stuffed SUV headed south, stopping in Carson City and Lee Vining for food. Then it was up Tioga Pass in search of a campsite. The goal: altitude acclimitization at 10000 feet. As it was a Saturday in July, all regular campsites were full. The group
eventually arrived at Sawmill, a backpacking campsite, and were told by somewhat crazy looking german rock-climbers that the site was completely full, but not taking Nein for an answer, they searched for themselves and found the second to last campsite half a mile from the car. It was beautiful, with a running river and beautiful meadow, and mountains all around. W took a small hike up the canyon and returned for a nice meal of hot dogs. The group bedded down for the evening with a nice campfire. W was tentless and enjoyed the stars, and noted with alarm some thunderstorm-like clouds, but no rain came.

Day 0 (7/19)

In the morning they headed once again south towards Lone Pine. Luckily, Uncle William called before W headed further south from Lone Pine to where he thought the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead was. Uncle William and Mike Castleton met them at the Lone Pine ranger station where they collected the seven elephantine bear canisters. Now fully loaded, the group proceeded towards base camp at Horseshoe Meadows/Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. This was a very impressive drive through wild west landscapes with huge boulders and hairpin turns up to the camp place. The road climbed perhaps 5000 feet, and at one point W commented how he was so glad that he didn't have to hike up this part and they rounded a turn to see a man jogging with great effort up the road. At camp, there was evidence of a huge downpour that apparently had inundated the camp for 3 hours, but no rain fell anymore. A
gigantic no-holds barred fire was constructed, as this would be prohibited at later camps. Meanwhile, W and William shuttled cars to Whitney Portal. This meant driving all the way down the mountain and up again, then down, then up again, which ended up taking about 2 hours, including getting gas. At Whitney Portal, William saw a rapidly fleeing bear in the parking lot, so everybody took the bear situation seriously.

Day 1 (7/20)

Since the day's hike was only 5 miles, the young adults slept in, and the expedition was finally ready to begin at 11 a.m. Much gorp had to be left behind, as there was simply no room in the bear canisters. The hike was not too hard and the group soon arrived at a series of lakes, surrounded by massive mountains. The weather was kind enough to allow the group to set up tents by Cottonwood lake #3 before commencing to hail and rain, forcing everybody to take a nap for about an hour and a half.
From Whitney 2009

W felt lucky that they hadn't pitched the tent in the lake that formed from the rain.

There was an abandoned tent nearby, suggesting that somebody might have gotten lost or eaten by a bear. After the storm, W, Mike and William took a short spaziergang to Cottonwood lake #4 and returned to a camp under full assault by mosquitos. The mosquitos seemed a little sluggish compared to St Louis, making them easily slappable, but they made up for it with their sheer numbers.

Day 2 (7/21)

The next morning brought an attempt at an earlier start, which was delayed a bit by M and R being slow to rise. However, the group finally got going in order to climb New Army Pass before any new weather events came.
From Whitney 2009

They soon encountered a giant boulder field which hindered their progress somewhat as they constantly had to move boulders aside. Fortunately, R was up to the task and made quick work of the smaller boulders.

New Army Pass proved to be quite tough and at the top snow blocked the way to the summit, forcing some minor scrambling.

Kings of the world at the top of New Army Pass

Seeing thunderheads approaching, the group spent little time at the top before beginning a descent towards Rock Creek. W looked wistfully towards Mt Langley but wisely descended behind the others as a new hailstorm blew in, pelting him for about 20 minutes. Fortunately there was little lightning, just hailstones and then rain. The rain broke just long enough to have a quick lunch before resuming. The group continued to Rock Creek where they made camp and made a fire that the ranger told them to discretely bury and scatter when they were done.

Day 3 (7/22)
From Whitney 2009

The next day was supposed to be an easy hike over Guyot pass. It was warm and not so hard, but on the descent, Uncle William's pack strap broke, leaving him with a single strap, which also failed after about 30 more minutes under the increased load.
From Whitney 2009

Minor surgery with some cord and duct tape restored some function to the pack, and the hike was resumed, at this point joining with the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Camp was established near the Crabtree Meadows ranger station and W found a beautiful ridge with views of surrounding mountains.

The ranger suggested that the group wait until the next afternoon/evening to hike to Guitar Lake, since the camping wasn't so great, and you also were required to pack all your waste, for which they provided free poop-packing kits.

Day 4 (7/23)
W grew restless waiting for the afternoon so he went on a solo hike to Crabtree Lake, which was fairly difficult until he actually found a trail. The hike was worth it and he was rewarded with sheer cliffs and a crystal clear lake that he drank out of without treating the water.

Heading to Guitar Lake

The group broke camp and headed up to Guitar Lake, a rocky but beautiful lake with towering rock all about.

M and R contented themselves with whittling their hiking staffs into exquisite patterns.

It was decided to make a very early morning start in order to head off the possibility of weather spoiling the summit bid.

Day 5 (7/24)
The group arose at 4:15 am in darkness and began packing. By 5 am they were on the trail and no longer needed headlamps. It was planned to hike to the top of a pass called Trail Crest and then drop packs and ascend to the top of Whitney. Wes and Wyatt immediately took off in a race to be the first to the top. Wes took an early lead but failed to see the turnoff to Mt Whitney and hiked beyond. When W, Mike, and William reached Trail Crest, Wes had just realized he was going the wrong way and turned around. Meanwhile, Wyatt, hell bent on catching his younger brother raced in the correct direction without realizing he could drop his 50 pound pack and indeed raced all the way to the top of Mt Whitney before realizing that he was there and that Wes was behind him. M and R also summitted well before their elders. Mike, William and W finally reached the summit at 8:45 a.m.
From Whitney 2009

Everybody relaxed for perhaps 45 minutes and then it was time for the long trip downwards. And downwards.
From Whitney 2009

And downwards through several million switchbacks. W encouraged the many exhausted looking people who were trying to go up telling that it was absolutely worth it, which it was. The group made a stop at Mirror Lake for some refreshments, but knew it was still far to go. After a long while there appeared a road in the distance that didn't look very far, but it still seemed to take forever. Finally the group reached the bottom and enjoyed hamburgers at the Whitney Portal store. More searching was made for an empty campsite, eventually found by Mike and William, and the group enjoyed a nice night of rest, even though a bear was once again sighted.
Motley Crew poses after 45 mile backpack trip

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