High Sierra Trail, Day 5 – Hidden Packer Camp to (just above) Guitar Lake, June 21 2015

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Gil (GoHiker.com) and I hiked the High Sierra Trail to Mt. Whitney, June 17-22. Here is Day 5 of our trip:

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The Plan

  • Day 5 (Sun) – Wallace Creek Crossing to Whitney Summit
    • Wallace Creek to Crabtree Ranger Station (36.564841,-118.348074)
      • 4.2 miles || +1025, -690
    • Crabtree to Guitar Lake (36.571562,-118.311853)
      • 3.5 miles || +945, -90
      • Last large meal of the trip eaten at Guitar Lake
    • Guitar Lake to JMT Junction** (36.560532,-118.292906)
      • Start hiking around 3 PM
      • 2.8 miles || +2020, -10
    • JMT Junction to Whitney Summit
      • 2.1 miles || +960, -60
    • LEG 5 Total: 12.6 miles || +4950, 850 || 10 hrs 

The plan above assumed we stayed at Wallace Creek and not at the Packer Camp (no shortcut). Leaving the Packer Camp the morning of Day 5, we were still hoping to stay on or near the summit of Mt. Whitney the night of Day 5.


The Outcome

Day 5 was the first and only day on this trip that I wasn’t up well before sunrise. I was exhausted and probably could have slept until 9 or 10, but when I woke up I noticed that Gil was mostly packed and nearly ready to go. I quickly packed up my bivy and sleeping gear and asked Gil to take his time eating breakfast.

Leaving camp, we did not immediately find a clear use trail that would lead us to the PCT. We used our paper maps and GPS units to get headed in the general direction we needed to go and eventually found the pack trail. Within 45 minutes, we were on the PCT and approaching Crabtree Meadows. Since mid-afternoon on Day 2, we had only seen 1 hiker on the trail. Being on the PCT was a totally different world – we saw two groups of 4 or 5 PCT’ers, some PCT’ers hiking solo, some dude hiking in a loin cloth and others closing in on the end of their JMT hikes.

Gil is pretty excited about closing in on Mt. Whitney
A peek at Mt. Whitney as we near Crabtree Ranger Station
Some potty/wagbag humor at the Crabtree junction

 

Reaching Guitar Lake, we stopped to eat a larger meal. We had been discussing where we would be setting up camp that night. We had wanted to make it to at least Trail Crest and had talked about sleeping on the summit. Using our Delorme InReach (thanks LowerGear.com!), we got a current forecast for the summit: 37 degrees with winds dropping to 15 mph. We decided that we should spend a little more time at the Guitar Lake and talk to some people coming off the mountain. We found out that the prior night was very cold and that 8-10 people were crammed into the summit hut because they weren’t prepared for the weather. Before our trip, I was told that the hut could comfortably sleep 4. We knew that there were others that were also thinking about staying on the summit and the more we talked to people the more the idea of staying on the summit became unappealing.

Up to this point, I had been having a tough time keeping up with Gil – my legs were tired from the previous day’s hike and I wasn’t feeling terribly motivated. I told him that based on what we had been told and how I was feeling, the summit probably wasn’t going to happen until day 6. We decided to load up on water and start hiking towards the bivy sites below Trail Crest, and to make the final decision when we got there. We were only on the trail for a few minutes when we met another group coming down from the summit. They told us that the wind was “bitterly cold” and that they wished they had more clothing with them. Gil took one look at my face and knew that I wanted to spend the night near Guitar Lake. We setup camp, did some laundry and spent the afternoon taking photos, napping and talking to hikers coming off the mountain. The more I talked to other hikers, the better I felt about our decision.

Gil and a PCT’er nearing Guitar Lake
Guitar Lake just a few minutes after sunset
The western side of Mt. Whitney at sunset

 

Even though I had summitted Whitney three times prior to this trip, I was anxious and had a hard time falling asleep. Thinking about the list of gear I was going to carry with with me to the summit eased my mind some(I planned to leave my large pack at the John Muir – Mt. Whitney Main Trail Junction), as did telling myself that I’d be sitting in Lone Pine eating pizza in just a few hours.

Leg 5 (as tracked), Hidden Packer Camp to (just above) Guitar Lake: 

  • 5 miles || +1795, -285 || +1510 net elevation gain || 7 hours (including long lunch break at Guitar Lake)

Water & Food

I started off the day dehydrated due to not drinking enough water on Day 4, which likely played a role in me not feeling great. Spending most of the day at our camp above Guitar Lake help ensure that I went into summit day well hydrated and fed. I forced myself to eat as much as I could stomach, knowing that it was unlikely that I’d eat much before we dropped below Trail Camp on Day 6.


Gear

A few notes on the gear I used.


 

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