over labor day weekend my friend peter and i hiked the high sierra trail across the sierra nevada mountains. we started at whitney portal on the east side, and finished at crescent meadow in sequoia national park.
peter picked me up from work a little after noon on wednesday, and after some shenanigans with route-finding in the the south bay we were on our way.
we drove to lone pine campground and were able to get a spot there (it was the same spot i camped when i did mt. whitney in 2003, space 26. it's a good one).
whitney portal to crabtree lakes
the next morning we went back down into lone pine to try to get a permit to hike the main trail. the process for getting a walk-in permit for any of the mt. whitney area trails is opaque and tortuous so i'll skip the details (contact me if you're really interested). suffice it to say, we had our permits by 11:30ish, and after some running around we were on the trail at 12:44.
our plan was to travel light and fast; no tents, the minimum of gear, and light shoes.
two out of three isn't so bad i guess; my pack weighed in at 28lbs, peter's was 32 (he's well over 6 feet tall and outweighs me by at least 50lbs, so we chalked the weight up to food).
we made it to trail crest (13,600') in just over 4 hours, which is pretty good time for 8 miles with 5,000' of climbing, and started down the john muir trail towards crabtree lakes, which the sign said was 5.8 miles away.
we needed to make it to crabtree because there is a bearbox there, and we had too much food to fit in our bear can, so we cranked up the pace. we cruised by guitar lake, and continued to follow the valley (and stream) as we went.
after a couple of hours, as the sun was getting lower and peter and i both had a case of 'get-there-itis'; my feet were getting sore, my pack needed adjusting, and we were both hungry and getting chilled. we had figured on making about 3mph from trail crest to crabtree, and we were well past our estimate of 2 hours and starting to look for places where we could hang our food when we hit a trail junction and a sign:
crabtree - 0.2 miles
trail crest - 7.5 miles.
that explained THAT!
we stopped by to say hello to the ranger, refilled our water containers from the spring, cooked up a quick dinner (peter had a delayed reaction to the altitude and threw his up) and crashed.
it was a cold night. we had foolishly camped near the creek, right where all the cold air drained off of the mountains. i did okay, just put on all my clothes, closed the sleeping bag over my head and endured the assault of my altitude-induced farts.
peter suffered; despite having a warmer bag than i and a bivvy sack, he froze his ass off and didn't get much sleep.
distance: 17ish miles
time on the trail: 6:17
crabtree lakes to moraine lake
we were freezing when we woke up, so we packed up quickly and hiked down the trail until we found sunshine, unpacked, and had breakfast.
as we ate we talked about our plan for the day. the trail took us west over to the kern river valley, dropped us into it, and followed it south for a long while. there were hot springs marked on the map near the southern end of it, about 16 miles away, and that seemed like a reasonable place to camp.
after breakfast i messed with my pack a bit (this was the first multi-day trip i had taken this particular pack on, and i'd never bothered to get it adjusted properly and was paying the price), and set off on our way.
a little while later, just as we started our descent down the canyon that would eventually take us to the kern river we bumped into john and yosh.
they are the folks who are mostly responsible for the whole trip: they're friends of peter's, and asked him if he would hike the trail east-to-west while they went the opposite direction so they could pick up each others cars.
they were doing a much more leisurely trip, they had started the saturday before us, had big packs, and were taking side trips to bag various peaks (they'd done mt. tyndall the day before, and were going to do mt. whitney and mt. muir on their way out).
we hung out and chatted with them for a bit, traded bear cans (the one we had was bigger and lighter and actually belonged to them [they'd gotten some bad information and thought that they could do the trip sans-can, but the ranger at the permit office had made them rent one]), talked about our itineraries (they confirmed that kern hot springs was a good place to camp) and headed out again.
the hike down into the valley was long and kind of boring; not a lot to look at, and it got hotter as we descended. peter's long-ass legs served him well on this section, he was out-hiking me by a lot, and i was having to scramble to keep up. on top of it, my toes were getting sore from banging into the toebox on my shoes.
we hit kern hot springs around 3:00, looked around and decided to push on. we had a 3000' climb back out of the valley, and we decided that it would be better to get it over with rather than to try to do it in the morning.
while we were stopped i checked my feet, which felt like they were developing a couple of hot spots, and found a blister on my heel. wtf? i NEVER get blisters! i drained it, duct-taped it (and my other heel as well), and cursed my shoes.
there was a catch though: we'd already hiked about 16 miles, and the nearest water was a further 7 miles down the trail. ouch.
we got moving, really cranked on the climb, and hobbled into sky parlor meadow around 6:00. we stopped there to make dinner, and wearily picked up our packs to hike the last mile and a bit to moraine lake, pretty much done in.
distance: 23ish miles
time on the trail: 9:26
moraine lake to hamilton lakes
we were pretty sore when we woke up, but the view out over the lake was stunning, and we took our time packing up and eating breakfast.
we took it easy as set out; plenty of stops to snack and look around, take pictures, and figure out out plan for the day.
we started out with a climb, about 3 miles long, up into big arroyo, and hiked into my favorite section of the whole trip. the valley was carpeted in alpine grass, puntucated by clumps of trees, granite boulders, and a profusion of wildflowers and surrounded by rugged peaks. there were streams all over the place, and fluffy clouds, the kind we rarely see in california, floated overhead.
we hiked up the valley, and eventually made our way through the kaweah gap, at just about 10,000' and started down towards hamilton lakes. it was all down hill from there, and i felt the sadness i always do when i start to come down from the mountains.
there was plenty of good stuff left though; precipice lake, with mini icebergs floating in it, and the mind-boggling spires of valhalla soaring over hamilton lakes (where we would camp that night).
but first there was the 2,000+' descent, and that's when things started to kinda suck.
my feet were pretty trashed, i had gotten another blister, and my toes were raw from banging against the front of my shoes, so i was walking funny already. on top of that, i could feel my left knee starting to get tendonitis as i lurched down the trail, but there was nothing to be done about it.
i stumbled on, trying not to think about the tendons in my knee becoming raw and inflamed as they rubbed together, and tried to take in the sights around me.
after too long i reached the bottom, and hobbled over to the lake where peter was already sitting down and relaxing. i dropped my pack, stripped off my accursed shoes, and peter and i both went and stood in the lake, groaning in pleasure as the cool water soothed our various aches and pains.
we lounged around camp, trying to come up with things to do until it was time for dinner, and after we ate we lay on the rocks by the shore, watching the sunset light up the mountains, and the bats scooping up insects as they flew over the lake.
distance: 16ish miles
time on the trail: 6:56
hamilton lakes to crescent meadow
we wanted to get an earlyish start because we still had to drive back to san francisco once we got to crescent meadow, so we packed up camp and hiked for a couple of hours before eating breakfast.
my knee was in bad shape; we had another couple thousand feet of descending to do, most of it over steep/rocky, technical trails, and every step was causing me pain.
i found a stick and used that to take some weight off the knee, but it wasn't enough. eventually i stopped, cut one of my shirts up and used it to strap my knee, but that didn't work very well either.
it turned out that peter had a neoprene knee-brace in his pack, which, when it was put on over my improvised strapping job, helped support my knee.
we hiked down into the forest, and then contoured along the canyon wall for a long time, occasionally popping out of the trees and encountering spectacular views.
a couple miles from the end of the trail, peter hiked ahead by himself. he was constantly having to wait up for me which was breaking his rhythm, and there was no reason for him to hang around while i gimped along.
i stopped a couple of times to refill my water container (i was going to miss drinking straight from the streams), paused to let a young bear (the only one i saw the whole trip) go crashing across the trail, and eventually started encountering groups of day hikers.
a few minutes later i passed a sign marking the distance to the parking lot, and 5 minutes later i was there, walking on pavement and surrounded by cars and people.
distance: 17ish miles
time on the trail: 5:48
we both had clean clothes (yay!) in the car, which we changed into immediately, tossed our packs in the back and got going.
after a quick stop at the ranger station to return the bear can we headed north and west, hoping to get home before dark.
as we drove we talked about the hike, the things we'd seen, the miles we'd covered, and both agreed that it had been a fantastic trip.
a couple of notes about gear
peter and i both bought smartwool t-shirts for the trip, and they were amazing. 4 days on the trail and they didn't smell (and neither did we). i don't know what kind of magic they worked, but i'm sold.
peter bought a jetboil stove, and it performed flawlessly, it boiled water VERY quickly, was incredibly easy to light, and packed down fairly small. i'll be picking one up.
pictures are here, as soon as i have a second i'll post some of them inline.