High Sierra Trail part 6

This is the final part in my six-day six-part series on the High Sierra Trail. You may recall my last episode was in the August 25 newsletter. In this final installment, I will talk about our sixth and final day.

The day started early at Guitar Lake. We knew this would be the longest and hardest day. To hopefully finish before the grill closed at the Mount Whitney trailhead, we would need an early start. We set our alarms for about 5:00 AM, when it was still mostly dark. In the light of the moon and our headlamps we broke down our camp and set out on the trail. It was cold. Probably the coldest I had been the entire trip.

About 15 minutes after leaving camp, we headed uphill to the ridge of the Sierras. The altitude was about 14,000 feet, where nothing grew. However, the excitement of reaching the high point of the Sierras and summiting the highest point in not just California, but the entire lower 48 states, kept us going.

 trail Guitar Lake
This picture shows the trail above Guitar Lake.

As we got higher and the sun rose, we could look down and clearly see the guitar shape of Guitar Lake as well as the western side of the Sierras we crossed already. This gave perspective to what we had already accomplished. Previously, it was hard to appreciate the big picture, because we were surrounded by trees.

west down guitar lake
Looking west down at Guitar Lake

After about two hours, we reached what I think is called the Trail Crest Juntion. As mentioned in part 4 of this series, we were now on the John Muir Trail, whose southern Terminus is Mount Whitney. We could have skipped those last few miles of the trail and headed down what is called the Mount Whitney Trail and be able to say we completed the High Sierra Trail. However, so close to Mount Whitney, we all were willing to hike the extra miles to summit it.

These last few miles of the John Muir Trail are spectacular. Outstanding view of the Sierras on both sides. I was so excited that I didn’t take any pictures of this portion. So please excuse me if I jump right to the summit of Mount Whitney.

tina and nolan
Here I am with Tina and Nolan at the summit of Mount Whitney. A stone shelter is in the background.
lone pine
This picture of me faces east with the town of Lone Pine in the far distance.
summit register
This is one of many pages of the summit register. Note line 10. Yes, my middle name is Whitney, named after the mountain, because that is where my parents met. My other had come up the same way I just did and my father from the Lone Pine side. This will mark my fifth attempt at Mount Whitney and my third successful one.

After the ubiquitous photos at the summit, we headed back down. As mentioned earlier, it would be a long day. So, breaks were fewer and shorter. Plus, I had been on this section of the trail, between Mount Whitney and the Mount Whitney Trailhead three times before. So, I didn’t take many pictures.

This is a waterfall seen on the way down on the Mount Whitney Trail.

The long descent down from Mount Whitney with heavy packs was hard on my knees. If we allowed seven days for the trip, we would have broken this last day into two, staying somewhere along the scenic Mount Whitney Trail. We allowed ourselves the contingency to do so, if we couldn’t make this part in one day. However, we stuck the schedule and made it down that day.

All of us were hoping the grill at the Mount Whitney Trailhead would still be open. The store was still open, but we arrived about five minutes after the grill closed. Shoot. However, we made up for it with plenty of pizza and beer at the Pizza Factory in Lone Pine. After that, we took turns driving back to Las Vegas, arriving about 2AM.

In closing, the whole trip was a resounding success! All three of us accomplished it without help nor any significant problems or injuries and never got lost. I would be happy to do it again and probably will.

As a reminder, the trip started on June 15 and ended on June 20, 2022. I write this 4 ½ months later, on November 2. I’ve seen Tina a few times since and she is doing well. I have not seen Nolan, but didn’t expect to, as we run in different social circles. I hope this trip has inspired at least one person to do the High Sierra Trail. I enjoyed it so much that I hope to do the entire John Muir trail soon.