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Trip Report --Not the PCT

The High Sierra Trail 8/1-8/15

The High Sierra Trail runs 71 miles from Crescent Meadow on the West side
of the Sierra to Mount Whitney on the East side. From Mount Whitney to the
road is an 11 mile trail called the Mt. Whitney trail. The trek is 82 miles
if you bag the peak, 78 miles if you do not. The High Sierra is considered
THE east-west trail much as the JMT is considered THE north-south route.

The winter of 1998 was unlike any I had experienced. Snow was 200-300% of
normal and was melting late. Streams were torrents and rivers impassible. I
already had two hikes scrubbed because of the weather.

For three months I had checked everything available on the conditions. I
prepared for ice, snow and raging river crossings. I read the reports of
the few PCT thru hikers who had braved the sierra. Most did not and simply
skipped this section. It was clear that winter conditions existed in the
sierra as of late July. We needed to prepare for that. I had received
valuable advice from many who were experienced in winter conditions. Most
importantly, I was ready to turn around if it was dangerous.

This is my story.

We arrived at Whitney Portal at 10AM. The proprietor had just posted a
message that the Whitney Trail was passable without mountaineering
equipment. Everyone else was posting that the snow conditions were still
awful in the Sierra. The proprietor, Doug, had been there. Yes there was
still plenty of snow on the 97 switchbacks between Trail Camp (12,000) and
Trail Crest but it was passable, if difficult. The snow was soft. Crampons
would not help.

I spoke with three 20ish guys that had hiked the JMT from Happy Isle to
Florence Lake and from Onion Valley to Whitney. They had just come in off
the trail! Although they had skipped Muir, Pinchot, Mather and Glenn Passes
they had done Forrester Pass. Lots of snow, but soft, was their report. Ice
Axe maybe, crampons no.

Still, only one group had arrived at Whitney from Happy Isles and one group
from Crescent Meadow, our route. I was encouraged but not convinced.

Last night we arrived a Giant Forest Lodge. This is the last year we can
stay here. It is being torn down.

At the backcountry office we ran into a ranger we knew. She had been on the
trail past Hamilton Lake towards Kaweah Gap. Water crossings were way down.
Streams were passable. Above Hamilton lake, where the trail was a tunnel
across Hamilton Gorge, an avalanche was blocking the trail. To get by one
had to struggle through a hole in the snow. Alternatively, one could
descent the steep wall of Hamilton Gorge below the snow. Past Precipice
Lake the trail was mostly snow. It was soft however, was the report.
Crampons would not help and Ice Axes were not necessary. Past Kaweah Gap
snow was not a problem but streams were still high.

We leave tomorrow on the High Sierra Trail. I have three tenderfeet with
me. The adult is a 50 year old man in reasonable shape. Unfortunately, he
is a Pollyanna type. Everything is going to be OK. The girl is 15 and looks
frail. The girl has a deep cough. Her mom, a nurse, instructs her to take a
single dose of antibiotics. Everything I know about antibiotics says this
is wrong. I keep my mouth shut. Only the boy, a 19 year old Eagle Scout.
Looks promising.

 I must be mad!

The latest reports indicated soft snow. All of us have ski poles-the
recommended equipment for soft snow. I decide to leave the crampons and all
but one ice axe home. I decided to take one ice axe on a hunch.

Streams were reported to still be high. The 100' of rope went along.


I am furious. We were supposed to be on the trail by 7AM. No way! It seems
that the tenderfeet think 7AM means whenever they are ready to go. I yell.
I scream. I leave for the trailhead leaving the father behind. My wife is
yelling at me. The girl is crying. The Eagle Scout is silent and my son is
faintly amused: he has seen me do this before.

As expected the father arrives at the trailhead just after me. The mom who
is not going on the trip screams at me. She has slept the entire three days
we have spent at Sequoia. My plan was to acclimate at altitude. On Sunday I
planned a five (5) mile hike with 1800' altitude gain/loss as a sort of
warm up hike. Of the tenderfeet only the Eagle Scout goes. The father
fishes. The girls also sleeps the entire three (3) days at Sequoia. These
people eighty (80) miles across the Sierra this year?

This is crazy. These tenderfeet don't know what they are doing and won't
listen. I am at the trailhead pacing. They are ready. I walk away. They
take pictures. How can I take them down the trail? How can this be fun for
me? Finally my wife suggests that we at least go as far as Bearpaw Meadow.
This is an easy, flat hike. My son did this hike at the age of 4 1/2. On
the other hand my son had more experience backpacking at 4 1/2 that these
three. I have spent $1500 for reservations at the BearPaw High Sierra Camp.
If I don't go I lose the money. Shit!

Reluctantly, I start down the trail. Everybody follows me in silence.

The first 14 or so miles of the High Sierra trail is along the Middle Fork
Kaweah River. The Kaweah is the major drainage South of the Kings and West
of the Kern. Its headwaters are along a ridge of mountains called the Great
Western Divide that run from Triple Divide Peak where the drainage of the
Kings, Kern and Kaweah meet all the way South through Mineral King. It is
rugged beautiful country. The trail is essentially level as it crosses the
Kaweah Tributaries of Panther, Mehrton,  Nine Mile and Buck Creeks. Any of
these can be tough crossings.

In slightly less than a mile we reach Eagles View, a point where we can see
all the way up the valley to the Great Western divide. Of course there is a
better view from Moro Rock, just behind us, if anyone was interested the
last three days. This section is open because of the Buckeyee Flat fire
several years ago. Only once in the many times I have hiked this trail had
the air been clear. That was 12 years ago before the fire. Now the smog
from Fresno has ruined the view of the Valley. The tenderfeet gasp. The
most beautiful view they have ever seen. I silently sneer and go on.

Panther Creek crosses the trail in five (5) places. They are all simple
walk acrosses. A little 200' uphill of switchback causes the tenderfeet to
pause. After 5 miles we meet Mehrton Creek, the first difficult water
crossing. It is noon and the water is low. A simple step across. However,
if you blow it, it is several hundred feet down the cliff. I climb next to
the creek and find the campsites empty. These are the first campsites with
a bearbox. They are small, slanted and usually filled. Who knows why?
Fortunately, we are first. We set up camp. Half an hour later another party
comes looking for a campsite. We have it. They go on. That's why I wanted
an early start. I've been down this trail before. And met people who have
lost food to the bears.  The tenderfeet are in awe of the view. The snow
covered Great Western Divide is to the east and the ridge that separates
the valley from Mineral King is to the South. Cathedral Peak stands
imposingly across the valley. It is still smoggy but I say nothing. The
boy's hand is swelling up. He is allergic to many things, insect bites
being one of them. The tenderfeet have packed two courses of steroid and
two courses of antibiotics. The boy must use 1/2 the steroids and all the
antibiotics. If he isn't better in a couple of days we must turn around.
Even if he recovers we will be crossing the Sierra with no antibiotics,
minimal steroids and two sick kids. Fighting my anger, my fear and the
mosquitoes I settle down to read.

Dinner is wonderful. It is polish sausage and macaroni and real cheese. It
also weighed eight pounds. The tenderfoot man left camp with 61 pounds.
That's sufficient punishment. Tomorrow he is 8 pounds lighter due to dinner
and another 4 pounds lighter because he returns his tent to his struggling
daughter. We agree on an early getup and no breakfast in order to cross
streams early. Let's see if it happens.

Well I'll be  . . .  We are on the trail early and across Mehrton Creek.
The flat trail continues up the valley and the Great Western Divide gets
closer. Soon Nine-Mile Creek has come and gone-a walk across! At Buck Creek
is a brand new bridge. Where are the fierce water crossings I heard of? We
will make it to BearPaw Hi Sierra Camp without removing our shoes.

The last 1/2 mile to Bearpaw is a 600' uphill. Everyone struggles except my
son who sprints the hill arriving 1/4 hour earlier than anyone. This is the
fourth time he's been here-the first when he was 4 1/2. He hated it every
time so he sprinted it to get it over with. Ah, how youth is wasted on the

For those who don't know, Bearpaw High Sierra Camp provides food, tent
cabins, showers and flush toilets 11 1/2 miles down the High Sierra Trail.
Reservations are hard to get and very expensive. We started dialing 5
phones on Jan 2 to get our spots. We have two nights here. The tenderfoot
goes fishing. The girl doesn't get up for breakfast. Who cares. Nothing,
nobody is going to ruin my day at Bearpaw. I drink lemonade, chew on
brownies and read . . . occasionally staring at the incredible view of the
Great Western Divide, now so close across the valley I can touch it.

Quote from BearPaw: "The caterpillar was climbing the Great Western Divide.
He didn't seem to be having much trouble"

Two days at BearPaw has done wonders for my attitude. The boy is better.
The girl is stronger. After breakfast we leave for Hamilton Lake.
Wildflowers are 3 feet high as we traverse the river canyon beyond BearPaw.
We drop to Lone Pine Creek to find another new bridge, then climb to
Hamilton Falls. I have been worrying about this. The trail crosses the
creek BETWEEN the falls. You must ford the stream and the rushing water
from the upper falls. If you screw up you slide down the lower falls
hundreds of feet. This is why I took the rope.

We walked across Hamilton Creek in Aquasox. It was no more difficult than
in other years.  We arrive at Hamilton lake by noon. It is empty.  I remind
everybody that the easy days are over. Tomorrow we have 8 miles and 3000'
to climb-in snow and over an avalanche.  The word from the Ranger is that
the avalanche across the trail at Hamilton Gulch is easy but we will have
solid snow from Precipice Lake to Kaweah Gap. By dinner empty Hamilton Lake
is full of campers. Every possible site is taken. Still, tomorrow will
separate the weekenders from the twoweekers. Everybody agrees that we will
get up early, ford Hamilton Creek and form up on the other side by 6:30AM.

It is 6:25AM. We have crossed Hamilton Creek and are drying our feet
preparing for the climb to Kaweah Gap. Hamilton Creek has been good to us.
Four fish, one 12" long made up for the fact that the tenderfoot packed two
dinners for two -- for six people. Nevertheless, they made the early start
and I am feeling better about taking them into the wilderness. Not
comfortable, just better.

Middle Hamilton Lake is a classic glacially formed lake. To the North is
Angel Wings. To the South is the massive ridge called Valhalla. East is the
top of the glaciers travel, the flanks of Eagle Scout Peak. It is 3000' up
in three directions. On the west is a long trickling waterfall from the
uppermost Hamilton Lake. Try to imagine the alpine glow on three sides. Got

OK, now multiple this by two! It was a full moon and the moonlight
illuminated Angel Wings. Moon glow is even more spectacular than sun glow.
This is why I stopped here.

The switchbacks go SFU. After two hours we aren't any closer to Kaweah Gap
than we started but we gained lots of altitude. We take a break and level
off to a gentle ascent to Hamilton Gorge. At one time, in the 30's, there
was a bridge across the gorge. It was wiped out be an avalanche so the Park
Service built a tunnel across the gorge. As we climb towards the tunnel a
lone hiker approaches us. His backpack is huge. He isn't using the hip belt
and is only using one shoulder strap yet he is walking at triple our speed.
He is from Nepal and arranges tours for a living. Mountains? What
mountains?? He shoots past us. I am reminded that, no matter how far, how
fast or how long you walk, someone is always stronger, faster and more

The avalanche is anticlimactic. We can go below it, through a hole in it or
simply chop it to bits with the ice axe. We choose to go below. Two weeks
ago this trail was almost impassible but two weeks of warm weather take
their toll. I am feeling good about passing the obstacle when I get the bad
news. The girls sole is coming off her boot. They have to stop for repairs.
The tenderfoot used most of his duct tape repairing his fishing rod last
hike and forgot to replace it so the repair is more than a 'wrap and go'.
Leaving father and daughter to catch up,  we go on to Upper Hamilton Lake.
It is right on the edge of the precipice and ought to be named Precipice
Lake. There is a little snowfield just before the lake. I climb the rocks
and wait for the rest of the party.

About an hour later here they come, stopping for views every 30 seconds and
posing for pictures. I watch them for 10 minutes taking their time while we
are waiting. It is now 10AM. We still have a couple of miles in snow and a
thousand feet of altitude to gain before the Gap. At this rate they will
never make it. I put the girl up with Alan [my son, 13] and ask him to lead
across the snow. Soon the snow is solid. Alan is picking his way across
solid snow with the trail showing occasionally. The other two tenderfeet,
father and son,  are falling behind. We meet them at Precipice Lake, almost
500' higher at 11AM. Starting again Alan and the girl makes good time
across snowfields and snowbridges across water. My 250 pound frame is more
cautious. The snow lessens and we reach a bowl where the trail is
invisible.  Working forward in the direction we must go I scour the edges
of the bowl looking for the trail. Finally I find it and climb a little
ridge --Kaweah Gap, 10,700. We have crossed the Great Western Divide. It
only took us 5 1/2 hours from Hamilton Lake and we still have 5 miles to go
but we've made it! The tenderfeet catch up in a few minutes. We are all
safe and sound--except the boot. The other party, including the guy from
Nepal, are planning to cross the Kaweah range [13000 foot peaks] via a
cross country col called Pants Pass [it is called Pants Pass because it its
pure loose scree and one slides down on his pants]. We take the High Sierra
that goes south, around this mountain range.

The descent into Big Arroyo was supposed to be solid snow. In fact there
are only a few sections. As advertised, our dual hiking poles with snow
baskets worked very well in the soft snow. The ice axe was not necessary.
Big Arroyo is a side valley of the Kern. It runs between the 13000' Kaweah
Range to the east and the Great Western Divide on the West. At 10,500' the
13,000' peaks look small. Down valley is easy walking. One tributary
appears to be a difficult crossing but Alan finds an easy way. After
stopping to repair the boot again we are off. Late in the day we need to
ford Big Arroyo Creek. This was a potential problem and I was prepared to
camp at the creek and ford in the morning. It turns out not to be hard at
all. Finally we arrive at our destination, the junction of several trails
where an old cabin exists. We meet a British hiker who is sick with the
stomach flue. We find out later he was airlifted out from BearPaw.

We have finished our most difficult day. The tenderfoot has, again,
underestimated our food but no one is really hungry. The sleeping bag looks
good tonight.

The Big Arroyo trail junction is where the High Sierra Trail junctions with
the trail down the Big Arroyo and with the trail to Little Five Lakes and
Black Rock Pass. Several years ago I hiked over Franklin Pass from Mineral
King, then over a plateau down to the Big Arroyo Trail. I camped in Lower
Big Arroyo that time and the bears visited my bear canister --an old four
pound model. Black Rock Pass is a possible escape route for us if we can't
proceed across the Sierra as planned. However, based on what I've learned
we should be OK.

The campground was empty. Even the sick Englishman left. We have met no one
traversing the High Sierra Trail from Mt. Whitney. This is the rough
equivalent of no traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway westbound. I enjoy the
solitude but I am a little less certain of our route ahead.

An early start is not indicated but we are on the trail by 8AM. The trail
climbs the northeast wall of Big Arroyo. Looking over and down I can see
Rattlesnake Creek, Lost Canyon and the Big and Little Five Lakes basins. It
sure looks steep. I musta been in good shape back then when I hike the
area. The trail crests at 10,700' at a little pond. Kaweah Peak looks small
even though it is a 13000+ peak. In fact the entire Kaweah range is less
than impressive. Sorta little hills. Course I have been viewing them from
above 10,000'.

The Chagoopa Plateau is a disappointment. I have checked the snow pillow
regularly to find about snow melt and I expected a lush plateau with
magnificent vistas. Instead I have scattered trees, bare dirt with a few
ground plants and a red hill in the background {the red hill is Kaweah
Peak}. The tenderfoot dad wanted to skip Moraine Lake and head directly to
Kern Hot Springs, a 14 mile walk. Moraine Lake has no fish and the Kern
does so you know where his head is at. I nixed him because we ain't ready
for 14 miles but I'm not sure of the quality of our destination.

The girl's boot is literally falling apart. We are tying the sole on the
boot with parachute cord because we are out of duct tape. The cord wears
out about once a day and takes an hour to repair. I advise the dad that the
boot is toast and advise him to bore a hole in the sole. That way the boot
can be fixed in 15 minutes. We now make better time but the sole is
literally hanging on by a thread.

At the trail junction we take the spur loop to the lake. More dirt and
scattered tree cover but the lake appears soon. No one is at the camp. The
wind off the lake blows the bugs away. No mosquitoes!! Checking the lake, I
find the water quite warm. Everyone takes a welcome swim. The view of
Mineral King across the lake is lovely. It is a relaxing camp. By nightfall
no one has shown up. We have this huge camping area and the entire lake to


I considered a layover day here. Moraine Lake was so wonderful. Our next
stop, Kern Hot Springs, is sure to be crowded. We rejoin the High Sierra
trail making good time on the flat plateau and reach the lip of the Kern
trench. We saw a rattlesnake along this section -- the first rattler I ever
seen in the sierra. The direction is SFD. Fortunately, the switchbacks are
very good. After stopping to repair the girls boots, four of us, the
Reynolds' plus the girl, reach the bottom. The other two tenderfeet, dad
and son,  stopped to take a dump. Working up the Kern is real work. We are
following an overgrown trail. The kids are leading and I am remembering the
Rattlesnake. The trail gets boggier and boggier. We work over logs and
fight for solid ground. The trail is now a tributary of the Kern. This is
taking forever. Finally we cross Chaoogopa Creek and spy dry trail. Taking
a break I blow the whistle several times. I can't hear an answer but they
hear the whistle. We are together again. Everyone is admiring the beauty,
lovely ferns and Chagoopa Falls in the background. I am remembering the

We reach the bridge across the Kern. It is intact. Looking at the Kern
there is no way we could have crossed it. Another dry manzanita section
awaits us followed by an unwanted stream crossing that requires us to
remove our shoes. This is only the fourth time on the trip so far: Hamilton
Creek (twice), Big Arroyo Creek and this dinkyass stream We reach the hot
springs and look around for campsites. The first we find are less than
stellar but we soon fine a fine spot. We also find a pit toilet! It is 1
PM. There is no one but us here.

We are enjoying Kern Hot Springs. We haven't seen anyone except the sick
English guy since Kaweah Pass. Where are the hikers? Kern Hot Springs is an
improved version of nature. Someone has constructed a concrete bathtub.
Water from the hot spring enters through a small pipe. It is too hot for
me. I use the wooden stopper to stem the flow. My son empties buckets of
cold river water into the tub until it is just right. It takes time to
figure out how the Hot Springs exactly works. You need to picture this. The
Hot Springs is set in a small meadow next to the rushing Kern River. I am
sitting next to the Kern River taking a hot bath. No mosquitoes, the wind
is too high. First my son and I enjoy the spring. Then, after the
tenderfeet have their turn, my wife and I share the tub. Instead of digging
a hole I take my krap in the pit toilet. The tenderfoot fisherman is at it
again. We will have fresh fish for dinner. After my double soak there is
only one thing to do. I take a nap.

I awake to a full campsite. The hikers have caught up to us. A full boy
scout troop has invaded. Another party, a group of boy scout leaders . .
.without the kids also had landed. Another boy scout troop is due tomorrow
and a Sierra Club group is due in also Well, it was too good to last.
Abandoning my planned layover day, we agree to leave early and ford Whitney
and Wallace Creek in the morning to reach Junction Meadow. We have met no
party coming west on the trail in over a week! What's happening up ahead?
How bad are the fords?

Today is anticlimactic. The ford of Whitney Creek is exciting but not
difficult. It is fast running water thigh deep but our dual hiking poles
work very well. Everyone crosses easily. Both Alan and I test a deep
section with our poles, then find another route. With four feet one always
has three points of contact. These poles have worked well both on snow and
stream crossings. I am now sold on them. Later, another hiker crosses
Whitney Creek without poles. He goes in up to his neck and needs to be
fished out. He has a nasty gash from his fall. You get my point?

Wallace Creek is even more exciting than Whitney Creek. The water is so
strong that we have a bow wave from our knees to our belt. This gets our
shorts wet but little more. Again four feet make all the difference. Most
people, and some of our party, cross on a log. Looks dangerous to Ginnie
and I.

We are at Junction Meadow. There is a lone lady here. She came over Pants
Pass. She talked about the loose scree. One time TV sized boulders gave way
underneath her. I asked about a party of six. Very dangerous she said.
Every step she took caused a landslide. Yuk! Not for me. By 6PM a couple of
other parties come in but the area is very large. Fishing is great. We
schedule a layover day.

We are on layover at Junction Meadow. The boy scout troup has come and
gone. It is now ahead of us. This is the fourth day we have able to wash in
a row. Moraine, Kern Hot Springs and two days here. We check supplies. We
have plenty of food but the tenderfeet have not packed enough toilet paper.
Weight saving no doubt. Also, we may run out of bug spray. I carry a 4 oz
bottle of 95% DEET. It has lasted in my pack for 5 years--the lower
concentration spray being better. The tenderfeet have gone through half of
it on this hike. I tell them to slow down.

Ginnie found about two feet of wire on the ground. We make metal loops in
the girl's boot sole. Now the cord won't wear out anymore. The dad lashes
the sole to the boot in several places. It out to last. This problem looks

The boy scout leaders arrive. The leader is Les. He is very knowledgeable
but his style is different from mine. His pack weighs 70 pounds. The
tenderfeet gravitate to him immediately. They no doubt like his laid back,
you can do it style in contrast to my cautious, authoritarian (some would
say ass hole) approach.  I determine to let them kill themselves with Les
if they want.

We rise early to climb out of the Kern. I pointed out that our early walk
from Kern Hot Springs was relatively easy while other parties that arrived
in the late afternoon are dragging. The tenderfeet buy into my early getup
and trade visions of morning omelets for easy walking. Past Junction Meadow
the trail claims about 900'. The Kern is one massive rapids here.
Originally we were scheduled to continue up the Kern Headwaters and out
over Forrester or Shephard Pass but snow considerations nixed this idea. As
we climb the Colby Pass area comes into view. Fantastic. Another year. We
turn away from the Kern and continue climbing up Wallace Creek. The views
get better. The once dinky Kaweah Range now rises 5000' from the Kern and
is very impressive. Behind it Mineral King and the Great Western Divide
form a backdrop.  We ford Wright Creek, the last difficult crossing. No
Problem. By 10AM we have reached the John Muir Trail. We were supposed to
stop here but it's too early. We rock-hop Wallace Creek and climb some

The Whitney area is very high. From Wallace Creek we climb and traverse
some ridges that can only be glacial moraine -- as unbelievable as that is
at 11,000'. The entire Bighorn Plateau --the area between Wallace Creek and
Forrester Pass comes into view. It looks lots like Chagoopa Plateau and I
am not so sorry I am heading for Whitney. Traversing these moraine ridges,
however is not fun. I think maybe I should have stopped where I planned. I
instruct my son to stop at the next campsite. It stinks but he scouts ahead
and finds a good one. Weary from the 3000' climb we make camp. Les and the
scout leaders join us within 30 minutes. We are just north of Crabtree
Meadow at the junction of the High Sierra Trail and the trail from
Cottonwood Pass. Guitar Lake is less than 3 miles away. There is some
discussion of going on. I laugh and nix the idea. We have a lovely
thunderstorm. Fortunately, the camp was already set up. Unfortunately, the
storm brought the mosquitoes.

The next morning we are on the trail to Guitar Lake. It is a 900' climb.
Timberline Lake is wonderful. There are awesome views in all directions.
Guitar Lake is not as ugly as we'd heard but we head for a meadow above it.
Les and the boys scout ahead and find a nice campsite. They report many
tents if we try to go further. We set up camp next to a flowing stream on
the flank of Mt Whitney. Looking up one sees precariously balanced rocks
that would devastate our campsite if they ever tried to fall. Down the
cliff is Guitar Lake and beyond is the Kaweah range and beyond that Mineral
King and the Western Divide.

Les makes a mountain slushy out of snow and Kool Aid. He announces the
probability of Guairdia at 1%. What the hell! It's great!

We have another thunderstorm. The tenderfeet are really hiking with Les now
and are committed to summiting Mt. Whitney. My family doesn't want to add 4
1/2 miles to the last day just to get a view from 800' higher. Trail Crest
13,700' is enough for us.

Les plans to get up by four and leave by five for the peak. I am skeptical.
The trail is somewhat obscure and it isn't light enough before 5:40. I tell
my family to get up at 4:30 to be ready by 5:15.

We awake to the noise of everyone else breaking camp. Nevertheless,
although we sleep to 4:30 we are ready to go well before it is light
enough. As expected, at 5:40 we start up the trail. We climb to the upper
plateau and are soon on long, well graded switchbacks. Most Sierra Passes
have rocky switchbacks with 1-2' steps. Not these. It is easy walking. At
13,100 my altimeter poops out. I continue, not knowing how far I need to
go. Dawn brings a magnificent view back across the 70 miles we have hiked.

The switchbacks are anticlimactic. By 7:30 we are at the junction of the
High Sierra Trail and the Mt. Whitney Trail. Les is waiting for the
tenderfeet 30 minutes behind us. It is cold at the junction and the
altitude is not kind to my son. We say goodbye to Les and climb to trail
crest. After a short scramble over a rock slide we arrive at the Crest
13,700'. The views either west or east are unbelievable. It is clear and
sunny. The tenderfeet will take 3 hours to climb to the summit. I mark my
watch. They will be returning to the trail junction about 11AM. Yesterday's
thunderstorm hit at 11:15. I shudder.

From Trail Crest 13,700 to Trail Camp are 96 or so unbelievably well graded
switchbacks. Until last week they were covered with snow and people
climbing the peak took the snow field. I look at the snowfield. SFU. Not
me!. We are first down the switchbacks. Soon we meet hikers climbing up.
They are clean and smell good. They are from Trail Camp. We are back in
civilization. There is still lots of snow on the switchbacks requiring many
detours. Our poles are a godsend. About halfway down we start meeting
dayhikers. They are a different bunch seeking to pit their strength against
the mountain. After two weeks we are more or less in harmony with the
mountain. We say hi and pass quickly.

Conventional wisdom says you must be off the summit by 2PM to make it back
to your car. It is 10AM and we are most of the way down the switchbacks. It
is at least a four climb to the summit yet the dayhikers still come. At
Trail Camp we take a break and try out the solar toilet. Nice.

The weather is turning. I don't want to be at 12,000' in a lightning storm.
We start down to Outpost Camp. The well groomed trail has been replaced by
the usual rocky staircase. It is beginning to rain. We meet the Ranger
coming up the trail. He is telling everyone to "Get the hell off the
mountain". The tenderfeet should be about back to the trail junction.

Indeed they are. The summit was clear and the view wonderful. I expected to
hear "You should have come" for months but it's not going to work out that
way. At the trail junction the tenderfeet decide to rest however they
notice the hair of fellow hikers standing straight up and think better of
it. Maybe they remember what I said. They load up and head for Trail Crest.
Day hikers are passing them on the way to the summit.

It is raining hard and I am wet. The trail is hard. I am slipping on the
wet stone. Finally we reach Outpost Camp. We pick one campsite then change
our mind and take another. Mistake! Before we can get our tent up the hail
storm starts. Two inches of hail falls in 1 minute. We struggle into our
tent while high winds threaten to blow the tent down the mountain. I am
cold, wet and have a headache from the altitude. I change clothes and wait
out the storm, huddled with my family. For three hours the storm doesn't
let up!

Meanwhile. The tenderfeet hit the switchbacks just as the hail hits. The
wind is so fierce the hail is horizontal. Even they know they are in
danger. They see the lightning strike the summit twice. There are still
plenty of people up there. They slip, they slide. Cold and wet they
negotiate the 97 switchbacks -- every step closer to down and safety.
Still, plenty of dayhikers are heading up. It'll blow over they say.
Unbelievable. Three hours later they reach Outpost Camp. Everything is wet.
They are hiking out. We beak camp. It stops raining and we hike the five
miles to the car without difficulty. At the trailhead we hear the
tenderfeet story. How many died up there? Perhaps a merciful God . .

We have crossed the Sierra 80 miles. For Jonathan Breen, the PCT thruhiker
who traversed the Sierra this year, the distance was a pittance. Still, I
am reminded of the guy from Nepal. We didn't go far. We didn't go long but
we went. This was a tough year but we picked the right week. I loved it but
my wife and son say TOO LONG. Next year they plan the hike.

The tenderfeet are planning their next hike. Good luck. They are nice

people and if you meet them on the trail say hi. And, oh yes, bring extra
food, deet and duct tape.

Tom Reynolds

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