JMT Day 19

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September 7, 2002 28º-43º @BSH

The clouds had broken up during the night, and the weather was clear and cold. My water bottles were frozen solid. And all of our gear not under the tarp had a heavy layer of frost on it. We spread it out to catch the sun, which wouldn’t be up for an hour or so. While waiting, we chatted with the two older guys camped near us. One, the leader, said they had done this twenty five years ago and were attempting to do the same three or four day hike again. Apparently, with the same equipment. The other gentleman had a Red Sox cap on; we talked baseball for a while—turned out the impending baseball strike had been averted at the eleventh hour, and the Red Sox had promptly returned to their losing ways.

One of the men had a thermometer and mentioned it had been 21.9º that morning. As they packed up to go, he offered us some extra food; we declined (too much weight) and he left it in the bear box. They went on their way.

We had to wait until 10:10 for our stuff to dry out and for us to get underway. The previous night, I had figured we’d get to the summit of Whitney on Monday, September 9. (Today was Friday the seventh.) It really brought home how far I’d come, and how close we were. That, and the fact that I was now on Map #2 of the 13 map John Muir Trail series by Tom Harrison (the map numbers are from south to north, so Map #13 was Yosemite, and Map #1 was Whitney Portal). Also encouraging was the sign we saw today saying “Mt. Whitney 16 miles.”

The first leg of today’s hike was to be Forester Pass, at 13,180′ the highest point on the entire Pacific Crest Trail, I believe. We left camp and ascended for an hour or so through the forest. Along the way, we catch up to our friends from the previous night; they’re examing a large pile of bear scat in the middle of the trail. They’re also pretty tired and are having second thoughts. I wish them luck and we continue on. The trail emerged from the trees and we began a long trek past a couple of alpine lakes, then an ascent straight up the side of Forester, which lies between Mt. Stanford (13,973′) and Junction Peak (13,888′).The trail is well-laid out and the grade is good, so without too much effort we make it at around 1:30. A gain that morning of 2,700′, but it seemed as nothing now. The views are as usual spectacular, both looking back where we’ve been, and looking ahead. The “looking ahead” picture shows the route of the trail, and the valley in the distance is the canyon of Tyndall Creek, which is also the beginning of Map #1—the end is near. Looking back the trail from the summit, we spy the older gentlemen making their way along the tundra, slowly but (it seems) surely, so we decided not to worry about them as we continued on.

Forester Pass (13,120′)
Looking back from Forester

The weather was clear and chilly all day. As we descended to Tyndall Creek, we saw Fisherson sitting on a boulder near the turn-off for Lake South America. He looked despondent, and asked if we’d seen his dad. They were supposed to have met up the previous day and fish at Lake South America, but they’d missed connections and he hadn’t seen his father in over a day. We couldn’t help him; we wished him well and went on. I felt bad for him and hoped Fisherdad would turn up o.k.

Just a bit further on, we passed the turnoff for the Tyndall Creek ranger station, then began looking for the “frog ponds.” They weren’t marked officially on my map, but Bob back at Vermillion Valley Resort had suggested that area as a good campsite—I’d even marked it in pencil on my map. He’d said the sites were good there, and a bit off the beaten path; we’d have to look for them. It turned out to be exactly that way. We found the bear box there rather easily, then had to go over a ridge where we found a beautiful “pond”—actually a small lake, surrounded by a nice flat-topped mountain (in Texas we’d call it a “mesa”). (Me, cooking dinner.)

Tyndall Ponds (Camp 19; 11,060′)
Me cooking dinner at Tyndall Ponds (Camp 19; 11,060′)

Before I fell asleep that night, I got a bit of an adrenaline rush realizing I’d be at the base of Whitney the next day. We’d reached Map #1.