Category Archives: Hiking

TR-GUMO Pine Springs/Guad. Peak; Dog Canyon/Marcus backpack

Took a trip out to Guadalupe Mountains National Park last week. I’d reserved Sunday and Monday nights at Pine Spring, Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday nights at Dog Canyon. I intended on climbing Guadalupe Peak again Monday, then I was planning on a backcountry stay on Wednesday night, possibly at Blue Ridge (as discussed here; https://bigbendchat.com/tentative-plan-for-one-night-backpack-dog-canyon-b-t18146.html).

I’d been getting in pretty good shape over the past six months, doing cardio, hiking, and most recently hiking with a pack to start conditioning myself for backpacking. But I had an unexpected trip to take my 89-year old mother to California to meet her new great-granddaughter from New Zealand who was visiting family in Berkeley…but I digress. Bottom line is I was out for a week, then home for only a couple of days before leaving on my trip.

I left Austin around 4 pm arriving Ozona around 8 pm. I began this habit of breaking up the drive to GUMO a few years ago; gives me plenty of time to pack, take care of chores, and hardly feels like any time at all for the first day. And then it’s nice to get to my campsite early enough to where I don’t have to rush to beat sundown (especially in Winter). I got to GUMO just before 1:00–oops, Noon Mountain time; went to the visitor center to make sure I didn’t have to check in or anything (got that Senior Pass heh heh, and had already booked the camping) and wanted to confirm I could get my Wednesday night backcountry permit here on Tuesday morning as I left (I could).

Site 16 at Pine Springs–you know, I think it’s “Pine Springs” Visitor center, but “Pine Spring” Canyon (no “s”)–I think is one of the better car-camping spots. It has a large footprint, split-level. It may have been an accessible one at some point.The upper area (where I put my tent) is surrounded by shrubs so there is some privacy. And most important to me, sufficient screening against the plague of over-bright lighting that infests modern campgrounds. I put the tent fly on, probably didn’t need it–weather was absolutely perfect.

I’ve been coming here since 1985 and have seen many changes; new paved road and fancy new visitor center, new outhouse at end of campground road, water faucets that have come and gone, different regulations vis-a-vis fires. I think the site has burned badly two times. 

16 is one of the better sites, kind of split-level.
View of Hunter from site 16

Here’s another person/s who didn’t make it down before sunset.

Seems there’s always someone coming down from Guadalupe Peak well after dark. That light in the upper center is one or more hikers slowly making their way down.

Speaking of sunset: I can’t say enough about PeakFinder. It tells you exactly when and where the sun will rise/set based on exactly where you are and the surrounding mountains. To wit:

Pine Spring Canyon looked a bit different, almost as if it were muddy.

Anyway I got going on the trail up Guad Peak around 8:00 AM. I packed 3 liters of water, probably too much but I kind of wanted to see how I’d hold up, especially my joints, and also wanted to get ready for a backpack Wednesday. This was my fourth time up; 1985, 1997, 2000 (an overnight trip) preceded it. So it had been twenty years since my last climb up. 

Hunter Peak to the right.

It was familiar in a lot of ways, and a lot of elements were just as I remembered–the last few switchbacks on the northeast facing start, some cut straight out of what seems solid limestone (“Lead animals here”) and then the abrupt turn “around the bend” which takes you out of the limestone and into a shaded forest on the north-facing slope for a while. The wooden bridge was familiar, although I recall the  wood being pretty new in 1985. And of course the metal pyramid at the summit, placed there in 1958 (my birth year). 

One notable difference–there was no summit register!

The famous, fierce Guadalupe Pass winds had laid down for the day and the conditions were perfect. The clear sky had been obscured for a while by a high overcast as soon as I reached the summit, but I wasn’t much concerned with aesthetics as I’d been up several times before. The ascent took me about 3:42. I chatted a while with those who shared the summit; a young Polish couple, a couple from Austin, two more individual hikers. I stayed on the summit maybe 45 minutes, an hour, then started down. Not much significant to report–I paused to enjoy the views a bit more on the way down, and about a mile from the finish my hydration bladder ran out of water so I filled it from my reserve.

That night at the camp site, a couple of things struck me. First, chucklehead in a site across the way had a light of some sort that burned with the light of ten thousand suns and illuminated half of the mountain. Then I noticed the horizon which had formerly been black, then more recently had begun to show lights from oilfield activity, was now fully illuminated.

This chucklehead had an incredibly bright lantern that illuminated half the mountainside and ruined everyone’s view of the stars.
When I first started coming out here there would have been zero lights looking 50 miles to the East. Now there’s a combination of flares and lights from the oilfield.

When I got back to site 16 I made dinner, cracked a cold one and began to ruminate on the hike that day and my plans for my upcoming overnight. I was a little disappointed in my speed; it took me over seven hours. I see now it was closer to 6:30 actual moving time, but still that’s a lot slower than I used to do it in. The part that slows me down the most is what I call “steps,” that is, big steps–foot, foot and a half–up (or down). I used to spring up them on the way up, and hop down them on the way down. But over the years I’ve learned I have to do them in a very particular way or I’ll get severe pain. I have to step up only with my left foot first; on descents I have to step down first with my right foot. Also, on descents, if I hop down too many times over the course of a couple of hours I’ll get excruciating pain in my foot. (Of course these are exacerbated with a heavier pack.)

My proposed backpack trip on Wednesday would have been: leave Dog Canyon, ascend Marcus overlook descend to Marcus backcountry site, continue on a gentle ascent but where the trail becomes difficult to find, then on to a steep ascent where the trail is difficult to find, rarely used, and in the most remote corner of the park before setting up camp. Now, one thing I felt was that the hike up Guad Peak had been more difficult than I remembered from 2000 and a helluva lot more difficult than in 1985. So, anyway, on Tuesday morning as I got my permit for Wednesday night I decided on only going to Marcus backcountry site and back. It would still be terra incognita for me, to a new part of the park.

Trip Report GUMO 3/1/22

Dog Canyon-Marcus Backcountry

The helpful young woman at the visitor center with whom I’d spoken on Sunday was also the person who gave me my wilderness permit on Tuesday morning. As I was explaining why I’d decided only to do Marcus and eliminate the long loop to Blue Ridge, she mentioned something I thought incorrect but because the Center was still under Covid protocols and limiting people inside, I didn’t want to get into a discussion. I just smiled and took the permit for one night at Marcus from Dog Canyon. She’d said, regarding a Blue Ridge trek, “At least when you get to Dog Canyon you’ll have most of your elevation gained.” As shown below, this is not the case. The route to BR would include quite a bit of elevation; taking the route counter-clockwise, it would have put me at the southwest-most point on the trail, where the trail is hardest to find, where the final elevation gain is the greatest, at the end of a long day with a pack full of water. Hence the decision to only go as far as Marcus.

The purple lowercase sigma-looking track was my original plan.

Original proposed route; I cut it in half by only going to Marcus backcountry site and back.

You guys probably know I much prefer to stay at Dog Canyon campground rather than Pine Springs. Before last year, when online reservations for Dog Canyon became available, I often had the entire campground to myself. I’d have considered it “crowded” if three sites were full. The newer system has, so far, not only changed the quantity of campers but in my experience the quality as well. Previously, it seemed that folks who camped there were respectful of the solitude, quiet, and dark environment. My recent stay in October had given me a taste of camping neighbors who were not respectful of those characteristics at all. Apprehensive, I would pleasantly surprised over the next few days. All my camping companions were stellar folks.  About six or seven of the tent sites were taken and there were a couple or three campers up by the corrals.

Evening view from site #9

Since I was no longer doing the long hike, I didn’t have to leave a daybreak Wednesday. I had my backpack mostly packed Tuesday, went over it again in the morning and included 7 liters of water, which I knew would be too much, but I didn’t want a rerun of what had happened to me on my Shumard backpack (here: https://bigbendchat.com/tr-shumard-canyon-backcountry-site-nov-2017-t15420.html) where I ran out of water. Split the water between 3L in the Gregory hydration bladder and 4L in three separate bottles, not wanting a potential single point of failure. I did other things to try to lighten the load: I didn’t bring any redundant clothing, no shell, only a Marmot Quasar down jacket for evening top and heavy poly bottoms for same. I splurged on a new Thermarest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad. Also my Helinox Chair Zero, and (crazily enough) Crazy Creek seat/pad—the CrazyCreek was maybe excessive but I wanted to try it again. Lightweight poly top, long sleeve hiking shirt and long pants, socks and lightweight hiking shoes (that need to be replaced), balaclava and mitten/gloves, and of course my floppy sun hat which is mandatory in lieu of natural head covering. Sleep system was OR Advanced Bivy, TNF Superlight long bag, and groundsheet. MSR PocketRocket and cookset, and a few more odds and ends.

Starting off on Bush Mountain Trail, the grass was pretty high.

All in all, the pack felt fairly light. I left Dog Canyon CG about 9 AM and ascended to the Marcus overlook, a hike I’d taken a dozen times before. I felt strong, pace was good—the rest day after Guad Peak had definitely helped. Took about 2:15 to get to the overlook, with one rest break. The rest of the hike was mostly descent off of that ridge, until the last half-mile up to Marcus BC.  The trail down was—diverse, let’s say. Sometimes it was a well built and engineered trail, with boulders building it up to make it fairly level as it skirted the mountainside. But other places, especially the mile or so before getting to the bottom of West Dog Canyon, it’s just a straight chute cut out of the hillside, through dirt, boulders and large rocks, and to my mind a bit too steep, I would have preferred a longer trek with switchbacks. I found that stretch exhausting, constantly having to brake myself and sometimes step around the ‘chutes.’

Looking up a wash at a turn in the trail. This spot might potentially hold some water.
Well-constructed Bush Mountain Trail below Marcus overlook.

The trail junction with Marcus Trail (off of Bush Mountain Trail) is at the bottom of West Dog Canyon, and you can see the sign for a good ways when you approach from the East. There was also a lot more dirt than rock down there. I’d noticed since the overlook all the other footprints I’d been seeing had dropped off and looked like only one person had been on the trail for at least a few days. I proceeded on straight, (Marcus BC site is on Bush Mountain trail, not the Marcus Trail). At this point the trail went through very tall and very dry grass; but a wide swath had been cut through it and no cairns, although visible, were necessary. At this point, past the old Cox Tank, one finds the remains of ranch structures; all that’s now left is some corrugated metal blown around, and some charred vertical posts.

I believe that is about all that’s left of the former ranch outbuildings around Cox Tank.

After a few more tenths of a mile, you come to the Marcus BC sign and turn left up into some woods. The trail goes up a fairly deep dry wash and ends at Marcus sites 1 and 2. I got there just before 1 pm MST. I could clearly see a single set of bootprints there; looked like someone had walked up through #1 to #2, looked around, then left. Didn’t seem to be a trace of a camp. There were clearly prints of a small animal strolling through #1, too. I chose to set up in site 2; I was pretty sure nobody else would be coming in that day, so the close proximity of the next site didn’t bother me. Although the site is sort of surrounded by mountains, I chose #2 which gave me something close to a view; I feel claustrophobic when I camp where I can’t see some distance.

Sleeping system–OR Advanced Bivy, old and heavy ground sheet, TNF Superlight Long bag. All over 20 years old. The yellow is a brand new Thermarest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad. Incredibly lightweight.

I set up camp; including my Chair Zero along the perimeter which let me put my feet down about a foot below tent-pad level and made it very easy to get out of the chair. (My only complaint about this incredibly lightweight chair is that it can be hard to emerge from.) Had a good snack PRO TIP: Do NOT store trail mix with chocolate in your top backpack pocket even if the ambient temps are in the 50s. Greenhouse effect melted it all. I hung my food from a nearby tree as per NPS suggestion, for protection from smaller critters, so only elevated it about five feet.

My stuff at Marcus site #2. They recommended I hang the food.

Since PeakFinder showed the sun going behind the SW mountain at 6:15 I had plenty of time to hang out, explore, do nothing. I did all of those. I wandered over to the west and looked down on the wash which Bush Mountain Trail continued on up. I explored the site, found sites #3 and #4, and oh hey, way over there #5. Only a couple had numbers, and several were getting pretty overgrown with grass.  I waited until the sun went below the mountain, made my dinner (classic Beef Stroganoff) and went to bed. I only sleep about six to seven hours a night, so winter nights in the backcountry can get a little boring. I listened to a couple of podcasts I’d recorded before leaving, dozed off after a while. I’d hoped to relieve the boredom by watching the night sky full of stars; I woke up around 1:00 AM but was disappointed to find only the “normal” amount of stars. Apparently a thin, high overcast had crept in.  I finally fell back to sleep and awoke around 5:00.

Not exactly sure the reason for the wood. Don’t look like borders for sites. Possibly could be later used for trail maintenance. Wondered if they may have been from old fencing from the ranch?

The weather continued to be perfect (aside from the star blocking high clouds). Probably in the 40s-50s overnight, and little to no wind. In the morning I got up, fixed breakfast, packed up and left. I know my pack was lighter due to water and food depletion but also I felt really strong, I guess conditioning starting to kick in as well as getting used to the altitude. I felt really strong on the whole return hike; well, maybe except that section going up the “chute” from around trail junction for a half-mile or so. There was one real downer along the way, though. I discovered a fairly recent fire ring right off the trail. I had my head down climbing up the trail through grassland and noticed a patch where the grass had been flattened. I was wondering what animals had been there when I saw a fire ring at the edge of the patch of flattened grass. Ugh.

Fire ring (illegal). Near the start of the slope back up to Dog Canyon.

Oh well, I continued on back to Dog Canyon and got there before noon. I hiked faster than I had the day before, and faster still than I had on the Guad Peak hike. 

Conclusions: Very enjoyable, although not very long, overnight hike. Could I have made Blue Ridge? Very likely, but it may have been difficult—and maybe miserable— at the end. I still plan on taking that swing around the NW corner of the park.  The location of those sites is kind of awkward for me, one’s too close, one’s maybe too far. 

The NeoAir is fantastic—some people complain about the rustling noise it makes but it didn’t bother me. I got the normal width as I use it in my bivy, but could see how people might roll off of it, especially if unconstrained.

The Chair Zero was also a big hit; I can not sit on the ground, so having such a lightweight option really makes all the difference. 

I used the Crazy Creek chair back because I knew I’d have a few hours wide awake in bed and wanted to have a variety of reclining options. It was not fantastic, but not bad either. One of the first luxuries I’d toss in the future, depending on situation.

Book Learnin’

I was trying to explain to someone why I had so many copies of Colin Fletcher’s Complete Walker series. It started in 1984 while I was working offshore. One of my trainees, an experienced backpacker whom I had been grilling for information on the hows and wheres of backpacking, noticed my subscription book club had the new, third edition of The Complete Walker available and suggested I order it. So I did.

Continue reading Book Learnin’

To-Do hikes

Marcus/Bush Mtn Trail

I really want to finish up all the hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I’ve never been up the Permian Geology trail to the Wilderness Ridge BC site. I’ve never been up/down the Marcus trail, nor the northwest corner of the Bush Mountain trail.

I want to do the loop of Marcus trail/Blue Ridge/Bush mountain to finish up that corner of the park. It’s the least used bit of trail in the park I believe. I actually did do the Blue Ridge section back in the 1980s; even have a backcountry permit for Blue Ridge backcountry site but I didn’t use it. I just hiked out from I think Mescalero to Blue Ridge to Bush Mountain and back to Pine Top.

I will start in Dog Canyon, thence to Marcus, and the only question is whether to do the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise.

  • 3.5 mi. –Dog Canyon CG to Marcus Trail jct
  • 0.2 mi. –Marcus Jct to Marcus BC site
  • 3.7 mi. –Marcus BC to Blue Ridge Jct
  • 0.5 mi. –Blue Ridge Jct to Blue Ridge BC site
  • 1.2 mi. –Blue Ridge BC to Marcus Jct
  • 3.8 mi. –Marcus Jct to Marcus Jct
  • 3.5 mi. –Marcus Jct to Dog Canyon CG
  • 16.4 miles total loop

TR-Guadalupe Mountains Dog Canyon & Gypsum Dunes November 14-16, 2019

Wednesday the 13th I left Austin after work and some final packing around 6:00 P.M. and got to Ozona around 10:00. Next morning I kind of let Google navigate me, wanting to stay well away from US 285; ended up going East and North of it, to near Odessa, then coming into the Guadalupe Mountains/Lincoln National Forest via Carlsbad. Only in one small section, around Eunice, did I experience much oil field traffic.

Arrived Dog Canyon 1:00 P.M. MST on Thursday. I was a little discombobulated since I have never arrived there so early in the day: Because of the distance, I generally arrive shortly before sundown but since I’d left from Ozona I had a significantly shorter drive.

Map of West Texas and southern New Mexico with route driven highlighted in green.
Austin-Ozona-Carlsbad-GUMO Dog Canyon-GUMO Gypsum Dunes-Ozona-Austin
Continue reading TR-Guadalupe Mountains Dog Canyon & Gypsum Dunes November 14-16, 2019

TR-Wheeler Peak-New Mexico Highpoint

[Original date August 31, 1997]

Trip report from a hike to the summit of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico (13,161′) undertaken August 31, 1997.

Wheeler Peak is the highest point in New Mexico at 13,161′. The hike to the summit via Bull of the Woods is about 15 miles round trip, and has an elevation gain from 9,000 to 13,161′. This climb is non-technical during most of the summer. But extreme care should be taken during the thunderstorm season-July and August-since much of the Wheeler Peak trail is above timberline and exposed. Getting to and off the summit before thunderstorms this time of year will entail a near-dawn departure.

Continue reading TR-Wheeler Peak-New Mexico Highpoint

JMT Epilogue

June 15, 2003

Lookng back almost a year after my trip I can think of several things I’d do differently, several things that worked perfectly, and maybe a few things I wished I’d known before I went on my trip.

As far as “things I’d do differently” I can think of a few. For one, I’d hike later into the day if I didn’t feel too tired. I was so paranoid about getting caught at dark in an area with no camping that I stopped too early a few times, especially early in the trip. As it turned out, there were few places where one couldn’t camp, especially if you had water.

I suggest you keep a list of passes, trailheads, trail junctions, potential campsites, with mileages and elevations handy. I should have made a spreadsheet up with all that information before hand. As it was, I ended up making a list out on the back of my maps at night. Wish I would have done it before the trip.

As far as food is concerned, I already knew I enjoyed a rather bland diet and I wouldn’t need too much variety. Well, it turned out I needed even less than I anticipated. I had freeze-dried scambled eggs with bacon pieces and hot chocolate nearly every morning, and I would have been happy to have that every morning. My vacuum-packed tortillas and bulk-purchased but home vacuum packed beef stroganoff was excellent. I looked forward to it every night. In fact, here’s my supper routine almost every night: As soon as I halted, and had my pack off and my bag/bivy spread out, I’d take my sweaty day clothes off and put on my heavy fleece long johns and pile jacket and hat. It was usually only mildly cool, but it helped retain a lot of energy which was needed as soon as the sun went down. I’d then start boiling water; usually only took about three minutes. Then I’d measure out about a half-cup of freeze-dried stroganoff (yum!) into my cup and add the hot water to it. Then I’d place the cup inside a loosely sealed large baggie for a few minutes to “reconstitute.” Meanwhile, I’d put 1/4 cup of instant potatoes, some bacon pieces, and a dollop of margarine in my other cup. Now I’d add hot water to it and I’d immediately have a hot, starchy side dish. After the potatoes, I’d eat the stroganoff, and use the potato cup for my luxury-a cold glass of milk. Well, actually a cold cup of Milkman—an instant milk powder “with the kiss of cream.” This stuff is much better than Carnation powdered milk.

I brought too many heavy-duty cold weather clothes. I wore my expedition weight polarfleece every night as soon as I got off the trail, like sweat pants, but I had litle need for the other long johns.

I really wish I’d had a better place to keep my water bottles in my backpack. That includes having a place to store the water bladder.

JMT Day 21

September 9, 2002 31º-51º @UTY

<- previous day epilogue ->

I was up early; and except for the water bottle in my bag still had to deal with some freezing. And since I had pretty much used up all the food, breakfast was a bit skimpy. But I anticipated the pizza slices at the store at Whitney Portal later that day. I found it a bit hard to believe that I could even consider returning to civilization that very day, with hot and cold water on demand, sit down toilets, all the food I could want, and hot, running showers.

We bugged out at around 7:45 or 8:00. We had originally thought we’d pack up and take our gear on up to the summit in order to keep the allegedly ferocious marmots out of our stuff, but we decided to take nothing up on the summit run. I drank as much water (at least thawed water I could find) as I could to prehydrate, because I wasn’t going to carry a bottle. We secured our gear, then proceded up the trail. The final approach to Mt. Whitney’s summit is a trail hewn right out of the side of the sharp knife-edge one sees from the road miles below. Sometimes you’re so close to the ridge you can see highway 395 through gaps in the boulders to your right. You pass Mt. Muir (14,105′), Keeler Needle, and then the trail begins to wind around what looks like a long, flattened hill. Until you reach the end of the trail, and see the famous stone hut: you’re at the summit(here. here, and here). (Me on the summit. And a bird) We were the first ones up that day. We looked at the “official” trailhead marker; this was, after all, the end (or beginning) of the John Muir Trail. Also was the offical USGS benchmarks for the summit of Mt. Whitney. Actually, it seemed there were a dozen or more of them. They must put a new one up every year. After a few minutes a couple of other folks arrived. One was a young man from Brazil who had slept in his car and started up the trail at 2:30 a.m. He took a couple of pictures of us on the summit. I took a couple of him. After not too much more tiem on the summit, we headed back down. For me at least, the summit was somewhat anticlimactic. It marked the end, of course, and it was a beautiful summit, but this hike hadn’t been about peak bagging.

We got back to Camp 20 at about 10:30, loaded up, and headed down the steep trail, infamous for its 119 switchbacks (the number varies according to whom you read). Todd hurries ahead; I would meet him later at Trail Camp. While trekking down the steep descent, I pass dozens of aspiring Whitney summiteers heading up. Some in remarkably good shape, some I fear won’t make it anywhere near the summit. Somewhere along this stretch, my bootheel slides on a slippery steep downhill section of trail and I fall. I bang a knee. I recover ok, but I am a little pissed and a little amused: I fell on the trail on the second day, and here I am three weeks later and I fall again. Oh well.

I meet up with Todd at Trail Camp, where we briefly discuss the increasing number of hikers and campers and the rather sloppy tendencies of the campers at Trail Camp. The descent along the trail down to Whitney Portal seems to go on forever. You’d think one would have learned patience after 220 miles, but the 6,000′ foot descent proves to be a test. I remark to Todd that you can tell we’re getting close to civilization by the number of families we’re running into. At one point, a young chap with a British accent asks me “how far is it to the lake?” Which one? I ask. “The one this trail goes to.” Well, I was going to explain to him how I’d just walked 220 miles, and passed about five hundred lakes on this trail, but just then his folks came up and I think I said something like, “Oh, about two miles.”

Down, down, down we went, through ever thickening forest, and ever warming temperatures. At one point I heard a car horn honk. And then at a spot on the trail overlooking the Whitney Portal area, I could see the parking lot and my truck. Finally, the last switchbacks passed and we walked out of the backcountry into a trailhead (“roadhead,” as Colin Fletcher more accurately calls them) at about 4:00. We go to my truck, and I see that it’s not been abused by bears. We strip off pack and boots, and replace with lighter gear.

We head back up to the store and I go to the cafe. I’m a bit troubled to not see “pizza” on the displayed menu, but I don’t worry because I’ve seen with my own eyes people eating pizza there. The proprietor asks my pleasure, and I mention I’m looking for pizza on the menu. “Oh,” he says, ” we don’t have pizza. I mean, we do sometimes, but that’s usually for employees. We don’t sell it by the slice.” Uh-oh. Three weeks of anticipation wiped out in a sentence. He senses my disappointment. “Well, uh, how many slices do you think you’d want?” I tell him I’d eat two, and Todd, obviously overhearing, allows that he’d also eat two. “Well, sure, O.K., I’ll put in a pizza. It’ll be a good twenty minutes or so.” We don’t care.

I’m telling you, that pepperoni pizza was the greatest pizza in the history of the world. While we’re eating our pizza outside, we see who else but Fisherson and Fisherdad, reunited. Turns out Fisherdad had had to spend an uncomfortable night without his gear, but obviously all ended well. We chatted a while, and it seems they were wondering how easy it was to hitch from the Portal there into Lone Pine. I told them if they hadn’t had a ride by the time we left, I’d give them a lift, but I figured the hitching potential is pretty good along that stretch.

One thing I still kick myself for is the fact that I took no pictures at the end. No snaps at the cafe, with pizza slices, or showing off my new, trim waistline. Oh well. The store proprietor was extremely nice and helpful. We chatted a bit and he told me about his previous place on old Route 66; I asked him for suggestions for cheap motels for the night, and he said you won’t find them in Lone Pine. He suggested driving a bit farther, and staying in a place like Ridgecrest. This turned out to be an excellent suggestion. Motels in Lone Pine and Bishop and similar “resort” areas tended to be of the $60-80 variety; Ridgecrest, possibly because it was a heavily military area, was a more reasonable $30-40 type place.

We got a couple of rooms, then went to the grocery store to load up on junk food. I favored Pringles and Onion Dip, with some chocolate milk and Diet 7-Up and cheap canadian whiskey. (Not all at once, mind you.) Next, I took a shower. A long shower. Possibly the longest shower I’d taken in ten years. After recovering from the ecstacy of a new bar of soap and a fresh washcloth, I realized that my calves were caked with a semi-permanent potion of glacial Sierra dust, which seemed to not come off. After much scrubbing, I finally got the cement-like concoction off of my legs. I spent the next two hours watching ESPN. I was stunned (and pleased) to see that the new Houston Texans had beaten Dallas. I noted that OU had beaten Alabama. I watched some Dodger baseball.

And then I realized it was all over.

<- previous day epilogue ->

September 9, 2002 31º-51º @UTY

I was up early; and except for the water bottle in my bag still had to deal with some freezing. And since I had pretty much used up all the food, breakfast was a bit skimpy. But I anticipated the pizza slices at the store at Whitney Portal later that day. I found it a bit hard to believe that I could even consider returning to civilization that very day, with hot and cold water on demand, sit down toilets, all the food I could want, and hot, running showers.

We bugged out at around 7:45 or 8:00. We had originally thought we’d pack up and take our gear on up to the summit in order to keep the allegedly ferocious marmots out of our stuff, but we decided to take nothing up on the summit run. I drank as much water (at least thawed water I could find) as I could to prehydrate, because I wasn’t going to carry a bottle. We secured our gear, then proceded up the trail. The final approach to Mt. Whitney’s summit is a trail hewn right out of the side of the sharp knife-edge one sees from the road miles below. Sometimes you’re so close to the ridge you can see highway 395 through gaps in the boulders to your right. You pass Mt. Muir (14,105′), Keeler Needle, and then the trail begins to wind around what looks like a long, flattened hill. Until you reach the end of the trail, and see the famous stone hut: you’re at the summit(here. here, and here). (Me on the summit. And a bird) We were the first ones up that day. We looked at the “official” trailhead marker; this was, after all, the end (or beginning) of the John Muir Trail. Also was the offical USGS benchmarks for the summit of Mt. Whitney. Actually, it seemed there were a dozen or more of them. They must put a new one up every year. After a few minutes a couple of other folks arrived. One was a young man from Brazil who had slept in his car and started up the trail at 2:30 a.m. He took a couple of pictures of us on the summit. I took a couple of him. After not too much more tiem on the summit, we headed back down. For me at least, the summit was somewhat anticlimactic. It marked the end, of course, and it was a beautiful summit, but this hike hadn’t been about peak bagging.

Whitney Summit (14,498′)
Whitney Summit (14,498′)
Me at Whitney summit
Whitney Summit (14,498′)
Whitney Summit (14,498′)

We got back to Camp 20 at about 10:30, loaded up, and headed down the steep trail, infamous for its 119 switchbacks (the number varies according to whom you read). Todd hurries ahead; I would meet him later at Trail Camp. While trekking down the steep descent, I pass dozens of aspiring Whitney summiteers heading up. Some in remarkably good shape, some I fear won’t make it anywhere near the summit. Somewhere along this stretch, my bootheel slides on a slippery steep downhill section of trail and I fall. I bang a knee. I recover ok, but I am a little pissed and a little amused: I fell on the trail on the second day, and here I am three weeks later and I fall again. Oh well.

I meet up with Todd at Trail Camp, where we briefly discuss the increasing number of hikers and campers and the rather sloppy tendencies of the campers at Trail Camp. The descent along the trail down to Whitney Portal seems to go on forever. You’d think one would have learned patience after 220 miles, but the 6,000′ foot descent proves to be a test. I remark to Todd that you can tell we’re getting close to civilization by the number of families we’re running into. At one point, a young chap with a British accent asks me “how far is it to the lake?” Which one? I ask. “The one this trail goes to.” Well, I was going to explain to him how I’d just walked 220 miles, and passed about five hundred lakes on this trail, but just then his folks came up and I think I said something like, “Oh, about two miles.”

Down, down, down we went, through ever thickening forest, and ever warming temperatures. At one point I heard a car horn honk. And then at a spot on the trail overlooking the Whitney Portal area, I could see the parking lot and my truck. Finally, the last switchbacks passed and we walked out of the backcountry into a trailhead (“roadhead,” as Colin Fletcher more accurately calls them) at about 4:00. We go to my truck, and I see that it’s not been abused by bears. We strip off pack and boots, and replace with lighter gear.

We head back up to the store and I go to the cafe. I’m a bit troubled to not see “pizza” on the displayed menu, but I don’t worry because I’ve seen with my own eyes people eating pizza there. The proprietor asks my pleasure, and I mention I’m looking for pizza on the menu. “Oh,” he says, ” we don’t have pizza. I mean, we do sometimes, but that’s usually for employees. We don’t sell it by the slice.” Uh-oh. Three weeks of anticipation wiped out in a sentence. He senses my disappointment. “Well, uh, how many slices do you think you’d want?” I tell him I’d eat two, and Todd, obviously overhearing, allows that he’d also eat two. “Well, sure, O.K., I’ll put in a pizza. It’ll be a good twenty minutes or so.” We don’t care.

I’m telling you, that pepperoni pizza was the greatest pizza in the history of the world. While we’re eating our pizza outside, we see who else but Fisherson and Fisherdad, reunited. Turns out Fisherdad had had to spend an uncomfortable night without his gear, but obviously all ended well. We chatted a while, and it seems they were wondering how easy it was to hitch from the Portal there into Lone Pine. I told them if they hadn’t had a ride by the time we left, I’d give them a lift, but I figured the hitching potential is pretty good along that stretch.

One thing I still kick myself for is the fact that I took no pictures at the end. No snaps at the cafe, with pizza slices, or showing off my new, trim waistline. Oh well. The store proprietor was extremely nice and helpful. We chatted a bit and he told me about his previous place on old Route 66; I asked him for suggestions for cheap motels for the night, and he said you won’t find them in Lone Pine. He suggested driving a bit farther, and staying in a place like Ridgecrest. This turned out to be an excellent suggestion. Motels in Lone Pine and Bishop and similar “resort” areas tended to be of the $60-80 variety; Ridgecrest, possibly because it was a heavily military area, was a more reasonable $30-40 type place.

We got a couple of rooms, then went to the grocery store to load up on junk food. I favored Pringles and Onion Dip, with some chocolate milk and Diet 7-Up and cheap canadian whiskey. (Not all at once, mind you.) Next, I took a shower. A long shower. Possibly the longest shower I’d taken in ten years. After recovering from the ecstacy of a new bar of soap and a fresh washcloth, I realized that my calves were caked with a semi-permanent potion of glacial Sierra dust, which seemed to not come off. After much scrubbing, I finally got the cement-like concoction off of my legs. I spent the next two hours watching ESPN. I was stunned (and pleased) to see that the new Houston Texans had beaten Dallas. I noted that OU had beaten Alabama. I watched some Dodger baseball.

And then I realized it was all over.