Whitney Portal(0)-Wallace Creek(18.7)
Campsite Elevation: 10,366ft
We’ve started the High Sierra Trail! LoveNote and Baby Juniper took us to the Whitney Portal Trailhead and we started hiking at 7am this morning.
The High Sierra Trail is about 70mi long and runs east/west across the Sierra mountain range. Less people do this hike because the shuttle from one end to the other is insanely long (something like 7hrs or more because there are no roads that run over the Sierra. Just ones that go around the perimeter. Most hike this west to east so that they end at the busy trailhead of Whitney Portal. We are going the opposite direction of most and are starting at Whitney Portal. We will end at the more remote Crescent Meadow terminus on the west side because that gets us closer to my car, which we parked at the Roads End trailhead a month ago when we started the Sierra High Route. It will still take a couple hours of hitching to get back to the car, but ending at the west end of the HST gets us lots closer than we were. Plus, we get the bonus of hiking this trail that will take all of us to places we haven’t been.
However, today is the one day that has trail we all have hiked multiple times before. Whitney Portal is the trailhead to summit Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US at 14,185ft. All of us have done Whitney multiple times. I did it in 2011 when I did the PCT and again in 2012 when I did the JMT and Rockin joined me at the end and we actually camped on top of Mt Whitney! Rockin’ has been at least 10 times, and Why Not has been 4 times. The High Sierra Trail includes the whole 8.5mi (~5,000ft elevation gain) approach to Mt Whitney to get you to Trail Pass at 13,600ft. Then it’s a 1.9mi hike each way out and back to summit Whitney and then continue on the High Sierra Trail. I explain all this to say that none of us felt the need to do that extra 3.8mi round trip side hike to tag Mt Whitney again. Sorry to disappoint if you were looking forward to that. I do recommend checking out the fun summary video Rockin did from when she joined me on the JMT and we slept in tents on top of Mt Whitney.
Ok, so after all that, here’s how the day went. Although we’ve all been at elevation on the SHR the last few weeks, the hike up to Trail Crest at 13,600ft was quite tiring. It starts out with nice long gradual switchbacks in the trees.
Our least favorite part of the route are the huge stone steps that are peppered in. At high elevation, lifting your leg to step is difficult as muscles are like molasses, but with steps as high as your knees, it’s just exhausting.
The final stretch up to Trail Pass is known as having 99 switchbacks. I don’t know if there really are 99, but there’s a lot. The Sky Pilot (I last photographed on Sky Pilot Col on Day 22 of the Sierra High Route) is in full bloom (only about 11,000ft) and it was like they were planted there perfectly along the trail. None of us have seen this quantity of them along the trail arranged so nicely!
Once we made it up to trail pass, the climb was finally over! We headed down to aptly named Guitar Lake.
Along the way, we reached the intersection where people can fork off to do the 1.9mi side hike to summit Whitney. I always amazes me how trustworthy hikers are up here to leave their full pack while they take a couple hours to hike to the summit and back. Most of these hikers are JMT hikers with full packs of backpacking gear. Whitney is technically the end of their 220mi hike, but they still have the 8.5mi hike down the switchbacks to the parking lot.
We continued down toward Guitar Lake and it was just great out today. For some reason, the usually busy corridor had such fewer people on it today and we all enjoyed the less crowed trail. Everyone we met was really nice, but it didn’t feel crowded at all and it was great to experience this area with less people.
After Guitar Lake, we hit Crabtree Meadows with relaxing walking and a thin forest that was quite enjoyable and more shaded on the quite warm day.
From there we joined the PCT(yay!), which is also the JMT. It was nice walking and we made our way down to Wallace Creek for the night. I loved the forest we went through! Pictures don’t do it justice, but it just made me really happy!
There are lots of other hikers doing either the JMT or HST here. We are snug at a site with the three of us finding a spot together.
We are all pretty drained by the day. We got to camp at 5:45pm and were done with dinner and in our tents by 7:15pm. It’s 8:30pm now and Why Not and Rockin are knocked out. I think I’m going to watch an episode of OITNB!
I just want to comment on how I love being on trail. There are pros and cons to the off trail stuff, but I am just so relaxed on the trail and I enjoy being able to take it all in while I listen to my headphones. I know some SHR hikers tend to find trail boring or crowded after completing the route, but I’m happy to be on trail for four days before we head out to Wyoming for the Wind River High Route. It really is a nice break to be on trail and just relax. I feel at home on a trail. Especially today, since it’s trail I’ve done before (JMT & PCT), and I have such good memories from. I’m a happy hiker:)
Tomorrow will be a fun day as we are headed to places none of us have been to, and the HST hikers coming our way have told us that there are some nice hot springs midday and then we are aiming to camp at Moraine Lake, which all of the other hikers have said is a must see. Looking forward to it! Ok, off to watch OITNB!