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rubywrangler
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PostWed Jan 13, 2021 9:03 pm 
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After driving through the first major storm of the season in Tahoe and a layover in Mammoth Lakes, I continued south. First up was a dayhike to Kearsarge pass. So crazy to be able to drive all the way to the Onion Valley trailhead (9600') in November! I had been hoping to do the Rae Lakes loop from here on this trip but by the time the statewide ban on backpacking stoves was lifted, nighttime temps were in the teens/low 20s up there -  no thanks! Maybe next year.

The Kearsarge Pass trail climbs gradually past several lakes up to the pass at 11,760', where there are gorgeous views to Kearsarge lakes and the peaks of Kings Canyon NP.  I made it to the pass surprisingly quickly - spending nearly a week in Mammoth does wonders for acclimatization apparently! Which was good news, because it made me feel much less intimidated by Mount Whitney.

gilbert lake
gilbert lake
almost to the pass
almost to the pass
view from the pass
view from the pass
kearsarge lakes and pinnacles
kearsarge lakes and pinnacles
big pothole lake
big pothole lake

It would be an understatement to say that Jake was on my mind throughout this trip.  Last fall, my southern road trip was entirely his fault. He sent me a photo of the sunny, snow-free Sierras while I was freezing in Winthrop, and I hit the road. We each failed on Ritter last year and had discussed it extensively, so I had hoped to climb it this year. But Ansel Adams Wilderness was still closed due to the Creek fire. But there was Whitney. 

In spite of good weather and Jake's strong encouragement, I passed on it last year because I didn't trust my brain at high altitude, solo, due to past performance. dizzy.gif  But this year, my brain seemed cooperative, and Just_Some_Hiker happened to post a trip report on Facebook indicating that the trail was in good shape a few days ahead of a weather window, so I decided to go for it.  After a night in the Alabama Hills and some permit misadventures, I hiked in on a Sunday afternoon. I intended to camp at Constellation lake but didn't quite make it by dark, so I camped on the ridge above it.  Found a great sheltered campsite behind a massive boulder, but couldn't find an easy way down to the lake in the almost-darkness…. and quickly used up all my fuel melting snow for water, oops. Went to bed early before it got too cold.

whitney trail view
whitney trail view
entering the zone
entering the zone

On Monday,  I was on the trail around 6:30am and on the summit by 10.  As I trudged up the 99 switchbacks above trail camp, I remembered how Jake counted them on his Whitney trip a few years ago. lol.gif  The weather was perfect: 40 degrees +/-, sunny, very light breeze. No issues from the altitude except a significant slowdown on the final 200' climb - so, so much better than I had expected.  I signed the register in Jake's memory and hung out for a while, taking photos.  The views are kind of underwhelming, IMO. Whitney is far from most everything else.  The hike out was long and uneventful. I passed a handful of people on the trail above trail crest and one solo hiker just below Constellation lake, who was aiming to summit the following day. I headed back to my favorite boondocking spot outside of Bishop for the night, stopping en route to pick up a takeout sandwich and crowler from Mountain Rambler brewery to celebrate my summit success  biggrin.gif

whitney
whitney
looking back on trail camp tarn
looking back on trail camp tarn
whitney trail
whitney trail
approaching trail crest
approaching trail crest
mt. hitchcock, hitchcock lakes
mt. hitchcock, hitchcock lakes
whitney trail. summit in the distance
whitney trail. summit in the distance
almost there
almost there
summit register
summit register
99
99
mirror lake & thor peak
mirror lake & thor peak
whitney
whitney

The next day I took a late afternoon hike up to Little Lakes Valley, ahead of an incoming storm.  The road was gated at Rock Creek lake which added about a mile each way.  But it's a really nice easy hike with little elevation gain - perfect for a recovery day.  I started hiking just after 3:30 and reached Long lake, my turnaround point, at exactly sunset, 5:42.  I was hoping for dramatic pre-storm colors but it was too cloudy.  I'd like to come back here sometime and go further.

little lakes valley
little lakes valley
long lake
long lake
mt mills?
mt mills?

For my last sierras trip, I headed to the Instagram mecca of the range…Big Pine Lakes. I booked my permit through rec.gov on the morning of my departure and no other permits were taken, so I figured I'd have the place to myself, and I did - for awhile. The trail begins near some cute cabins owned by some very lucky folks and follows the north fork of big pine creek up to the lakes.  On the way, it passes a cabin built by Lon Chaney, now owned by the USFS.  It was super windy and snowing on the upper reaches of Temple Crag when I arrived at Second lake.  I found a sheltered spot to throw up my tent, took a few photos, and snuggled in for a long cold night after a quick dinner.

cabin at the trailhead
cabin at the trailhead
looking toward south fork big pine creek
looking toward south fork big pine creek
snowing
snowing

In the morning I got up to see the sunrise on Temple Crag and then headed past frozen third lake and up to see the Palisades glacier. Above the lakes, the trail was snow covered but relatively easy to follow until I got to the moraine.  Then a slow ascending traverse on partially snow-covered talus, some nice slabs, more talus, and finally a view of north palisade and the palisades glacier, mt agassiz, mt winchell and others. The same peaks I saw last year from the other side of the crest at Barrett lakes!  The milky blue lake at the base of the glacier was frozen and snow covered.  Behind me, the bright blues of first and second lake glittered, and I could see fourth, fifth and summit lakes further along the big pine loop. I skipped those and headed back to camp, because I really wanted to make it to the ancient bristlecone pine forest before dark.  When I got back to second lake, it was not the quiet scene I had left. Groups of selfie-stick wielding hipsters were perched on every rock outcropping and music was blaring from several different directions. I watched a guy take the EXACT SAME SELFIE over and over again for at least 5 minutes straight.  I hiked out of there as fast as I could.

second lake reflection
second lake reflection
third lake and temple crag
third lake and temple crag
palisade glacier basin
palisade glacier basin
winchell and agassiz
winchell and agassiz
first and second lakes
first and second lakes

I pulled in to the Schulman Visitor center at the ancient bristlecone forest about 30 minutes before sunset and headed out on the Methuselah trail. Only saw about 1.5 miles of it and the rest was by headlamp.  Last year the road was gated when I came through, so I was happy to see a little bit at least. Will have to try again next year!

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GaliWalker
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 6:34 am 
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That was fun! Great pictures too. up.gif

rubywrangler wrote:
I watched a guy take the EXACT SAME SELFIE over and over again for at least 5 minutes straight.

Ya gotta strike the best pose! biggrin.gif

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'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker
bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!"
Photography: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani/albums
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 8:46 am 
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up.gif  Nice.  Brings back some good memories, I've hiked several of those trails.  Not Whitney though.  Had myself quite a misadventure on the moraine below the Palisades Glacier.
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Stefan
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 8:50 am 
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I was up on Mt. Whitney 4 days right after you.  I was surprised when I read the register and saw your name in there and the reference for Jake.  Nice.

Thanks for sharing!

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Art is an adventure.
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rubywrangler
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 1:01 pm 
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Wow, so many nwhikers on Whitney around that time! Hope you had a good trip Stefan.

olderthanIusedtobe wrote:
Had myself quite a misadventure on the moraine below the Palisades Glacier.

I read all of your California reports last year when I was researching, but didn't realize this was THAT one  eek.gif
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 6:52 pm 
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rubywrangler wrote:
I read all of your California reports last year when I was researching, but didn't realize this was THAT one  eek.gif

Yep.  Definitely a short cut that did not pan out. shakehead.gif
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raising3hikers
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PostThu Jan 14, 2021 6:53 pm 
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+1 for another nwhiker going to Whitney recently. I went in early Dec and looks like I had less snow than you did.
Thanks for your TR, fun place to explore!

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Brushbuffalo
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PostMon Jan 18, 2021 12:35 pm 
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Megan, I always enjoy your trip narratives and photos.

whitney trail
whitney trail

I marvel at the Whitney trail, believing that if it didn't lead to the highest point in the 48 it never would have been built. ( when I did Whitney as a trail run about 25 years ago I met  the late, famous mountaineer and great photographer Galen Rowell on the 99 switchbacks...chatted a bit with the nice man....made my day .)


rubywrangler wrote:
I watched a guy take the EXACT SAME SELFIE over and over again for at least 5 minutes straight.


I find the whole concept of fixation on selfies to be amusing, but this is creepy!

Very nice that your remembered our friend Jake in the summit register.

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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Nancyann
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PostMon Jan 18, 2021 8:17 pm 
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Wonderful trip report and photos, Megan. I also appreciated your touching remembrances of Jake, very nice.
Now that my son lives in California, he is entertaining the idea of getting me up Mt. Whitney, but I’m a bit skeptical about acclimating to such a high altitude. huh.gif
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