Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Saturday, July 5: Day One of Zone Permit

Lone Pine Lake to Trail Camp (Point 2 to Point 4)
~10,000' to ~ 12,000'
~3.2 mi (~2000 elevation gain)
Began from LPL ~0615 hr
Arrived at Trail Camp ~1300 hr

Backpacking Notes: A more strenuous hike starting in a High-Montane elevational zone and rapidly transitioning to the Alpine zone. The climb through rock is enhanced by passing through the lovely "heart of the mountain" and past Mirror Lake and the beautiful Trailside Meadows. We again went at a leisurely pace, resting often on the climbing parts of the trail and pausing to again snap wildflower pictures. Left Lone Pine Lake at ~0615; arrived at Outpost Camp ~0730 (20 min break). Took 30 min lunch break and lay in the sun at Trailside meadow. Reached Trail Camp at ~1300 hr.

Click on map to enlarge (or any photograph, for that matter).

The higher elevation was becoming more apparent to me, as I slept a bit fitfully through the night. Or was it because my old bones aren't accustomed to sleeping on the ground? The stars were beautiful and the lake was serene. It was a quiet that was astounding. I watched the first light arrive in the eastern sky, and even fumbled for the camera and shot a few pictures (as best as I could). Too excited to go back to sleep, I opted for a bathroom run under cover of still-darkness. By the time I had come back, DH had opted to do the same.

First light at Lone Pine Lake.

The mosquitoes were out again the instant light fell into the mountainous crack we were in, so we had to get the bear can (parked ~100 ft away for the night) and start slathering up with the herbal repellent (and a few wipes of our trustworthy Cutter stick). No sense hanging around long; we packed up our packs and dropped by the lakeside to savor it one last time.

Breaking camp.

Sunrise at Lone Pine Lake.

Leaving Lone Pine Lake. Fish are jumpin'.

It was only 6:15 by the time we were headed up the little bit of trail from Lone Pine Lake to the Main Whitney Trail. Today's hike promised to be different, as we were now at the tail-end of the tree-line and starting to see more of that dramatic granite rock trail. Almost immediately, we arrived at the sign demarcating the Whitney Zone. The trail was rocky; snow still lay around us.

Into the Zone!

The trail grade was more noticeable now, with plenty of switchbacks through the rock and decomposing granite gravel to keep us panting. Yet wildflowers still made their appearance to keep us entertained throughout the hike. Once the sun was all the way up, it was time to peel off the sweatshirt layer and strip down to the shorts. I also soaked my bandanna at every water source crossing the trail, as it didn't take long for it to dry out each time.

We climbed up, then dropped down into a lovely meadow area hidden deep in the mountain. A stream colored orange from all the minerals in it meandered through the valley, and the trail dropped us right next to it. [On all the trail parts, we crossed the stream(s) at places so well marked, they might as well have had neon signs pointing the way!] We reached Outpost Camp fairly quickly, and took a little 20-min break to eat some breakfast and enjoy the waterfall.

Probably a phacelia.

Flowers love water.

Looking back at Lone Pine Lake (and the Portal mouth beyond).

The trail we've come.

Switchbacks so far (Lone Pine Lake in the distance).

Deep in the granite mountains lies a fertile green heart.

Outpost Camp features a roaring waterfall.

A look back at Bighorn Park.

The hike through the meadow-heart and Outpost Camp was easy, albeit more humid and buggy in the greener areas. Once past there, we climbed up a bit, then went around a corner to drop down by Mirror Lake. Mirror Lake was beautiful and quiet and peaceful and serene! [It is also a very fragile area, hence the "no camping" signs.]

Looking back at the green heart of the mountain.

Mirror Lake.

Although the trail comes by Mirror Lake at the lake level, it quickly begins climbing and twisting in the rock above Mirror Lake. We were treated to spectacular views! Unfortunately, my camera had started flashing "low battery" by the time we had reached Outpost Camp; so I was conserving the camera for our [possible] summit. I figured I could take pictures on the way back down, since a successful trip is a round trip!

After climbing above Mirror Lake, the trail continued heading up through rock. Too many switchbacks to count later, we rounded a corner to see the beautiful Trailside Meadow reaching up the crack of the mountain to the headwaters of the stream we had been most recently following. Flowers were EVERYWHERE, and a large boulder beckoned. We stopped to eat lunch and napped/lay in the sun for a nice half-hour break. We could see the ranger from the night before climbing on the rock above us, and rightfully surmised the rock ridge contained Consultation Lake.

Trailside Meadow.

Headwaters at Trailside Meadow.

Consultation Lake.

We climbed past the view of Consultation Lake only to round a bend and come across the "pond" that had been described to us as coming right before Trail Camp. It was at that moment we heard something we hadn't heard in a couple days---a beep from DH's cell phone indicating we had service!

We made a quick phone call to the youngest kid to check in. Service was too spotty to try to continue to make calls, and we needed to get walking, anyway. The sun was hot and I wanted my lunch! We made it to Trail Camp around 1 pm.

I found a nice flat rock next to the little lake at Trail Camp and took my boots and socks off. The rocks had taken a little toll; my feet were slightly swollen. But remarkably, there were no blisters. Hey, these socks really ARE good! I put my feet on the cool sand of the lakeside and dipped them twice in the cold water. Then I settled in for a nice lakeside lunch.

The ranger appeared again, and we questioned him about the trail ahead. Arriving this early in the day, should we just lunch and then press on? The ranger told us there was no place to camp between Trail Camp and Trail Crest (read: there's really not even a place to get off trail to go to the bathroom). He told us the norm was to drop the gear and use a day to summit and return to Trail Camp. Hmmm...there's a novel idea --- do what our itinerary said we were gonna do!

Arriving that early in the day would allow us plenty of time to rest up and acclimate to the now ~12,000' elevation. So I settled in for a leisurely picnic and nap lakeside while DH scouted for a campsite and used his WAG bag. Our campsite was the "third floor walkup." All the overnighters were camped in the various rocks; one noted we looked like Planet of the Apes, and I had to agree. It did look a bit surreal, too; especially with that famous crater-like moonscape all about us now.

Yellow-bellied marmots scampered amongst the rocks, too, looking for any handout. The people camped below us (the second floor walkup) were teasing one with a bit of food. "Feed him once and you'll never get rid of him," DH warned; and they thought twice about their offering and put it away. I was sure I would wind up with one sleeping at the foot of my mummy bag, they were so ridiculously unafraid of us.

As soon as the shadows from Mt. Muir and the pinnacles above us fell onto the lake and camp, the temperature dropped. I pulled my long pants and sweatshirt back on. As the sun set, we slathered up with the herbal stuff and swiped our Cutter stick on exposed skin. I climbed into my mummy bag. As the sky darkened, clouds of mosquitoes swarmed above us and people all around us complained. I could see the cloud stop about 6-12 in. above us; they really couldn't see us there.

I watched as people who had summited that day picked their way back. I could see their lights appear at Trail Crest, then descend through all the switchbacks. I paid close attention to the light and the time. We discussed it and agreed we could be at the summit as late as 3 pm and still make it back before dark, despite my very slow rate. We agreed we should ideally be heading down from Trail Crest by 5 pm, but could even start down as late as 6 pm and still not have to use our headlamps.

I watched the day darken into full night and still people were coming down, their headlamps so tiny. It looked like one party at least had opted to come down the snow chute. Good luck with that! Looks like a lot of boulder-picking to me, IF nothing else goes wrong.

I finally fell asleep after all the lights made their way down the switchbacks and the stars were well out. Unlike the night before, this night I slept well and pretty solidly.

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