Saturday, July 28, 2012

Three big rocks: Kearsarge, Forester, and WHITNEY

If I had suspicions two years ago that I was getting "too old" for backpacking, this year didn't help. Although I take comfort that even Mike and David C. said this year's trip was the most strenuous they've ever done.

We drove up to Onion Valley on Friday (7/13) and camped overnight. It's about 9,200' elevation, and we hoped it would help with the acclimation because our Saturday hike (7 miles) would take us over Kearsarge Pass (11,820'). And I did really well until we stopped for lunch and the elevation started to get to me. At one point I couldn’t go on and had to rest for about 45 minutes. David H. was really kind and waited with me – I doubt I'd have made it without him – and gave me some ibuprofen which really helped (along with a bunch of prayer!). I just had to put my head down and focus on the trail in front of my feet... and I made it. (The pass is the edge of Kings Canyon Nat'l Park.) Remember that song "Put One Foot in Front of the Other," from the annimated "Santa Claus is Coming to Town?" It was stuck in my head all day.

Harrison, Taylor, and Walker on the John Muir Trail.

We spent that night and the next (Sunday) camped by the 2nd Kearsarge Lake, which was beautiful! And it was helpful to have a day to rest and get more accustomed to the elevation. But day 3 (Monday) we hiked to Bubbs Creek (about 10,400' and another 7 miles). It was fantastically beautiful – the trees, the lakes, the waterfalls, the VIEWS! And it was generally downhill (followed by some rather strenuous uphill climbing to make up for that lost elevation!). Much of it was on part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that was renamed the John Muir Trail.

David H., me, Mike, and David C. resting next to Bubbs Creek.

But Tuesday was the real killer! Nearly 12 miles and we went over Forester Pass, the highest pass on the PCT at 13,200'. (It's also the dividing line between Kings Canyon and Sequoia Nat'l Parks.) I was having visions of Big Sam all over again, but I actually did pretty well. I really pushed myself hard (and beat everyone but David C. to the top) but I was so sick when I got there that I could hardly eat any lunch. And the trail on the Sequoia side was very steep with lots of switchbacks that hugged the mountainside all the way down. We finally camped near Tyndall Creek (10,900') and I kept thinking: Why did I want to do this?

Me, Braiden, and Taylor atop Forester Pass.

As my 45th birthday present on Wednesday we hiked nearly 9 miles and went over Bighorn Plateau but it wasn't too bad. Just more and more incredible scenery, and I saw two does with their fawns playing in a meadow. There are a lot of people on these trails, too, and we shared some food with three guys who were on day 30 of their backpacking trip! We camped near the Crabtree ranger station, and then moved up to Guitar Lake (11,500') on Thursday (less than 3 miles).

Friday we got up early and set off for Whitney. It's about 3.5 miles to the trail junction and you gain 2,000 feet elevation in the switchbacks. The boys (who were usually way ahead of me) found a boy scout who'd been left behind by his troop and Taylor carried his pack up to the trail junction and Braiden stayed with him until he could get there (I was really proud of my boys!). But it was along this ascent that I started having dizzy spells. My vision would start spinning in the center (like those old b&w spirals) and I couldn't see straight – but I was determined to make it. Once I got past the junction it kind of went away but then it's nearly 2 miles (and another 1,000') with steep drop-offs and parts of the trail crumbling. At 14,500' Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States, but it's a great feeling once you get there! And the VIEW!

Looking down on Hitchcock Lakes on the way up to the Whitney Trail.

On top of Mt. Whitney, back: David C., Mike, David H., and me
front: Braiden, Harrison, Walker, and Taylor

We summited Whitney with just day packs, leaving our gear at Guitar Lake. It made it easier, except we had to do almost the same hike again on Saturday – up to the trail junction and over the trail crest (13,600') with full packs. Honestly, that wasn't the worst part, though. Not even the 99 switchbacks on the east side were very bad (going down, anyway). No, the worst part was the rest where the trail just never seemed to end. But I couldn't stop – I was almost running – and sadly I was beyond appreciating some very pretty scenery. And by the time I finally found the boys waiting at the bottom of Whitney Portal, all I could do was sit down on the ground and enjoy the Diet Coke Braiden brought me!

In all Mike figured we hiked about 60 miles (although his GPS said 65). Nights were a lot colder on this trip and I really appreciated the new sleeping bag. I avoided any blisters until the last day when I got one on my foot and one on my hand (from the walking stick). My pack started around 50-55 lbs and ended at 35. Although the dinners Mike made were fantastic, I could barely eat any lunch on the trail, so I'm sure I lost some weight but our scale doesn't work well (and I've probably eaten some of it back in the week since). But it was a good trip, and I'm glad I went. I won't make any promises for next year, but I'll go backpacking with Mike again. Hopefully the next time will be easier, though.


  1. Gosh....I am so proud of you John and my grandsons. You are such a dear father to have done that unimaginable trek to Mt. Whitney. Putting one foot in front of the other for nearly 65 miles on rugged ground is above and beyond. I hope you are satisfied that you conquered Whitney and will feel that you can indeed do less next year. I want you to live to be a ripe old age. Love you all.....C

    1. Thanks Christie. The funny thing is that it doesn't often feel like much fun when you're in the middle of it. But when it's all over it gets a lot better!

  2. I see you reviewed (a while ago) the book, The American Patriot’s Almanac. I’m writing to ask if you’re interested in reviewing on your blog and on Amazon the just-released book, The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture by New York Times bestselling author Stephen Mansfield (Worthy Publishing, 2012. If so, please contact me: jpetersen AT somersaultgroup DOT com. Thanks! Jonathan Petersen

  3. John, You are AMAZING! That is so cool and what great memories Braiden and Taylor will have as they grow older with their families. I think that's better than running a marathon (an extremely difficult feat) and you did it!!! Very, very cool! Love you guys! Can't wait to see Braiden soon...hope he won't feel shy to come by and visit!

    1. Thanks Rebecca. I don't think I'd go so far as to say "amazing" because most days I was dragging my weary body to our campsite and collapsing until I could stand again. But maybe I'll put marathon on my list to work on next (or maybe I should start with a 5K, or even a run around the block!).

      Braiden's very excited for school. We have to fly him up early but we hope to come up before the end of the month to bring the rest of his stuff. And, no, he won't be too shy.