Wednesday, August 5, 2015

JMT Day 11: Onion Valley to Flower Lake

Day 11 was a wussy day. I went home to sea level for the weekend, went to yoga, went to the farmers' market, slept, ate all the things you can't eat while backpacking, and then came back to the Sierras through Kearsarge Pass. I was no longer acclimated to the altitude and it hit me pretty quickly. So I had a wussy day.

If you start from the Onion Valley Trailhead, it's 4.7 miles to the top of Kearsarge Pass, and 7.5 miles until the trail intersects the JMT near Charlotte Lake. In theory, I could have hiked all of that and more in one day. In practice, I couldn't. Thanks, altitude.

The other factor was the weather.

Bad Weather
The weather

I drove from San Diego to Lone Pine the day before I started hiking again. It rained all weekend in San Diego. It was July. If you aren't from SoCal, let me tell you how weird that is. It's as if Santa Claus himself climbed down the chimney in July. It doesn't happen. Sunday evening, when I drove back into Lone Pine, there was heavy rain as I drove on the 15 and for a ways on the 395. It was still raining when I reached the Last Starbucks (in Adelanto) and it stopped shortly thereafter. The weather was WEIRD.

If that's what it was doing in San Diego and in the desert, then what the heck was it doing up in the mountains? I worried about my friends and certainly did not want to head up over Kearsarge Pass in that weather myself. In better weather, I would have camped Sunday night at the Onion Valley trailhead and then tackled Kearsarge on Monday. In the weather I got, I booked a bed in the Mt Whitney Hostel in Lone Pine and then spent the next morning staring at weather forecasts and talking to hikers coming down from Mt. Whitney before setting out.

The forecast was initially for a 90% chance of thunderstorms through Monday night. I figured I'd start out on Monday, play it by ear, and maybe get rained on a bit. By Monday morning, the forecast was for the thunderstorms to continue til 11pm on Tuesday.

My plan to resurrect my JMT hike was to go in through Kearsarge, hike to the JMT, and then go north as far as I could. I'd do that until I ran into my friends, then I'd turn around and go south to finish the hike. And, if I didn't find my friends while heading north, I'd plan to be back at Charlotte Lake by Friday, July 24 so that I could take a leisurely pace and still finish at Whitney Portal on July 28. If my friends hadn't caught up yet, then I figured they would soon, since I'd be going only 8 mi or so a day. That isn't quite what ended up happening, but that was my plan.

That said, if the weather slowed me down or delayed my plans for a few days, it was OK. As long as I was back at Charlotte Lake by Friday, I was on track. If I set out a day or two later than planned, I wouldn't get to go as far north as I'd hoped. But that was OK too. I really, really, really wanted to visit Rae Lakes... but I could live without seeing anything immediately north of that.

If I'd thought I had time to go in through Bishop Pass and still catch my friends, I would have. But I didn't. So this was the plan. And given the circumstances, I did not mind hiking a mere 2.4 miles and then passing out at 6p.m. completely done in by the altitude and the weight of my pack (which contained 9 days of food... nearly twice as much food as I was used to carrying).

On the bright side of this new arrangement, Kearsarge Pass was pretty. Really pretty. In the lower altitudes, the flowers were stunning. Up above, the views were fantastic. Much better than the views from Forester, Glen, or Whitney.

Mountain Mahogany
Mountain Mahogany

Sierra Angelica
Sierra Angelica

Sierra Angelica
A less cool pic of Sierra Angelica so you can see what it actually looks like

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Sierra Mousetail
Sierra mousetail

Mariposa Lily
Mariposa Lily

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Shooting Stars
Shooting stars

White Rein Orchid
White rein orchid

Columbine
Columbine

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Weird looking lupine

Fireweed
Fireweed, one of my favorites

A Little Blue in the Sky
See what good weather we're having? You can see a tiny bit of blue in the sky

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Gilbert Lake

Gilbert Lake
Gilbert Lake... and lots of clouds

Flower Lake
Flower Lake

Day 11 miles hiked: 2.4
Day 11 elevation gain: 1300 ft
Total Distance Hiked to date: 77.7 mi
Total JMT distance hiked to date: 48.1 mi

All of my JMT photos can be seen here.

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