Journal entry for September 8, 2009
Approximate distance hiked: 16.8 miles, 27.0 km
The last day of an amazing journey. I was expecting a cold night camping at this high altitude but it wasn’t that bad. It got really windy around 1-2am and I thought a storm was coming. I had the the alarm to 5am but woke up a bit before that.
It was still dark outside. I looked around and the views were stunning. I was surrounded by huge peaks with hundreds of stars as backdrop. I packed everything up, filtered 2 liters of water, took out the last of my Snickers and Cliff bars to put them in the backpack’s side pocket and started the hike up to Whitney. It was imperative that I didn’t waste time and make sure I finished the 17 miles for the day around 3-4pm to allow me enough time to find a ride to Lone Pine.
Looking up the trail, I saw a single flashlight followed by two other ones. I later found out they were Peter, Ross and Marty. I caught up to them shortly before Trail Junction. As the sun came up, it revealed dramatic sights everywhere, especially the reflections on Hitchcock Lakes.
At Trail Junction, most people decide to leave their backpacks here instead of taking them up to Mount Whitney. I decided to carry mine since I didn’t have a daypack and had no convenient way to carry water, camera, snacks and the SPOT Satellite Messenger. Also by this point, having consumed almost all of my 10-day food supply, the backpack was feeling pretty light. We saw a good number of people coming up the opposite way, from Whitney Portal. They must have started pretty early to be at Trail Junction by this time.
After the short break, I started the final ascent to Mount Whitney. The way they carved out the trail on the steep rocky walls on the mountain is really a piece of engineering.
I was feeling great physically and the 2 miles to the top felt pretty easy. After weeks being above 10,000 feet, my body was well acclimatized. I made sure to savor the last few hundred feet before the summit.
After 23 days and about 220 miles, I had finally reached Mount Whitney (14,505 ft, 4,421 m), which is where the JMT officially ends. There is a registry for hikers to sign and I got the pleasure to start a new page in it. I signed: “9/8/09 – Kevin Yang – Diamond Bar, CA – Just finished the JMT. A trip of a lifetime”. A very emotional moment.
There were about 15 people already on the summit. There’s a lot to see in all 360 degrees. Lone Pine and the road to it can be seen to the east. Guitar Lake to the west.
After spending a good hour and a half on top, I started making my way down around 10:30am. There was still 12.5 miles to go with a 6,000 foot descent. By now, hordes of people were coming up, most of them doing a brutal 1-day up and down hike from Whitney Portal. It seems torturous to me and I don’t know if I’d want to, or be able to do it. One gentleman going up asked me to relay a message to his girlfriend who was behind, telling her that he was going up to the summit and couldn’t wait for her any longer or else none of them were going to make it to the top. He wanted her to wait for him at Trail Junction. I later found her coming up the “99 Switchbacks”.
My JMT wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Czechs one last time. We run into each other right before I got down to Trail Junction, as they were going up. Having fallen behind earlier in their hike, they were now more than on schedule to catch their flight back to Europe. We exchanged emails and said goodbye one last time.
Just when I thought there were no more uphill climbs, there was one last short one right after Trail Junction up to Trail Crest (13,650 ft, 4,461 m). It was short but exhausting.
I made my way down the famous (and dreaded) 99 Switchbacks. Going down was easy, but climbing up must be brutal. It was already around 1pm and there were still lots of people going up. Unfortunately, I think most of them were not going to be able to make it to the summit and back to Whitney Portal before dark.
With about 4 miles to go I got really hungry. People kept telling me about the wonderful cheeseburgers at Whitney Portal and I was trying to hurry and make it there as quickly as possible. I decided to stop an eat the last of my food because I wasn’t enjoying the hike anymore, and I really wanted to enjoy the last few miles of this amazing journey.
I run into Marty and Ross and hiked the last mile with them. I was experiencing the same mixed feeling I got the previous night. I was happy and satisfied to be finishing the JMT, but at the same time I was sad it was coming to an end.
I arrived at Whitney Portal around 4pm with a big smile on my face. I weighted my backpack at the scale. With 9 days of trash, my backpack weighted 17 lbs (7.7 kg).
Once at the store, I got a cheeseburger, fries, and 2 beers and shared a table with Peter, Marty, Ross, Carla and Gavin. Having eaten only 2 hours before, I wasn’t really that hungry. After stuffing myself, it was time to look for a ride to Lone Pine. I went to the parking lot exit and on my first try, a very nice family of four stopped and picked me up. The father had just hiked up to Mt. Whitney and down all in one day. He was impressed by what I did but I really think going up and down 20+ miles, 6000 feet in elevation in one day and all by 4pm is a more impressive feat. They were very pleasant and we had a nice chat on the way to Lone Pine. I feel really bad for not remembering their names.
Once in Lone Pine, I got a room at Trails Motel for $85 the night. I took a shower right away and must have washed off 1 pound of dirt from my body. Looking in the mirror, I realized that I had lost a lot of upper body muscle. I weighted myself at home the following day and found out I had lost 10 lbs.
Peter, Marty, Ross, Carla and Gavin and I met up at the Pizza Factory for one more meal. Again, I wasn’t that hungry but ate anyways. Afterward, I went to the drugstore and got me a bunch of sweets, which is what I was really craving for. Back at the motel, I washed my clothes so that I can at least look (and smell) civilized the following day on my trip home. I stayed up until 1am watching crap on TV.
One would think that I would sleep soundly in a comfortable bed after being in the backcountry for 23 days, but I kept waking up all night. I think my body had gotten used to and was missing the sleeping bag and mat.