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Hiking the John Muir Trail: to Mt. Whitney





Nervous tension as we got up for an easy 13 miles to Guitar Lake. The terrain had changed yet again and there was so much to see as we approached the cliffs of insanity (a.k.a. Mt. Whitney). The weather turned bad yet again as cloud came in and rain threatened.


I slipped into one of those thoughtful paces that had me covering miles quickly until I rounded a corner and saw this amazing beam of light shining down through the swirling clouds. It was almost supernatural and I was tempted to climb the rise and see where the beam struck.


In the early afternoon we hit guitar lake. I shaved and did some laundry  and we all sat and reflected on a long journey. It’s a bit cliche to say that the trail changed us, but it certainly offered a lot of time to reflect on life and reevaluate. Too soon evening crept upon us and we went to bed ready for an early start.



When we peaked out of our tent we already saw a long line of headlamps snaking their way up the switchbacks to the junction to mount Whitney. A boy scout troop was heading up ahead of us, so we gave them a chance to get ahead before we started chewing up the miles. We caught them at the junction and took a break with them as we contemplated the ascent.


After sizing up the clouds we took off up the trail pushing towards the summit. The snow was blowing sideways and I was forced to put on a few more layers before I got to the summit.


It was a more powerful experience than I thought it would be standing on the top of the tallest point in the lower forty eight states. It was much more powerful to think that this trail had been carved for stock animals by hand many decades before I was born. We had ultralight gear and ultralight freeze dried meals, but they would have taken a slower pace… and would have taken in a lot more nature than is still around to be seen today.


It honestly felt a bit silly writing in a book at the summit, but you do it anyway to say you did.


I found myself doing a lot more thinking on the way down from the summit, realizing that it would be years before I made it back this way… if I ever get the chance to do it again… and trying not to think the overwhelming thought of how to re-integrate with the busy-ness of life.



Now, several months later, I really do miss being out on the John Muir Trail. I still watch this last video below and have to fight off tears.

About Paul

A guy trying to get away from his desk so that he can fish, hike, play and just plain be in the outdoors.

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