High Sierra Trail Day 6: Kern Canyon to Guitar Lake
Today started with a 6 am wake up call. Technically it looked like we had a big day in front of us – 10+ miles with almost 4000 feet of gain – but having done most of it before I knew that a lot of it was a pretty gentle and shaded climb. I was looking forward to climbing the rest of the way out of the Canyon and getting back into the high country.
The climb out of the canyon along Wallace Creek was really nice and enjoyable with views of the Kaweahs and sunrise over the Kern Canyon. I was really glad to be doing it in the morning though – it was another stretch that would have been hot and miserable in the midday sun. After a few miles we joined the John Muir Trail. From here on out it’s the same trail I hiked back in 2007.
We continued our trek to Guitar Lake with a brief stop at Crabtree to pick up the required Wag Bags and refill our water. From here, it was only a couple of miles and about 1000 feet of gain until Guitar Lake but I ended up taking it quite slowly. 11k is kind of a wall for me. I can cruise along below 11k barely noticing the altitude, but above that and suddenly it hits me. Although I don’t usually get any AMS symptoms (headache, nausea), I tend to slow down and suck air a lot harder.
So I took my time between Crabtree and Guitar, and that’s just fine. It’s a great stretch to stop and take in the views in all directions – Kaweahs to the west, Whitney to the east, and meadows and lakes surrounding you. You quickly climb above treeline and get incredible views of the Whitney ridge and surrounding peaks. It is so amazing to approach Whitney in this direction. I still don’t know why anyone would choose to do the horrible climb from the Portal to bag the summit when this is so much nicer.
I got to Guitar Lake around 1 pm and had a long afternoon of nothing in front of me. Again. I’m not complaining – I loved our afternoons of nothing! The only problem with Guitar Lake is the exposure. There is nowhere to escape from the sun, and since it was a hot afternoon, bailing to the oven that was my tent was not possible. So I lathered up with sunscreen, grabbed my camera, and went on a casual walk around the lake. Every once in a while a cool breeze would pick up, giving me a break from the hot sun.
After the long afternoon of recharging the batteries and acclimating, we waited for sunset with dinner and Paige’s birthday surprise from Greg – Snickers bars for all! Dinner timing was perfect – as soon as we were done the temperature dropped and we started adding layers. Sunset was late (around 7:15 pm, I think), so by the time the colors really popped it was freezing and we were bundled up. Quite a change from a few hours ago!
Backpacker Magazine named Guitar Lake as the best place to watch a sunset (and used one of Paige’s pictures in the article, natch), and I don’t know if it’s the *best* place I’ve ever watched one, but it has to be close. The peaks surrounding the lake all turn orange and the color reflects in the lake. It’s just beautiful, and a fitting way to enjoy our last night on the trail. As soon as it was done, however, we bailed to the warmth of our sleeping bags with our alarms set for a 4 am wake up. Tomorrow will be a big day with Mt Whitney and our return to civilization!
Video of our campsite at Guitar Lake: