JMT Day 18: Coyotes, lightning, and the highest point
August 21, 2013 Wednesday
Rain started up again in the wee hours of the morning. It had stopped by the time we got out of our tents, but continued lightly on & off all day. We got a later start, around 7:40, but made good time. We made sure to stop for a morning snack, and drink water. The greenery went away pretty quickly as we approached the pass.
The climb up to Forester was extremely well constructed. There were many different sections as we climbed into the basin below the pass, then over bits of mountain in the approach. We saw a pair of coyotes in that basin, perhaps hiking pikas? They were real skinny, tan colored, and moved quickly, yipping to each other. The pikas seemed to be making a different sound around that time.
The climb felt easier today than yesterday, I think in large part due to better attitudes on both our parts. Partway up the final ascent, Russell took off ahead to charge up at his own pace [for once]. I maintained a good pace, after a few moments of flagging motivation, and finished strong in a light sprinkling of rain. It was windy on the way up, and I was wearing shorts and my long sleeve shirt — I could barely move my fingers by the time I got to the top. The drop was pretty steep off to the right at one point, and I had a bit of fear-of-heights. I made it though, and took some pics at the top. I put on my rain coat, and we headed down pretty quickly.
The switchbacks down were narrow, steep, and winding — freaked me out some. It continued to rain lightly, then hail — which feels prickly on bare legs — making the switchbacks slippery. At one point there was a huge lightning strike and deafeningly loud thunder clap. Russell counted to 4 between flash and noise.
Once we got off the mountainside we walked across a broad open expanse of boulders and little tarns. We saw Scott & Becky & the Mainers near the edge of the expanse/shelf, and took advantage of a little sun to eat lunch. I put on my long pants, headband, and gloves for warmth. Nell was in the front setting the pace for the Mainers, and I walked quickly to keep up with them, wanting to get out of the open area as fast as possible.
We camped near Tyndall Frog Ponds. The creek water is green & slimy, so we wandered around the pond until we found a deep enough part to scoop water. We are now chillin’ in the ten as 1/4″ diameter hail falls. Hope it stops so we can cook dinner.
Tomorrow night we’re camping at Guitar Lake, 10 miles from here, then Mt. Whitney the next day! We passed a sign a mile ago saying “Mt. Whitney 16.1 miles” — so exciting! It’s bittersweet to think of the trip ending. It’s been so incredible, but I could go for a warm bed & a burger.
Feet: good. some soreness at the base of my big toe & the neighboring toe, but no visible blister. My shoes are getting a bit chewed up on the outside edges.
Body: good. ate & drank better today. been cold in this bad weather
- JMT miles: 12.1 today, 196.4 total
- Total miles: 12.1 today, 225.4 total
Upper Vidette Meadow 9961′ → Tyndall Frog Ponds 11,035′
Seeing coyotes in the basin below Forester is one of my favorite memories from this hike. I’ve heard coyotes before; growing up in Washington state, and now living in California, their yips at night are part of the terrain, once you get out of the city. I don’t actually *see* them too often though. The last one I had seen in person was the unfortunate one that ran in front of the van I was driving on a freeway on the Kitsap Peninsula.
It was on a road trip from Seattle down to Arizona and back, and we were 30 miles from the end. I’ve never forgotten how beautiful it looked running at full speed, and how rapidly and automatically my mind calculated that our paths were going to intersect.The highway was crowded — there were cars everywhere I could swerve — and I felt both front and back tires impact. I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone; it’s one of my saddest memories around the outdoors.
Getting to watch that pair of skinny pale coyotes doing their thing at 12,000′ reset my go-to coyote memory. The two moved so quickly it was hard for my puny city eyes to track them against the light grey boulders. And although pikas have a special place in my heart as the cutest of the alpine charismatic
mega millifauna, they have their place in the food chain.
On that morning, I was rooting for the predators.
Climbing Forester in shorts was not particularly comfortable. It was, however, a nice experiment in the game of “what can I endure”. At various points along the hike, I worried that such-and-such would kill me (climbing Half Dome, sleeping out by Purple Lake, vomiting in Colby Meadow, etc.), and none of these experiences did, in fact, kill me. I’ve started to grok that there is a vast sea of tolerable discomfort in the space between “I’m totally fine” and “I’m actually in danger”.
The lightning was far scarier than being pelleted by hail, in any case. And more dangerous.
We were on the south side of Forester Pass when it struck on the north side, and I could feel the impact in my ribcage and skull. 4 seconds is less than a mile away, and though the pass is lower than surrounding mountains, I sure didn’t want to be the next local maxima. A friend was hiking on the other side of the pass when the bolt struck — we learned later that it he saw it striking just meters away.
I’ve heard that the south approach to Forester Pass is an ugly one under snow and ice. This doesn’t surprise me — it’s precarious enough with no winter on the ground. There are some steep drops and hairpin turns. We saw builders’ tools stored on the side of the trail on our way down — thank you to everyone who builds those trails. Not a job for the faint of heart.
Tyndall Frog Ponds was one of the harder campsites of the trip for me. We set up our tent on the far side of the creek (which was an easy ford by mid-August), and a large group of college friends camped together on the north side. Neither Russell nor I noticed the stream slime until I had scooped up a liter of water and saw the algae just flowing over the top. Blegh.
We had to walk by the large party’s laundry lines and tents to get to the pond to collect water, and it felt like intruding each time. I live in a cement box surrounded by thousands of others in my daily life, and yet ten gregarious women 200 yards away in the wilderness felt like a crowd? How quickly I had adjusted to near-solitude.
Despite the hustle & bustle of the neighboring camp, nothing could dampen my excitement about getting to Mt. Whitney on the morrow. I went to bed that night shaking with excitement.
Or maybe that was shivering from the (11,035′) elevation.