National Park is the land of giants. Giant trees and giant mountains. Like
its neighbor to the north (Kings Canyon National Park), most folks visit the
park from the west. The west side of the park is where the giant sequoia trees
grow, as well as the park headquarters, not to mention that they only roads
in the park enter from the west. If folks hope to see Mt. Whitney, the highest
point in the contiguous United States from the west side, they will be out
of luck. Mt. Whitney is visible from the east side of the park, or from the
The John Muir Trail travels about 22 miles in Sequoia National Park. Like
Yosemite National Park, Sequoia is where the John Muir Trail begins or ends.
It is somewhat
odd too in
(14,495 feet). At the northern edge of the park, the Trail crosses Forester
Pass (13,180 feet), which is the highest pass on not only the John Muir Trail,
but the Pacific Crest Trail as well. On the eastern side of the Trail rises
the eastern range which has several mountain peaks over 14,000 feet, while
on the west side is the picturesque Great Western Divide. These ranges more
than make-up for the absence of any giant sequoia trees.
A description of the trail, sights and other notable
items is below. For those following the trail, the description has been ordered
from North to South. Click on any picture for a
larger view and some pictures have an "expanded" view which means
it includes more than what is shown below.
Looking south from Forester Pass
Pass rises to 13,180 feet and is the entrance to Sequoia National
Park from the John Muir Trail. Those that have visited Sequoia National
probably have only experienced the western side of the park -- giant
sequoia trees, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave to name a few notable sights.
The eastern side of Sequoia
is only accessible by hiking, and includes some of the highest peaks
in the contiguous United States.
south side of Forester Pass is very steep. The trail was cut into
essentially a rock wall (a difficult task which caused one man to loose
his life --
there is a plaque along the trail). The trail nears several lakes
which could be seen at the pass, and also parallels a small creek.
is still well above tree line and will remain so for another few miles.
A stream and Forester Pass
A small lake and Diamond Mesa
the trail reaches tree line, it meets Tyndall Creek. A ranger station
is located nearby and there are good campsites (with bear boxes).
If one hikes a little farther, two small unnamed lakes also have good
and bear boxes. They also offer a nice view of Diamond Mesa which
the hiker passed on the way from Forester Pass.
of the most beautiful panoramic views anywhere is of the Great Western
Divide near Tawny Point. It is the divide that blocks the visitor
on the west side of the national park from seeing Mt. Whitney. The
is simply breath taking.
The Great Western Divide near Tawny
passing Tawny Point, the trail comes to a crest at place called Bighorn
Plateau. This spot has an excellent view of the Great Western Divide
as well as a small lake and stream. This is also the first good view
the hiker has of Mt. Whitney. Remember this spot; it can bee seen
from the summit of Mt. Whitney.
the hiker is traveling in early season, two easy creek crossings
lie on this section of the trail. the first is Wright Creek and the
than a mile apart) is Wallace Creek. Both creeks have areas suitable
for camping, both also have legendary stories about mosquitoes. The
good news either way is that Wallace Creek should be the last water
with a threat of the hiker getting wet.
Hikers Note: This
is also the junction with the High Sierra Trail which originates
from the Giant Sequoia Grove in western Sequoia National Park.
last meadow on the John Muir Trail is Sandy Meadow. This meadow lies
at the junction of two small streams, and the trail skirts the
edge of this meadow. Shortly after passing this meadow the trail stops
south and heads east toward Mt. Whitney.
Meadow is not on the John Muir Trail, but can be seen from the trail.
This landmark helps to ensure the hiker has made the correct turn
east and not continues south on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). About
mile after the departure from the PCT, the John Muir Trail passes
the Crabtree Ranger Station. Beyond this station the trail slowly climbs
toward Mt. Whitney.
Timberline Lake and Mt. Whitney
Lake is another photogenic lake on the trail. This lake,
however, has camping restrictions to help preserve its beauty. From
this lake, the hiker has an excellent view of not only Mt. Whitney,
entire ridge that the John Muir Trail traverses to reach its summit.
Sit back, take a break and absorb one of the best views of Mt. Whitney.
next (and last large) lake is Guitar Lake (at 11,500
feet). This is typically the "jumping off point" for summiting
Mt. Whitney. Therefore, most hikers spend the
night here and summit the following day. This is also the last source
of decent water until the hiker reaches Trail Camp on the other side
set up camp and enjoy watching a sunset against the eastern slopes
of Mt. Whitney.
Sunset in Mt. Whitney from Guitar Lake
Sunrise on Guitar Lake
it is called Guitar Lake should become apparent after the hiker starts
to ascend the trail. For a while the trail steadily climbs up
the ridge toward the right. The hiker may start questioning if they
the right trail since they are hiking "away" from Mt. Whitney.
However, this is the only trail and it leads to the low spot on the
ridge just south
of Mt. Muir.
about 12,500 feet the trail starts along series of switchbacks.
These are not the famous "100 switchbacks" which are on
the other side of the ridge, but are relentless just the same. Just
before reaching the top
of the ridge, there will be a trail junction. The John Muir Trail
continues to the left and up to Mt. Whitney. The trail to the right
goes over Trail
Crest (pass) and eventually to the Whitney Porthole.
Hikers Note: Most
hikers leave their packs at this junction and take only small items
and camera) for the final leg to Mt. Whitney.
Guitar Lake and the Great Western
View through one of the "windows"
the last two miles of the trail (from the Trail Crest Junction),
the hiker has to ascend 1,000 feet. Most of the trail is still on the
side of the ridge. However, at spots referred to as "windows" between
peaks, one can peer out and see dramatic sheer face of the western
side and the Owens Valley. The hiker is to be cautious as parts
of the trail
are very narrow and close to the edge of these "windows".
the trail nears the summit (about 1/4 mile) it "disappears" between
the many boulders and gaps. Therefore, there may be many routes to
summit. The hiker is to just follow the path of least resistance toward
the summit shelter
which is only a few yards away from the summit of Mt. Whitney.
A small lake and the town of Lone Pine in the distance
The summit shelter
a few steps from the summit of Mt. Whitney is a stone shelter. This
shelter can be useful in emergency situations, but should be avoided
during a lightning storm (it has a metal roof). Located on the outside
is the Mt. Whitney summit register. The hiker should definitely stop
here and sign their name.
tall is Mt. Whitney? Most books put the summit at 14,494 feet. Some
say 14,495 or even 14,497 feet. The summit tablet puts it at just over
14,496 feet. Then of course, the marker is not even at the highest
point on the summit! Since the average hiker is somewhere between
5.5 feet and 6.5 feet tall, one could call the "eye level" summit
14,500 feet. In any case, it is the tallest mountain in the contiguous
Summit (marker) tablet
Mt. Whitney summit looking west
view to the west from Mt. Whitney summit is dominated by two items: 1)
the stone shelter about 100 feet away and the Great Western Divide. Look
very closely and one can also see Bighorn Plateau toward the northwest,
and Alta Mountain (on the far western side of Sequoia National Park).
view to the north from Whitney offers the hiker a chance to see where
they have traveled from. One can see Bighorn Plateau, Diamond Mesa
and Junction Peak. This view also has several other 14,000 foot peaks
the nearby Mt. Russell, the more distant Mt. Williamson and Mt.
Tyndall, and finally White Mountain in the White Mountains across the
Mt. Whitney summit looking north
Mt. Whitney summit looking east
most people reach Mt. Whitney's summit the first view they "take" is
to the east. This view has a sheer drop-off of over a thousand feet.
Toward the east, one see the town of Lone Pine in the Owens Valley
and Telescope Peak in Death Valley National Park. They can also preview
the shortest route down from Mt. Whitney.
view toward the south from the summit of Mt. Whitney almost appears to
go on forever. Notable peaks include two other 14,000 footers, Mt. Muir
(just 2 miles down the trail) and Mt. Langley, as well as the more distant
Olancha Peak and other desert ranges.
Mt. Whitney summit looking south
Dean on the summit of Mt. Whitney
end of your journey and of the John Muir Trail -- the summit of Mt.
Whitney. Just 211 miles to the north at Happy Isles in Yosemite National
is the other end of the trail. After enjoying the accomplishment,
the hiker must leave the John Muir Trail to return to civilization.
hikers return two miles back to the junction with the Whitney Porthole
Trail, go over Trail Crest and exit at Whitney Portal, nine miles
from the trail junction. Other hikers may continue back to Crabtree
and head south to exit through other passes. Possibly some souls
walk back 211 miles and return to Happy Isles. In any case, the journey
the John Muir Trail surely has been one that will never be forgotten
by the hiker.
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