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[pct-l] Mount Whitney, The Zoo, a story...

I was going through old e-mails looking for a story about chronicling my
discovery of a cougar print 6" from where my head had been resting while
sleeping up in the Enchantments and ran across this vignette of my last
day on a 1992 JMT trip.  Enjoy...

Jeff Olson
Laramie, WY

At the end of a two week hike on the JMT my last day involved going over
Whitney Trailcrest.  I'd camped at Wright Creek and was "booking".  On
way up the switchbacks on the west side, from Guitar lake up, I met no
coming down and passed a couple parties in less good shape than I.  One
fellow, about a half mile from the top of the trailcrest, was having a
rough time, walking for 30 feet, sitting down, head in hands, breathing
with difficulty, incoherent.  The altitude was getting to him.  His
"friends" had gone ahead and he didn't know where they were.  That's a
scary stretch of trail, cutting across fairly steep slopes, scree trail,
etc.  He had been stumbling along it.

I got to the Trailcrest and asked if anyone was with this fellow and a
couple "guys" went running down the trail to help him.  They looked
suitably guilty.  What I also found at the 13,800' crest was about 20
people.  During the 15 minutes I spent taking pictures and marvelling at
the view, as many came and left.

I'd already hiked 15 miles or so and a "grizzled veteran" who was
a group of inner city teens said there was no way I could make it to
Whitney Portal in less than four hours.  I didn't much care how long it
took.  There were just too many people.  As beautiful as it was, the
wilderness experience had left.  I took off down "99 Switchbacks"  and
another 30 or so people coming up, and passed as many going down.  I'm
exaggerating the numbers.

I got to the upper campground, with its giant outhouse and tents on
piece of dirt, and couldn't believe it.  I'd hiked up Whitney in 1971
there hadn't been the zoo then.  I was glad I was headed "through" it
As I walked through the "campground", I met four fellows hiking up the
trail, all dressed in olive green shorts and shirts, with identical
backpacks, three of whom were carrying guitars.  I asked them if the
forest service had hired them to entertain the campers, and they looked
me with puzzlement, asking with thick German accents what I meant.

I passed the spot where in 1971 I had camped and torn up three packs of
Lucky Strikes, made a little pyramid, and burned the tobacco.

I passed the lower campground with it's city like alienation, people
avoiding eyes, igoring each other.  I'd started ignoring people myself
the way down 99 Switchbacks.  I'm sure there were lots of stories, and
lots of interesting people, but it would have been like stopping someone
on the streets of downtown Seattle.

One of my resupply points was Parcher's Camp on the other side of Bishop
Pass.  On my down I met a woman in her late 70s who was hiking up from
South Lake to Bishop Pass to put a wrap on a part of her life she felt
slipping away as she got older.  She was old money from San Francisco
her husband had died, and they'd spent their honeymoon in the 1940s in
Dusy Basin.  She was high in a way that made a deep impression on me.  I
could feel an "otherworldliness" flow through her.

My recommendation is if you want to climb Whitney, do so as part of a
backpacking trip and come at it from the west side.  That way you'll be
able to experience the wilderness as well as the views...  By the way,
took about 2 and 3/4 hours and 1200 mg. of ibuprofen to get to Whitney
Portal from the trailcrest...

Jeffrey Olson
Seattle, Washington