Adventures in Colorado and around the World

Backcountry Relaxation: Day 6 on the High Sierra Trail

When I had originally planned the trip, I thought we wouldn’t reach Guitar Lake until Day 7. I also scheduled in a rest day there in case we needed time to recover a little before climbing Whitney and to give us a buffer if we weren’t up to hiking 11 miles downhill after summiting. Since it was only Day 6 and we were all feeling good, we decided to make it a short hike to Guitar Lake and summit the following day.

With only 3.4 miles to hike, we had a relatively relaxing morning. We were still out of camp by 10 to avoid the issues we’d had hiking up to Hamilton Lake in the intense midday heat.

Unsurprisingly, the trail goes pretty much straight uphill from the start. The shortest days seemed to be the hardest for me, and my back started to protest almost immediately. I wasn’t dehydrated or overworked yet, so I enjoyed the rest stops I took on the side of the trail. The higher we climbed, the rockier the trail became, sometimes traversing large granite benches.

We soon found ourselves at the aptly named Timberline Lake. It’s crystal clear waters sparkled in the morning sun. Mount Russell, Mount Morgenson, and Mount Whitney peeked out in the distance.

The trail along the lake was a nice, flat respite from the uphill but it didn’t last for long. Soon the trail angled back upwards, but the brief rest at the lake did wonders for me. I was feeling so amazing until about a quarter mile before Guitar Lake when the king of all bonks hit me. I could barely stumble the remaining quarter mile and eventually gave up within sight of the lake to sit on a rock. I had stupidly packed all my food into my bear canister, so I begged Jason to share his lunch of Honeystinger chews and almonds with me.

After languishing on the rock stuffing my face with food and water, I finally felt good enough to explore Guitar Lake. We dropped our packs along the trail and rock hopped along the lakeshore. The view from the lake outlet down towards the Kern River was spectacular!

We decided to camp a little higher above Guitar Lake at a set of tarns to reduce the mileage and elevation gain of summit day. Our home for the night was my favorite one of the trip. The tarn provided endless entertainment, the views were unparalleled, and we were close enough to the trail to chat with passersby. We were also treated to one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve ever seen while backpacking.

After sunset we all snuggled deep in our sleeping bags because the alarms were set to sound very early. After six days on the trail, tomorrow was summit day!

To view the route, click here (you will need to create a free Suunto Movescount account to download the route or email me and I’ll send you the files).