Onion Valley to Whitney Portal


After 3 trips to Whitney Portal from the Horseshoe Meadow area, we decided to go north to Onion Valley and go over Kearsarge Pass...and Forester Pass. This was in many ways our most interesting trip to Mt. Whitney. It was definitely our "what could go wrong, did" trip. Click the link thingy for the pictures of this trip...link thingy

Travel and Acclimatization Day

Whitney Portal Acclimatization Day

Whitney Portal 8,360'


Since we had to leave one car at Whitney Portal and Onion Valley does not have a Portal Store, so we decided to stay and have uneventful evening at the Portal. The big advantage staying here was real food and drink for diner.

It's Just You and Me, Kid

Onion Valley Trailhead to ~1 mile North of Center Basin Jct.

Trailhead: 9,200'                High Point: 11,755' (Kearsarge Pass)

Hiking Time: 7:30 - 8:00 hours

Elevation Gain: ~3,300 - 3,400'

Campsite: 100' east of Bubbs Creek

Distance: 11.3 miles


Maps: Kearsarge Peak, Mt. Clarence King and Mt. Brewer


This day was to set up so we'd have reasonable ascent of Forester Pass the following day. However, much conspired to make it an impossibility.


Kearsarge Pass is not difficult to cross, the trail is good to excellent and the rate of gain is a reasonable at ~500'/mi. However, after the first couple of miles one member of our group started to fade. When we reached the Heart Lake area, he said his back was bothering him but he would continue. My usual partner in crime and I waited for about an hour for our 3rd at the pass. When he reached the pass, he took 800 mg. of vitamin I and decided to continue as far as Bullfrog Lake before deciding whether or not to continue south with his good friends.


When we reached Bullfrog Lake, it was time to inhale food, not eat it. I devoured 1,000 calories in about 15 minutes. Our achy-breaky partner decided this was the end of his Whitney dream and bailed. He trekked back to Kearsarge Lakes for the night and exited the following morning.


Just after leaving Bullfrog Lake, I decided to slam my shin into a big piece of granite...the granite and Johnson and Johnson won. We continued down to Vidette Meadow then proceeded to misread the GPS/map because we both read it as a 300' climb to original destination...the bear box at the Center Basin Junction, it was more like 1,000'. After about and hour of hiking, we decided it was time to find a place to spend the night...about a mile short of our intended destination. We ended up finding the perfect campsite, next to the perfect bathtub, although the water was more than a bit chilly in the very late shady afternoon.


Frosty the Snowmen

~1 mile North of Center Basin Jct. to John Muir Trail/Tyndall Ranger Station Trail Jct.

Starting Point: ~10,350'                High Point: 13,153' (Forester Pass)

Hiking Time: 7 hours

Elevation Gain: ~3,300 - 3,400'

Campsite: 100' of Tyndall Creek

Distance: 11.4 miles


Maps: Mt. Brewer and Mt. Williamson


This was suppose to be another of our big days...15 1/2 miles to Wallace Creek but frosty sleeping bags did-in that idea, if that wasn't the case, then the climb to the top of Forester Pass  surely would have disabused us of it. The trail to Forester Pass was cool and shady until we started to move away from Bubbs Creek. Then, it was up and over Forester Pass, which wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. The trail was good with moderately cool temps and a nice breeze. We snacked at pass and had lunch at one of the lakes below it. After lunch, we visited with what must have been a Trail Camp marmot on vacation, I've never gotten closer one of these guys except at while lunching at Trail Camp. After take a ton of pictures, it was off to our new end of the day destination...yet to be determined.


In this stretch of hiking, we got our first look at Mt. Whitney from just above the Sheppard Pass/JMT Jct., it was hard to believe we were still a day and half away.


After consulting our TOPO! generated map, we decided it was in our best interest to stop for the night near the JMT/Tyndall Ranger Station Jct. We had sleeping bags that had to dry, bodies and clothes which needed be scrubbed; and dinner had to be eaten...hmmm....let's not forget the Zin  and Jack, which need to be consumed.

Hey Dude, The Memory Card is Full

John Muir Trail/Tyndall Ranger Station Trail Jct. to MBH Tarns (above Guitar Lake)

Starting Point: 10,861'                High Point: 11,645' (The Tarns)

Hiking Time: 6:30 to 7 hours

Elevation Gain: ~2,600'

Campsite: Adjacent to the bigger tarn

Distance: 12.3 miles


Maps: Mt. Brewer, Mt. Kaweah and Mt. Whitney


Say Hallelujah, no pass to cross, no big climbs and a sitdown toilet on the horizon. Ah -cough- an easy day....right. Another great day, vista after vista...picture after...well, it's time for some editing because your partner wifey's camera just couldn't take anymore pictures. Ok, we'll keep that one, trash that one. Now, on to Bighorn Plateau...geesh...does it get any better than this...NO!!! This is the highlight of the trip...but we've been to Mt. Whitney more than a few times.


Ok, you want to use the sitdown...hmmm...1/2 mile back and forth...ah, no, we'll survive. Ok, we are way ahead of schedule, let's throttle back...way back, I bet we can do 1 MPH to Timberline Lake for lunch and then to the tarns. But we have to get there early...more frost on the bags and condensation in the tent and bivy which needs drying. Ok, we'll speed it up to 1 1/2 MPH.


Hmmm...it must be September, only two groups at Guitar, which were two more than 3 years ago.


Ok, let's eat early go to bed early, btw, how does the alarm work on our Suunto Vectors, the answer is...a resounding no.

That's Really Cool

MBH Tarns (above Guitar Lake) to Whitney Portal

Starting Point: 11,645'                High Point: 14,497' (Mt. Whitney)

Hiking Time: 12 hours

Elevation Gain: ~3,300 - 3,400'

Campsite: Adjacent to the large tarn

Distance: 16 miles


Maps: Mt. Whitney and Mt. Langley


Damn, thank God, I was toss n' turning at 12:30 AM because I would not have heard that damn watch. It would be nice one of these days to see what the trail looks like between here and Lower Trail Crest...one of the days...nah. Being on the peak at sunrise is way too cool. At least the temperature was not way too cool for a change and the wind was calm. This was another new moon trip with amazing views of all thing celestial and human...the headlight trail, at least this year we beat the ungodly fit to the top and I saw Mt.Whitney's shadow on the horizon.


We arrived about 20 minutes before an absolutely gorgeous sunrise and stay about 20 minute beyond that conversing with other people who get it at Mt. Whitney. Then it was off and running, we had 11-miles of hiking and 200+-miles of driving in front of us and neither one of us wanted to fall asleep at the wheel. This was our most routine trip off the mountain in a dozen years, only 3 "Whitney Follies" moments...none of which were truly outrageous.

Trail Notes

This is my favorite of the north or south approaches to Mt. Whitney, although it is longer and Forester Pass is no walk in the park, at least we crossed it from the north...the further you travel into the back country in September the fewer folks you see, once we cleared the Bullfrog Lake area it was just a couple different groups a day. My groups must be good weather blessed when attempting to summit Mt. Whitney, we have seen one hour of rain in ~3 weeks of hiking time...My WAG bag got a workout on our last day, damn, I should have taken the Imodium sooner...It is disgraceful the number of WAG bags left of the trail, about a dozen from west side switchbacks to Whitney Portal...Plans are made to be changed, something we did every stinking day of this trip and still had a great time, my feet might argue this point on last day...My partner and I decided to go back to our self-contained gear and consumable ways after this trip...the group gear thingy has not worked out to our satisfaction...This trip can be done in week by the sane or moderately fit.

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