John Muir Trail Day 10: Kearsarge Pass to Guitar Lake

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“Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction – so easy to lapse into – that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.”  ― Robert Macfarlane

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We returned to the John Muir Trail by heading back over Kearsarge Pass after a resupply. We made it just in time to avoid the storm on the way out, and were heading back to the trail with nothing but dry skies in the forecast. From the Kearsarge Pass trailhead, the path leads downhill towards Bubbs Creek and Vidette Meadow. We got a really early start on this day and stumbled upon a buck sleeping just off of the trail. The landscape here is dominated by the beautiful East Vidette Peak. I would love to come back here someday soon and make the scramble up to the summit.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
East Vidette Peak

After reaching the end of the downhill hiking, we reached a flat section that meandered through the forest. It quickly began to climb, and we found ourselves looking out onto the beautiful Upper Vidette Meadow. The tree cover diminished as we gained elevation when we reached the 10,000ft elevation sign. I was excited for the next seven miles that would take us to Forester Pass at 13,110ft.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Entering the Meadow
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Onto The Water

Our next point of interest was Center Basin Creek. It was a special moment to cross the creek, and look out onto a granite wonderland without the interruption of a forest. For the first time, I could see just how high we would be climbing in order to get to the pass. We had a number of switchbacks to climb, so I began the process I’ve come to love so much, putting one foot in front of the other. My footsteps had become the metronome for the song of my life. My breathing was in perfect harmony.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Beginning to Climb
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Looking Back
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Green Life

We continued climbing up the wall of talus with the pass in sight. I was amazed at how in tune my lungs were with the surrounding air. I knew the oxygen levels were low, but my legs and lungs didn’t seem to notice. I was hiking at a pace usually reserved for low elevation climbs. I truly had my trail legs now.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
The Pass In Sight
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Alpine Lake

Before I knew it, we were standing on the border of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The views were absolutely spectacular at Forester Pass. We took some time to enjoy the landscape, and struck up a conversation with a few other hikers.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
At The Pass
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Looking North

We began the descent from Forester Pass and it hit me just how big this day was going to be. Our goal was to reach Guitar Lake to set ourselves up for an early morning summit of Mt. Whitney. We had already hiked close to 10 miles with 3600ft of elevation gain, and we still had 16 miles to go if we wanted to reach our planned destination. Motivation came easy, as my heart and mind were intoxicated with the beauty of the Sierra, the peace of the trail, and the adrenaline from crossing a high pass.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Looking South
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
On The Trail

There were a number of beautiful lakes in view as we lost elevation and pressed onward. At the end of the downhill, we crossed a large creek and then began a winding uphill climb on the side of a hill. Towards the end of the uphill climb, the landscape started to resemble what I’ve come to know as Hollywood’s interpretation of a Martian landscape. I knew that meant we had made it to the Bighorn Plateau. It was here that I got my first glimpse of Mt. Whitney from the East.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
On The Plateau
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Views of Whitney

After the plateau, the trail once again headed downhill, this time to the Wright Creek drainage. There was a lot of shade in this area, and the day was turning out to be a warm one. At this point, we were only a few miles away from hitting 20 on the day, and my feet were starting to let me know. I feel like I can hike uphill for an eternity, but downhills beat my legs and feet up in a way that always leaves me praying for a swift end to all descents. We took a break near the water and gave our legs a chance to rest before making the final ascent of the day towards Guitar Lake.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Final Downhill

The final stretch of hiking for this day was a rather pleasant one, as the trail was shaded, and paralleled a creek for quite some time. The trail really started to level out as we reached Timberline Lake, and it was at that point we knew we were very close. Julia and I were both moving pretty slow at this point, but knowing how close we were to the finish kept our spirits high.

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Timberline Lake
John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Approaching Guitar Lake

When we finally arrived at Guitar Lake, we were surprised by how many tents were in the area. We had read to expect a crowd, but this was something completely unlike anything we had seen on the trail thus far. Much like Thousand Island Lake, I had to go searching for a great tent site. I’ve learned in my years of hiking, that heading uphill onto rocky surfaces will get you away from most people. The key is finding a place to pitch. It worked like a charm again this time, as I was able to find a perfect spot that had no one around.  I had packed an extra days worth of food incase were didn’t make it to Guitar Lake in one day. For the first time on the JMT, I had a true feast. It was so nice to gorge on two days worth of food for dinner!

John Muir Trail Forester Pass Guitar Lake
Guitar Lake

The only downside to camping at Guitar Lake was being hit by the realization that this would be my final night on the John Muir Trail. Much like the night before reaching Santiago when I walked the Camino, the excitement I held in my heart was bittersweet. After reaching Mt. Whitney, the journey would be over.

Read More Daily Reports From The John Muir Trail

“No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.Well, get used to that feeling. That’s how your whole life will feel some day. This is all practice.” ― Chuck Palahniuk


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268 thoughts on “John Muir Trail Day 10: Kearsarge Pass to Guitar Lake”

  1. So amazing. I would love to hike the John Muir trail. These photos are just amazing, and how amazing to spend so much time in the mountains. 26 miles in a day… wow. Congrats and what an experience!

  2. I have been following your john muir trail and I too am sad that it is coming to an end. Thanks for the detailed posts. There’s not much left for me now then to do it myself. Thanks Drew!

    • Thanks, Jun! It’s always difficult to deal with such incredible journeys coming to an end. You should hike the JMT, for sure. It’s a great trek!

  3. I love seeing pictures that can take you back to long forgotten hikes, meals under a star roof. the mountains are a basic need. I agree
    Thanks for sharing

  4. Wow, this is amazing! I’ve known a few people who hikes Muir Trail but they didn’t bring a camera along because it had too much weight – thanks for sharing!

  5. Haha I remember once bumping into a deer in the dark! A friend and I were heading up a hill to gaze at the stars and the city lights in the valley below. We were just casually striding along when ACK WHAT IS THAT! Two spots of light flashed in the darkness. We whipped up our flashlights and fell over in relief and laughter as the deer we caught in the light spun around and bounced away.

  6. very impressive, very well done, and great pictures to go with it!! This looks to be a great hike for (positive) loneliness, amazing. Thanks for sharing!
    Take care,

  7. Drew – what spectacular pics of your trek. I started walking seriously a year ago today – in very rural western New York with the intent of getting close to 1000 miles before I begin my Camino in 10 days. I have reached 810 miles – a bit short of goal but…. Your pictures move me to click follow and make me consider a lifetime of hiking and visiting all the beauty in this country. Thanks for this and for the like “Buen Camino My Friend…”

  8. What a brilliant hike! I love the photos you took. The grey rocks, the lonely lakes so high in the mountains. Some grass, and a a certain points no more trees. Fantastic!

    Thank you for capturing and sharing! I want to visit the mountains too! Unfortunately The Netherlands is quite flat.

    Keep up the good work and give your legs some rest 😉


  9. You did an excellent job capturing the beauty of the Muir Trail. After reading your post, I feel like I actually hiked the trail! The photos you took of the trail are amazing. I feel like I should travel there immediately.

    Excellent work!

  10. I haven’t heard of the john Muir Trail since I was a kid in girl Scouts. We had to hike like 1 mile of it and we did nothing but complain how tired we were. I cannot believe people really do hike it and it is a famous hiking trail still 25 yrs later. I thought they were just trying to motivate us on the hike only after 10 minutes on flat trail not ascending at all. Thank you for sharing.

  11. This is the first article that I read on your blog and it is very inspiring. Your photos are so beautiful. Thank you! Greetings from Switzerland!

    • Thank you very much. I felt the exact same sentiment while travelling. Even when I only take California into consideration, Joshua Tree, the Eastern Sierra, Yosemite, and the coastal landscapes take me to another world.

  12. Spectacular photos, thank you for sharing your part of the world. I am from Australia and a “mountains girl” – feel totally at one with nature when I am in our High Country. Come and visit!

  13. That last quote though…. One gat to make the most of every moment.

    Thank you Drew for this inspiring posts. Yes this is my first time of reading your posts and it just feels like I have known you for years.

    The pictures are amazing… I have to experience this for myself!

    Thank you once again for sharing.

  14. Man, your site is my JMT bible now:-) Thanks so much for sharing this! One question, “We returned to the John Muir Trail by heading back over Kearsarge Pass after a resupply.”, so you had another resupply here? Why? Could you gave some more detail please?

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