High Sierra Trail: Up and Up and Up

Day 5: Junction Meadow to Guitar Lake
Mileage: 12.4 miles
Max elevation: 11,460 ft (Guitar Lake)
Elevation gain: 3,380 ft


I got so much better at reading a map on this trip out of simple necessity, but even before that, I remembered from my Girl Scout days that the more squished together your topographic lines are, the more effed you are in the steepness of your hike. After Junction Meadow, you gain over 3,000 feet in the first four miles. Then it mostly tapers off to a more steady incline. That being said, Crabtree Meadow (where the ranger station, a camp, and a pit toilet is, although it’s still over 2 miles from Guitar Lake where we were camping) felt like forever away.
There had been some debate before our trip whether or not we would camp at Junction or Wallace Creek (the first camp after the initial steep four mile gain). If we had an extra day in there to make the stretch from Upper Funston less long, Wallace Creek might make more sense as a camping site simply because Wallace Creek to Guitar Lake is a long enough slog.
Every day on a trip like this feels like a lifetime. At this point, we had long since taken to calling Sam “Samwise,” which suited the general feeling of This Walking Will Never End.

What else is there to say about going Up? The scenery was gorgeous – for most of it, we were still low enough to see the canyon we had hiked the previous day. When we finally reached Crabtree, we re-filled our water bottles and all tried to get our poo on because once you’re at Guitar Lake it’s carry in, carry out, a la wag bag. There is something distinctly unappealing about keeping your food in the same canister as your shit, which is the way it goes up there. Even if you have it triple bagged.

We were about half a mile up from Crabtree when I realized that I didn’t have my camera with me. My pretty little Sony that was just the right amount of weight and lens oomph for a trip like this, not to mention every photo I had taken so far. Was not on my neck. I dropped my pack and literally sprinted – I’m a runner back at sea level – back to Crabtree. It wasn’t near the tree where we had rested during our Poo Attempts, so I continued my run down into the camp where I found my camera, unharmed, by the river where we had filled up our water bottles.

And then walked pretty slowly, breathing heavily, back to where Molly and Sam were and took my inhaler for the first and only time of that trip. It turns out running at 10,640 feet is not the same as running at sea level. Turns out my body didn’t like that much, even for half a mile or so.

A little further down the way, we ran into the ranger coming back from Guitar Lake, who asked me the usual questions. The name our permit was under (mine), how many people were in our group (three, but Sam is coming up around the bend – there he is). When Sam arrived, the ranger asked, all seriousness, if he was disoriented (altitude sickness). Sam responds with a declaration that time does not exist for today or tomorrow.
Which does not exactly help the case that he was not disoriented. He’s usually like this, I swear, Mr. Ranger person.

We continued onto Guitar Lake, which is a windy, rocky camp that is yes, on the shore of a lake shaped like a Guitar, although you can’t see the shape from the shoreline. Our tents had to be staked with rocks and our stuff put in the tents quickly to keep them from blowing away, and as we made our last meal on the trail, we were treated with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen before our early bedtime.


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