Forty Day Backpacking Plan: Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney 2002

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 15 May 2018

2002 Tahoe to Whitney 40 Day Backpacking Trip

Planning and Execution Notes

Below we have one element of my trip planning notes from a forty day hike I took from Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney during 2002.

I've done Tahoe to Whitney Trips in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2012. Injury is the determining factor in my "backpacking year" scheduling. If I am fit I am backpacking.

The backpacking plan is both a plan that determines what each resupply bucket will contain, and is my selection of nightly campsite locations.
It lists the dates and locations I expected to camp each night. It lists when and what I was going to pick up my resupply buckets, and was my shopping list for additional items I needed to get.

Note that I made this list in May of 2002 for departure on July 9. It was in May that I brought together all my food for packing into resupply buckets to begin shipping. This is the point where my itinerary came together to determine my exact food needs. The schedule and the food planning must come together simultanously.

Then we have to look at our plans and food again, to make sure our bodies can cash the checks our plans are writing. We are making assumptions about our strength, carrying capacity, and endurance that are going to put us into situations we must be able to handle.

And if something goes wrong? Blisters, butt-rash, and altitude acclimation are three common deleterious conditions that can hinder your mileage.

I brought the three-pages of black-inked scheduling documents below onto the trail, and made notes about plan modifications in blue ink as I hiked down the trail. We can see where I went off-plan and where I came back on.
The two bottom pages were written on the backs of this three-page packet.

Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trip planning document 1.

Above we can see that I took the unmaintained TYT route through Summit City Canyon in the Mokelumne Wilderness (Carson Gap to Lake Alpine) then switched to the PCT halfway across the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.

Notes such as, "Heat wave started," indicate the heat wave that was searing the Sierra during July of 2002. Though this was a topic I explored in my personal journal, as the heat demanded caution and hit me hard enough to be cited as a factor on my schedule.

I recorded mid-80s at 10am each day of the heat wave, and temps hit the low 90s each of the first 4 days. This kicked the hell out of me, and I was in good shape!

On July 13th, after five days on the trail, I noted that daily temps had finally dropped 8 degrees, thank god. Heat waves are now common hazards in the High Sierra.

The last entry, "Emigrant Lake" was actually the lake to the West of Grizzly Peak. This shows that we hiked over Big Sam to the Tungsten Road hiking from the PCT South of Sonora Pass to the TYT to hike across Emigrant Wilderness, rather down to the Walker River Watershed in the Toiyabe National Forest.

I was varying off the routes of both the PCT and TYT, now exploring the trails that tie them together into unique routes. 

Document 2:

Campsite locations across North Yosemite on TYT-PCT.

"Grambo" (July 22, day 14) is a friend from Berkeley that  I met at Bensen Lake. I knew when I departed Lake Tahoe that he was hiking North on the PCT while I was hiking South, and that we'd cross paths (literally) somewhere down the trail between Sonora Pass and Tuolumne.
 This encounter caused a full half-day delay. I regret not staying longer. Ander's trail crew was also at Bensen Lake in 2002 as they were during 2001, and they are really cool folks then as today.

I regret not staying a couple of days extra and hanging out with them. 

Note the route modification South of Mammoth Lakes. I like to veer off the John Muir Trail into Fish Creek and up to Iva Bell Hot Springs up at the end of the valley. After a couple of excellent nights at Iva Bell's beautiful hot springs, views, and cool backpacker neighbors I hike over Goodale Pass to Vermilion Valley Resort.

Note I was knocking out 20+ mile days on a regular basis.

Document 3:

The hiking camping plan along the Southern Sierra on the John Muir Trail.

August 8 looks confusing, but it is not. I had planned to camp at Blaney Hot Springs near Muir Ranch, but changed to catch up. There were too many folks there. I hiked from below the North flank of Selden Pass to the campsites by the bridge along the San J River before we get to the climb up into Evolution Meadow. 
The next day I hiked to what I called "Dorothy Lake," which was actually Lake Wanda under the North flank of Muir Pass. 

I was condsidering a night on top of Mount Whitney at the end of the trip, but instead pulled my "normal" last day: I have hidden sites East of Crabtree and West of the exposed bowl with the lake most backpackers stay.
I depart early, climb Whitney, and get to the Portal in time to have a burger and catch a ride down the mountain with Doug after he closes the Whitney Portal Grill at 2pm.

Resupply Packages Picked up at Each Resupply Spot:

Backpacking resupply package contents at each stop between Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney.

I bring a "lading list" of my resupply buckets so I can adjust each upcoming resupply with the information of how the last resupply worked. On the top of the page above is an outline of what was in each of my resupply buckets. Dinners are listed in the Left, lunches in the middle, and breakfasts in the Right column on the top of the page above.

The list above leaves out my resupply picked up at Reds Meadow because I took the shuttle into Mammoth Lakes and spent 3 nights at the Motel Six. I resupplied at the sports shops and Ralph's Supermarket in Mammoth for the hike to Vermilion Valley Resort.

The resupply list gets added to on the trail to become a "shopping list" for the supplemental food I'm going to buy and pack out of each resupply spot, along with the random things and "extras" I'm going to want and need at the next upcoming resupply stop.

The rest of the space is filled up with a list of the images I shot down the trail in the now lost golden age of film.

Miles and trail notes

Though I've figured out all my campsites, I like to bring a outline of the miles of the sections of the trail and between campsites. This would clutter up the journal, but is perfect on the itinerary. 

Miles and trail notes I brought to help keep me in context.

I hope this information helps you plan your Tahoe to Yosemite, John Muir, or Tahoe to Whitney High Sierra backpacking trip as efficiently and effectively as possible.

A plan that works!!

One factor I have modified is time. I did the Tahoe to Whitney Trip in 40 days the first three times I hiked it, and came to the conclusion that 40 days is just not enough time to soak it all in. Now I prefer at least 50 days, and more if possible.

More specifically, note that I only gave myself 7 days for the 132 miles from Muir Ranch to the Whitney Portal. That's 18.85 miles a day, not too bad, until you consider that I take a day off to scramble.

Not with 7 days of food. I was lucky to get enough time to scramble about and explore each campsite area. Now-a-days I like to bring 9 frigging days of food from Muir Ranch to the Whitney Portal, which brings the daily miles down to 14.66.

That's heavy, but it gives me the time to be able to take at least one full day off, which brings the daily required miles up to 16.5. This is the sacrifice necessary to bag some mountains, climb a few domes, and wander around Darwin Bench and camp up there too, through this long, last section of our trail to the Whitney Portal...

Food is Time, time is extra exploration or rest. This extra food works to give us flexibility on the long trails, which is a luxury for those strong enough to carry some extra time on their backs. 


2001 Tahoe to Whitney Backpacking Trip Plan



Tahoe to Whitney
Trail Guide


Resupply Spots



Tahoe to Whtieny

Tahoe to Whitney Permit Nightmare?

Planning and Packing a Five-Day Backpacking Food Supply




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