Bummed that I didn't make the actual meetup, but I guess I'll have to accept being one of the select few to come within a mile of a meetup and fail to actually make it all the way,
Looks like I missed all the fun with my Tuesday afternoon start from Pine Creek. I had plans similar to Jim and co's (Italy Pass to Gabbot Pass) in large part to visit an area I had to bail on last year as a result of a friend having persistent altitude issues. Unlike them, however, I ultimately failed to make the meetup as a result of my own issues and decision making.
My pace for the first day was pretty modest, but not unexpected and unplanned for: I made it up to Honeymoon Lake after starting on the trail a bit after 1pm. Not great, but considering it had been nearly a year since I'd done any significant altitude gain with a full sized pack, I was happy enough with it.
The next day is where things really slipped away from me, though things started off decently enough. I even passed by what I can only assume was Jim and co's campsite (Tent space for three, and a bearikade with a "Got Mountains?" sticker) in Granite Park, and while I kept an eye out for them, I wasn't exactly surprised that I didn't spot'em. But my pace throughout the day just never picked up. Couple that with the consequences from a number of decisions I made around Lake Italy (Getting down to the shoreline and deciding not to use the Eastern shore route to Gabbot after inspecting it up close (While watching a group of four, without packs, make their way across it); Crossing some slow shoreline talus to inspect the Eastern snowfield, realizing that crossing it was impossible, and then wasting a bunch of effort on a harder detour route than was necessary; Assuming the Western snowfield was also impossible to cross, climbing a bunch of talus to bypass it, only to realize at the top of my detour that there was a very obvious footpath going across.), and that day just didn't go well for me. After getting to the outlet of Lake Italy at around 5-6pm, I decided that my best chance of making the actual meetup would be to head down to the PCT and just knock out a bunch of predictable miles. But even after that, I made some poor decisions on routing that evening that cost me even more time, so I think I barely made it a mile or so SW of the outlet before setting up camp for the night.
Which sets me up for that 25 odd mile attempt at making the meetup on Thursday. Things certainly started off well enough: I was on the move by 6:30am and was hitting all my pace markers at just around the time I had planned on, even making it to the Mono Creek junction 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The storms that were around that day only dropped some light, very pleasant rain and helped cool me down around midday. The problem, however, was that my pace came at the cost of undereating and underhydrating. I had filtered 3L the night before and had only planned on filtering twice (~30oz each session) along Mono Creek, once to drink during that section and the other to last me until the meetup, but I quickly realized that that was going to be painfully insufficient as my pace gradually started to slack on Mono Creek. So, those two planned filtering sessions turned into four. Which wouldn't have been an issue, save for the fact that my filter was on its last legs and took a solid 15 minutes per session. That 15 minute advantage quickly turned into being an hour behind, and so I started up the switchbacks to Grinnell at around 6pm, the very latest I thought I could start them while having a solid chance at making the meetup while at least some folks were still awake.
With the switchbacks behind me, I thought I was in the clear. I even made it up that last bit of significant altitude gain before Laurel as the last daylight faded from the sky, after having randomly stumbled on the use trail half way up. That use trail was quickly lost, however, as my headlamp just wasn't enough to follow it through the short stretches where it disappeared. At some point, I made the fateful decision to follow the drainage up to Grinnell Lake instead of taking the easier, more roundabout route, as I had figured following a stream would make for easier navigation. That decision got some unfortunate support from the 2004 USGS topo map that I had, as that showed a clear trail heading up Grinnell's outlet stream. And so, after having already been on the trail for a bit over fourteen hours and exhausting myself due to not eating or drinking enough, I started my moonlight scramble up towards Grinnell Lake after crossing a couple streams that could have only come out of Grinnell. I got lucky in some places, including having routed myself into a section where I had cliffs on three sides of me, but where there was this small gap in the back left corner that quickly and easily brought me out on top of that section of cliffs. But not long after, I crossed another stream, and looked up to find myself faced with a granite face that was simply too steep, with the moonlight insufficient to really make out the details necessary to possibly navigate it. Unsure of what to do, a bit of granite that was just about flat and nearly the perfect size for my tent caught my eye, which ended up being simply too tempting to my exhausted self. That's when I decided to call it at 10:30pm, less than a mile and a few hundred feet of elevation gain from the meetup.
The following day, I probably spent over 15 minutes looking at the granite face in front of me, trying to tease out possible routes and even trying the first part of one, before realizing that I simply wasn't comfortable fully committing to such a route, as the exposure was simply outside my comfort zone. So, after having already missed the meetup, I figured I'd just start gradually making my way down the hillside by walking NW until I picked up the use trail from the easier route. As luck would have it, however, I happened to just randomly glance over my right shoulder at the right time and see this perfect little notch that continued up the hillside. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to try it, and sure enough I was able to always find another route up after completing each small section. I eventually crested the small knob just W of the small lake Grinnell drains into and things were smooth sailing from there. Dave's tent wasn't hard to pick out in the sunlight, but with no one else there, I dropped my pack and continued my search. I eventually came upon the remnants of the meetup at around 9am and enjoyed a few hours of conversation before I became the only person at the lake for the rest of the day.
With the abuse I put my body through that day, I decided that the best move would be to take a slow and simple route back to my car at Pine Creek. Fourth Recess one night, up and over Mono Pass to Gem Lakes the next, and then out via Morgan Pass a few days ahead of schedule. Fourth Recess was beautiful, if a bit crowded and smokey; I ended up perching on a small rock just off the shoreline and watching the sunset while slowly trying to make up for lost calories. The next day when I went up over Mono Pass, however, was when I realized my route out might not end up being as simple as I had hoped. I started chatting with a group of five day hikers while eating lunch at the top of the pass, and when I mentioned my plans, they informed me that the route down to the Pine Creek TH from Morgan Pass was described as "extremely hazardous" as a result of a washout a couple years back at the bulletin board for the Mosquito Flats TH. At that point, however, I couldn't really modify my route as there was no other way to hike to the Pine Creek TH. They offered to drive me to the nearby shop from the Mosquito Flats TH so that I could call and get more complete information, even potentially driving me all the way to the 395 so that I could just hitchhike back to my car. Again, however, I managed to get lucky: It was only Sunday afternoon and they were leaving Tuesday morning. I could camp at Gem Lakes as planned, attempt to get down via Morgan Pass on Monday, and should that end up failing, if I could get back up over Morgan and down to their campsite by 9:30am Tuesday, I had a way back to my car.
Let's just say that I ended up taking them up on their offer,