Day 44 – 6/4/16
Crabtree Meadows 766.3
Total miles: 17.4
1 am came quickly and I put my down jacket, rain jacket, microspikes, ice ace, gloves, water bottles, and some food in my pack and left everything else in my tent. 5 Star didn’t want to do Whitney so he would stay to guard my tent from marmots.
I set off just before 1:30 on the 8.7 mile trail. In pitch black. No moon at all tonight. Just a headlamp and the stars to guide my way.
There are two side trails to Mt Whitney. One is the lower Whitney spur trail which I am on and another that is a mile further that is part of the John Muir Trail. The two meet up within a mile. After about half a mile on trail I was on I came to a creek crossing. I couldn’t find a way across without getting my feet wet. I was not about to get my feet and shoes soaked by the just above freezing water and then hike all the way to Whitney with cold soaked feet. I looked at my Guthook app and saw the other trail was just above me. Maybe 300 north but about 50 feet uphill. I started climbing up the side of the mountain and started heading to where I thought the trail was. I checked the app again and it showed me in between the two trails and paralleling them in the opposite direction I wanted to go! What the heck? How did I get so turned around? I tried using the app to get me on to the other trail but it wasn’t updating my position correctly so I put my watch on and used the compass. Finally after wandering around lost I got to the trail after 20 minutes.
Happy to be back on the trail I continued on, after a brief scare from a large buck’s glowing green eyes. I came up to the junction of the two trails and was on the one trail to Whitney. The trail was flooded from the snow melting and running down onto the trail. Still not wanting to get my feet wet I hopped on rocks and mounds of dry grass.
Then the trail disappeared. From about mile 3 and all the way up to the top there were snow fields. Using my headlamp I could see foot prints in the snow from people hiking back the prior day when the snow was soft. I saw lots of deep post holing. The snow was solid for me since it refreezes at night. Hard snow is much easier to walk on compared to mushy snow that gives under your weight. I put on my microspikes and started across the snow. Looking for foot prints and checking my navigation app constantly.
I started getting closer to the switchbacks that would lead me to the top. I kept checking my app but it wasn’t updating for some reason and the app would crash. I kept walking and following the foot prints. Finally the app updated my position and I was below the switchbacks. They were 100 feet above me. Ugh… I looked up trying to see if I could make out the trail above me but it was too dark. I didn’t want to go back so I tried going straight up the snow and rocks. The elevation, 11,300 feet, was tiring me out and I had to take several breaks sitting on large rocks before I reached a 10 foot section of rocks I had to climb straight up and over. I climbed over it and there was the trail. Flooded with water from the snow up above.
The switchbacks were covered in snow. The snow would cover the trail and I would have to traverse across the snow that was at a steep angle. The microspikes worked amazing. They really help with traction. I kept going up the switchbacks and traversing across where the snow covered the thin trail. Climbing slowly.
At 12,000 feet I was getting nervous. I still had another 2,500 feet to climb and I was worried I would get a headache or nausea from the altitude. The highest I’ve ever been is about 12,200 in Arizona and I was feeling terrible above 11,500. By the time I got back down I had a splitting headache and felt sick. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it to the top and if I couldn’t make above 13,200 I would struggle with Forester Pass in a couple days.
I pressed on. Taking one switchback at a time. I reached the junction where people can come from the east side of Whitney as opposed to the West side. These are day hikers and it requires a permit. My PCT permit covers my ascent but I would need another if I wanted to descend Whitney on the east side. The junction is a little over 13,000 feet and there is still 2 miles left to climb another 1,500 feet.
The snow on the trail is almost at a constant by this point. I also have missed my sunrise at the top. The sun had started to rise on the last couple switch backs. Oh well, still had an amazing view. I could finally see what I had been walking through in the dark.
About half a mile past the junction I sit down and look back and see about 8 people coming up from the junction. I continue on and notice 3 people ahead of me in the distance moving slowly. I catch up to them and they are three day hikers. I tell them I came up the other side from Crabtree Meadows. One of them asks how I got there since there is no road out anything. I tell him I walked there from Mexico. He looked at me funny and I had to tell him I was hiking the PCT.
By this point the trail is just snow and I have to traverse across the side of the mountain until the top dips down enough to get over so I can reach the actual top.
The top is covered in large flat rocks. Walking on the rocks with microspikes is not very comfortable. I can see the top and the stone hutt. It’s only 100 yards away and a 50 foot climb. Yet, it feels miles away. I have to sit several times to catch my breath after walking 50 feet.
Finally, I reach the top. The sign says 14,498.811 but it is now actually 14,505 feet. I’m standing at the highest point of the continental 48 States. The view is amazing. Simply amazing. I have a little moment and tear up. I can’t believe I’m out here. I can’t believe I’m standing on this mountain. I’ve dreamed about this for a decade and thought non stop about the Sierra Nevada, Whitney, and the whole PCT for a year. Being up on that mountain was an emotional moment for me. I think it was the realization that I followed through with a dream of mine and that conquering this mountain was a real accomplishment. One of the best moments of my life. Even after getting back to camp and thinking about what i just did and while writing this I tear up. Just an amazing feeling to be truly happy. Something I have struggled with.
I take a few pictures and start to descend. It is cold and windy at the top. Sitting still for more than 5 minutes would cause my body to start shaking. The descent is much easier. I move quickly down the mountain and pass a few groups of people. I pass a hiker that I call Wideload since he has to cut a hole in his shoes for his pinky toe. He has the same shoe as me and these are some of the widest trail runners. He must have really wide feet!
I savor the views as I make my way down. By the time I reach the snow fields leading up to the switchbacks it is around 9:30 and the snow is starting to soften. I’m starting to fall through the snow every once in awhile. I reach Guitar Lake and and 4 people are just starting to go up. They are in for a long miserable hike up and back down. I reach a rocky part and take off my microspikes completely forgetting that there is more snow up ahead. The snow started forming sun cups which is where the snow melts forming these little cups or bowls all over the place. It makes it very hard to walk on and I start slipping while trying to eat my Cheez-its. Doesn’t the snow know I’m hungry?
I make my way past the snow and continue the last couple miles back to camp. I decide to just cross the creek I avoided earlier since I would have all day to dry my socks and shoes. As I walk up to camp I see 5 Star and I raise my hands and trekking pole over my head in a sign of victory. I tell him about my day and get down to some eating.
I spent the rest of my day lounging about, talking to other hikers that pass by, and throwing rocks at the squirrels who get brave and get to near. They will chew threw my tent to get to any food I have. Little jerks. Also, watched marmots hang out on turd rock.
Today was something else. I will remember this day for the rest of my life. The best part is in two days I go over Forester Pass, the high point on the PCT at 13,200 feet. I expect it to be just as amazing. All the pains, trail food, annoying hikers, uphill climbs, bear can, and mosquitoes are worth it to experience the Sierra Nevada.