Camping: Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station 1.3 miles from PCT mile 767
My alarm went off at midnight, and I felt like I could get up if I wanted to. It was nice and warm in my tent, but when I reached outside to feel the temperature of the outside, the cold air stung my fingers. I contemplated my options, and how badly I really wanted to see the sunrise. Ultimately, I decided to stay in my warm cocoon, but if I wasn’t asleep in 20 minutes, I’d get up and tackle the sunrise.
Five hours later, I was feeling ambitious enough to greet the day. The sun had barely started to rise, and the air was still chilled. I set about making coffee and packing my bag for a day hike. How wonderful to only carry what I need for a day, as opposed to the typical weight of my pack. It barely felt like I had a pack on at all as I set out to climb the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.
The morning was cool but not cold, and the lighting was beautiful so early in the morning. I was approaching Whitney from the west, so the sunlight took hours to come out in full force. The moon remained near full in the sky, hanging by the flanks of hillsides getting their first bath of morning light. It was a picturesque morning, and the alpine lakes reflected the beauty as I passed by them.
The climb started out fairly easy, gently switching back and forth against the side of the mountain. The elevation gain became apparent quickly though, as I had to take my time and rest often when I became short of breath. I’d never been above 12000 ft, and I was headed up to 14,500 today. It really is no joke, losing oxygen at that rate. I feel it mostly in my head, but my body inadvertently succumbs by moving more slowly. I was in no hurry though, so taking my time to stop and enjoy the views was no problem.
On my way up, I passed McButter who was on his way down. He had gone up for sunrise, and said it wasn’t worth it. He spent the whole time shivering in his sleeping bag, and he said it wasn’t that spectacular. This made me feel better, though I hadn’t any regrets about skipping it. We chatted a bit longer, and I continued my journey upward. After a junction just 1.9 miles to the top, there were a few patches of snow to navigate. That early in the morning, it is still crunchy and doesn’t pose much of a hazard, so I made it through smoothly. On one of the last passes of snow I ran into another hiker. I asked her name, and it was Pathfinder! I’d been reading her blog before I left, and inquired how I could have possibly caught up to her. Apparently, she had been off trail for 3 weeks with bronchitis…but now she’s climbing Whitney! We ended up summitting together in the bitter cold wind that greeted us at the top. It was hard to take, so we immediately sought refuge in the shelter at the summit before taking in the splendor and rejoicing that we’d made it to the top. I was a bit light headed, so I drank some water and snacked while talking with other hikers.
Eventually, we all scrounged up enough bravery to exit the shelter and take some pictures. Our hands froze as we took turns playing photographer, and the wind whipped unapologetically. We didn’t spend a lot of time up there, as our hands were going numb, and it was quite uncomfortable. The redeeming factor of it all was that I had climbed Mt. Whitney! The views were epic, and I felt on top of the world! Also, I have officially broken every one of my hiking records on this trip, and that is an incredible feeling!
This feeling of accomplishment carried me down the mountain with ease. We passed several day hikers who all looked miserable, as well as a couple more PCTers who were better acclimated. We stayed bundled up for the entire descent, as the wind had kept up its chilling gusts. I passed a PCTer on his way up, and he commented on how bundled I was. I explained the weather to him, and he proceeded in shorts, assuring me he was carrying warmer clothes in his pack. I hoped so for his sake!
After I got below treeline I was feeling pretty weak. I had a slight headache and some pretty harsh hunger pangs. I sat for a moment eating the last of the day’s allotted snacks and drinking my water. While I was laying there, Moonshine appeared! He’s a friend I’ve been hiking around since early on who hiked last year, and is doing it again! He’s only 19 years old too! His plan is to hike up tonight for sunset, sleep in the hut and also watch the sunrise. Ambitious young lad. I warned him of the cold, but he didn’t seem to mind. We bid each other a safe journey and went our separate ways.
When I arrived back at camp, I was spent! I laid down in my tent for a siesta, as that was all I could manage. 30 minutes later, I felt a tad more human, though was definitely feeling the effects of the altitude. I had a headache and was having minor bouts of nausea. I descended too quickly, but didn’t have much option with that cold wind persisting all day. I started to filter some water for dinner when I spotted a familiar figure across camp, “Hugs!” I shouted. “Dust Bunny!” She shouted, and soon she, Pockets and I were all hugging, happily reunited.
Pockets had just caught some fish and was going to cook them up, and I was ready to boil water for soup. We all sat in the meadow for dinner and were joined by Pathfinder and Don’t Panic (DP). He is the one I’d seen in shorts earlier, a triple crowner (he’s done the AT, CDT and PCT) who is hiking the PCT a second time. We all laid about the meadow eating and giggling for hours. We even found ourselves following sun puddles across the grass, as the shade was cold at this elevation (10,652 ft). This we found humorous after a month and a half of chasing shade in the desert.
The ladies plan to summit tomorrow, while Pathfinder and I have the easy goal of about 9 miles to get close to the approach for Forester Pass. It’s a 13,000 ft pass where we will have to navigate snow. It is recommended to do it before 11am while the snow is still crunchy, so we will get close tomorrow in order to go over the following morning. It is the first of several passes we will negotiate in the Sierra, a task that will surely amplify our fitness levels and altitude tolerances.
With that, it is quite cold, so it is time to snuggle into my sleeping bag with my book (The Great Gatsby). Goodnight.