Day 63: Challenge Accepted

Date: June 11, 2017
Miles: 775.2 – 787 

“We signed up for this.” ~ Shortcut

The last three days I’ve experienced some of the most difficult, exhilarating, and nerve-racking moments that I can remember having in a long while, with the summiting of Mt. Whitney (the tallest mountain in the lower 48), fording the rapids of White Creek, miles of snow travel, and today’s crossing of Forester Pass, which is the highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet. 

The Pass.

We left camp at 4 am and made our way across nearly 5 miles of frozen sun cups until we reached a point below the Pass at which we had to climb a steep wall of snow (the trail switchbacks were buried somewhere underneath) and then step our way across a ledge cut in to the cornice near the top of the pass. One misstep on the ledge could have meant a long slide down the icy chute. I was nervous for John since he lost one of his microspikes somewhere on the trail yesterday and so was climbing with just the one he had left. I was also nervous for myself since I have a healthy fear of heights. My legs were shaking pretty badly by the time I crossed to the other side and I couldn’t stop breathing hard for a few minutes. It was amazing. 

Matthew crossing the chute.

After the pass, we descended into Kings Canyon National Park and walked in between the Kearsarge Pinnacles and a raging Bubbs Creek. The sights of the walls of rock shooting up on either side of us and the water cascading rapidly over smooth slabs and waterfall chutes was what I pictured in my mind when I thought about going through the Sierras. The snow has added an exhausting element to that image…I would like to come back when the trail is clear so I can really experience this place without having to give it so much energy. 

We reached Vidette Meadow (more of a swamp at this time of year) and decided to stop and camp since we didn’t like the look of some gray clouds building to the west of us and we didn’t want to do the following 1000 foot climb and be stuck in a snowstorm. Connor got a fire going and we were able to dry out our shoes for the first time in days. The wind picked up and we all retreated to our tents at about 5:30 pm to escape the cold. I didn’t mind…it gave me a little time to myself to actually read a little before my sore body and falling eyelids decided it was time for sleep. 

Starting out.

A sunrise selfie.
l-r: Roi, Matthew, Connor, Katie, John, me.
A celebratory granola bar.

Heading down the other side.
Thank goodness for logs.

Blowdown and avalanche damage.
Finally! Camp!

Day 62: God Willing And The Creeks Don’t Rise

Date: June 10, 2017
Miles: Whitney Trail Mile .8 to 775.2 

“We’ve gone from melted snickers to frozen snickers. I don’t feel like there was ever an in-between.” ~ Strongback 

We slept in until 6 this morning to recover a bit from yesterday, then we packed up and headed out. The first ford of the day was Wallace Creek, which was cold! 

John, taking his turn.

This was where I learned that the Altra boots I had purchased in Lone Pine were, in addition to being the opposite of waterproof, actually really good at keeping water soaked in to the cushy lining of the boot no matter what I tried to get it out. Likewise, the neoprene socks I thought I’d try for post-water crossings were only waterproof for two seconds, but they did do a good job of keeping my feet warm in the wet boots. 

Matthew found out his shoes were crap after this as well.

Keeping with the Sierra theme, we spent more time hiking through more snow, and then group forded Wright creek, which was terrifying. I don’t have any pictures because we all went across in a line, linked arm in arm so no one would get swept away by the fast moving rapids. We all made it, the only casualty being John’s sunglasses. We caught our collective breath, dried out a bit and then slogged through a slush covered Bighorn Plateau until we hit Tyndall Creek. The creek was already a fast-moving river with walls of snow on either side, making it impossible to find good ingress and egress points for a while. We had to walk about a mile upriver until we found an intact snow bridge we could cross. From the looks of it and the upcoming heat wave, it won’t be there much longer.  

We camped on a dry patch of rocky ground just past the crossing and readied ourselves for the next day’s Forester Pass crossing by eating a lot and crashing. Should be exciting!

Snow baseball!

Miles and miles of this.

Trying to avoid the sun from all angles.

I feel like this tree was saying, ‘hey, so you guys are hiking the PCT, huh? Has anyone told you you’re gonna die out here?’

Pusheen is still truckin’…

Day 61: On Top Of The Lower 48

Date: June 9, 2017
Miles: Guitar Lake to summit of Mt. Whitney, then back to mile .8 on Mt. Whitney Trail. 

* Warning – there is one definitely NSFW pic in this post. But it’s funny. *

I slept horribly last night. I don’t know if it was the anticipation of the Mt. Whitney climb today or the elevation. I should have slept well…I was in the most comfortable, warm spot in my quilt and I was exhausted from yesterday’s hike. But I tossed and turned until 3 am, when I got up and got ready to leave camp at 4. Despite not sleeping, though, I felt good.

 The first couple hours of the hike was on consolidated snow under a full moon. 

The rest of the climb was a temperate grade, with some scrambling and a couple snow patches, up to a very windy summit at 14,505 feet.  

We stayed on the summit long enough for Roi and Connor to have their picture taken triumphantly au natural and then we quickly headed back down the mountain to get out of the constant wind. 

The girl sitting by the hut got more of a view than she expected today!

We had nap time at camp, then packed up and headed a few miles toward the PCT to camp near the creek by the Crabtree Meadow Ranger station.  

Katie finally got the trail name Shortcut because of her affinity for cutting switchbacks and for finding a more straightforward way of getting from point A to B. As we rehydrated our dinners, we talked about all of the high fat foods with which we could try to put some weight on our bones again…honey buns with butter on them came out as a clear favorite and we all swore we would fill our bear cans with those the next time we resupplied. Food is a frequent topic of conversation, especially this week when we’re all burning so many more calories and feeling hunger pangs most of the day. 

We all went to bed at 6:45 pm to the sound of a helicopter circling through the Meadow several times, hoping it was a training exercise and not a search and rescue.  (Note: We heard a few days later that the helicopter was there to pick up our friend Gummies who developed pulmonary edema from the altitude. He has since recovered, for which I am grateful. It’s also a good example of why hikers should carry locator beacons like the Spot or the InReach…it’s a good thing he did!) 

The summit of Mt. Whitney.