No Really, The Top

Since the Mount Whitney climb used a single trail out and back, we did something different and left our campsite set up.  It was great to have significantly lighter packs for the climb.  A bit too light.

It was a cold, clear morning, so we packed our packs and started moving, waiting an hour or so before we found a rock in the sun to sit on and have our breakfast. 

The weather was great, without a hint of a cloud.  We were expecting an early afternoon summit, which on most days would be worrisome, as there isn’t any shelter from the afternoon thunderstorms that are common this time of year.

Another hour or so up the trail, I had an odd thought.  I didn’t remember attaching our SPOT to my pack, but knowing I set it out for our morning check-in. 

Our SPOT is a GPS messenging device that lets us send preformatted text messages to specific people letting them know when we are leaving camp for the day and when we arrive in the evening, including location. Most importantly, it has an SOS function for us to call in emergency help if we need it.

Jennifer confirmed that it wasn’t attached to my pack.

Insert expletives here.

A lot of expletives.

We were almost to Guitar Lake, some 3.5 miles from camp.

A quick discussion of options led us to the conclusion that the SPOT was too important to leave out all day and hope it was there when we returned.  The mosquito netting that was attached to it?  Sure.  But the SPOT is too expensive and would be a logistical nightmare to replace.

So we set Jen up in the shade of one of the few trees left as we had just crossed the timberline.

Unencumbered by my pack, I took off down trail back to camp.

Not wanting to push myself too hard, considering the climb we still had to do, I jogged the flat spots and walked the up- and down-hills.  There were too many granite ball bearings of various sizes to risk a slip, a fall, a twisted ankle or worse.

Two hours later, I was sitting next to Jen, sipping water and attaching the SPOT to my pack.

As to my preference for terrain, it took me 58 minutes to get down to camp.  The return trip, including the 1,125′ of elevation gain back to 11,350?  The same 58 minutes.

After a few sips of water, we loaded up and resumed our ascent.  I grabbed a couple of bites of snacks at a nearby water stop, ignoring the fact that it was lunch time.

We pressed onward and upward.  Here is the approach. We’re actually at the base of Mount Whitney, but hiking southeast away from the mountain for an easier approach.

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Not long after, we met a young man who asked if we were going to the top.  We said yes and he laughed.

“Man, you have a long way to go”.

Jerk.

Climbing the switchbacks, we met other thru-hikers on their way down. A few were concerned that we wouldn’t have time, but we kept at it.

One that we met a couple of weeks ago turned around before the top.  He was freaked out by the conditions on the near approach to the summit.

Views from the switchbacks:

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By mid-afternoon we were at the top of the steep switchbacks, a spot where our trail met the trail coming up from the other side of the mountain. From there a trail ran along the ridgelines over to Mount Whitney. Only 2 miles with modest elevation gain.

Easy.

That 2 miles took 2 hours.

We figured out why the one hiker turned around. There were some very sketchy sections of slippery, slushy snow covering the trail, sometimes feet deep, sometimes leading to a very long fall off the mountain.

A not so sketchy part.  That’s Jen in the center. The summit of Mount Whitney is upper left.

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Every once in a while we could see through to the east side, down into the valley far below and the desert mountains in the distance. Even a still-frozen lake or two.

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Nearing the summit and still slogging through deep slushy snow, my decisions to not eat lunch were catching up with me.  I sat and inhaled some food while talking to the people descending.  Plenty of words of encouragement from them as we were almost there.

Plus the nice input of “plenty of snow still ahead, but no more fear of loss”.  That was heartening.

Then we were at the summit.  All by ourselves. Because we arrived so late in the day, at 4:30 pm, not a single other person was on the summit. It was glorious!

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We took pictures, celebrated reaching the summit on Jen’s birthday and ate more food. The weather was perfect, with barely a puff of a breeze, and warm enough that we didn’t need jackets.

As we we prepared to leave, a sole hiker came over the edge.  We cheered her arrival as she explained how scared she was coming up and needed to hurry to get down.  After pics, she exclaimed “if you hear about a dead British tourist up here, you know it was me.

We left the summit promptly at 5pm, giving us over three hours before sunset to get through the sketchy snow parts.  It actually turned out that it was plenty of time to get back down to the stream feeding Guitar Lake, where we had left 8 hours prior. 

The only scare was when Jen slipped and fell.  We each walked very gingerly for a few minutes.

Any guesses where Guitar Lake got its name?

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After that it was a headlamp lit hike through the forest, arriving back at camp at 10:15 pm, 16 hours after we left and the latest by far that we had arrived at camp.  Thankfully the tent and bags were already set up, so after a quick dinner, we were out cold.

My body hadn’t felt that destroyed in a few years.  I actually miss that feeling.

As for Jennifer, she was beat, but not so much to not say – “OK, that was also a bit out of my comfort zone”.

Day 66 – 17 + Bill’s 7 / 766

After the late night, we slept in, knowing that we had a short day.  It would be short only because our next challenge, Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT, was 14 miles away. 

Had we wanted to get over the pass, we would have had to get up at our normal time, push to reach the bottom of the pass by mid-afternoon, get over the pass, then a couple of miles past it to the first tentsites.  Not likely, considering our effort of the day before.

Waking up when the sun had been up a few hours was a treat.  As was watching the mother marmot and her trio of pups hopping around the rocks and trees nearby.

Taking advantage of the stream and our distance from the trail, we both enjoyed a good rinsing of dirt and funk.  That was our first chance to do that on this trail. The water was brisk, but refreshing.

Once we hit the trail, it was just miles of scenery.

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Our dining room view.

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Day 67 – 9 / 775

Please helps us help the PCT Association as they work to protect and maintain this precious resource: http://tinyurl.com/le5cu9j

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