Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 49 - Mt. Whitney Sunrise!

June 12-13, 2012
Day 48-49
Miles: 14 (+18 on Whitney Spur Trail)
Total Miles: 770

Sun rising on top of Whitney

I will forever remember summiting Mt. Whitney - absolutely amazing!  

On June 12 I hiked to Crabtree Meadows and the spur trail that leads to the top of Whitney.  Another mile up the spur trail leads to the Ranger Station and Upper Crabtree Meadows.  After several solo days it was great to see so many familiar faces at the meadow - some had hiked to the top already and were resting before moving on.  Others were preparing to summit the following day.  I made plans to do a sunrise summit with a group of other hikers that I had the privilege of suffering through many desert hikes with.  The plan:  crawl into my tent at 6 PM, wake up at midnight and hike up 4,000+ feet of elevation to the top of Whitney - in the dark.  The afternoon was relaxing - washing laundry in the river, watching a marmot dance in the meadow and bask in the sun, and eating Annie's shells and cheese dinner.  I learned that others were camped three miles up the trail at Guitar Lake - I would likely see them tomorrow at the top.

Fairway set the pace for the first 4 miles.  At 12:45 AM we met by the river with our slimmed-down packs:  only down jacket, gloves, hat, long-underwear and camera.  The rest of my gear was stowed in my tent in the trees next to the meadow.  Breakfast was cold oatmeal with dried fruit out of a zip-lok bag, and a Cliff Bar.  Yankee Son, Fairway and I made our way up mostly gentle inclines for the first few miles at a blistering pace.  Fairway led and Yankee Son and I kept up through the dark - headlamps flashing this way and that to keep us on the right trail.  The gloves and hat soon came off as the effort of hiking heated my body up despite the cooling night air.  Water was flowing and swishing all around us and trees disappeared - we must be passing Guitar Lake and it's river inflows and outflows.  Guitar Lake is above the tree line so though we could not see it, we knew we were passing it in the dark.  

Then the switchbacks started.  We were climbing now, steeper and rockier than before.  Fairway was pushing too hard and I had to pause for a breath and a moment of rest.  I let them hike on at a corner of one of the switchbacks and I was happy to catch my breath.  Behind me I heard a shuffling but no light - shining my headlamp back I saw Wasabi approach in the dark.  Her lamp had run low on batteries and she was feeling her way up the switchbacks in near darkness!  I told her to follow me and we made our way slowly up the rocky path - her following close behind.  

The climb was brutal the rest of the way - often climbing between rock cliffs and several times traversing over or near snow fields.  Wasabi was struggling to see the trail and was going to give up and sit on the trail wrapped in her sleeping bag.  I suggested she walk in front of me so that my light could illuminate the ground for both of us.  This worked beautifully and we trudged on.  The air grew cold and every time we stopped, we chilled to the bone.  At one point she exclaimed "why did I ever think it was a good idea to climb this silly mountain" in her thick New Zealand accent.  I knew what she meant and at that moment I was tired and miserable and couldn't help but agree.

But soon the trail began to level and we knew what that meant.  We were close!  Wasabi checked her altimeter and it read 14,000 ft - only 500 feet to the top!  A hut appeared in the distance - built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the '30's.  Shadows up ahead were moving and voices echoing off the rocks.  We arrived at the top of the continental United States at 4:40 AM, at an altitude of 14,491 ft.  The cold was bitter as we bundled into all layers of clothing, and sleeping bags if we had them, and waited for the sun to make an appearance.  Bronco shared his sleeping bag with me as I had failed to consider it would be this cold on Whitney's summit.  

Soon though, the light began to illuminate the mountain peaks in the east and cast a dark shadow to the west - it was Mt. Whitney's shadow on the mountains.  Amazing views started to fill in around all sides of the peak.  

Yankee Son & Hallmark staying warm

The Views!

Capturing the perfect shot

Happy to be at the top of the world!

self-portrait descending Whitney

Ben waiting for me at Guitar Lake

The hike down was gorgeous now that I could see the views.  I passed Siddartha, Threshold and Ben on the way back.  Others were also climbing to the peak as I was coming down.  I arrived at my tent at Crabtree at 10 AM and jumped in my tent for a three hour nap.  

That evening I hiked out of Crabtree Meadows at 5 PM - Fairway, Yankee Son and the rest of the group had already hiked on.  Where-as yesterday the meadow was bustling with hikers, today I woke up to just one hiker remaining - he had an injured ankle and was resting.  Hikers often come in waves and this was the case today.  I hiked the 2 miles back down to the PCT on the Whitney Spur trail and hiked on for four miles to Willow Creek.  Threshold and Denise (a section hiker) were camped already and Siddhartha wandered in later that night and camped with us.  We had a "tea party" amid the swarming mosquitoes and then settled in for the night. 


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PCT Northern Terminus

PCT Northern Terminus
On September 30, 2012 I reached the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thanks to everybody who supported and followed my journey. It was a life-changing experience!