Mile 759.5-766.3 (5.8 +17.4)
Barking Spider here again. I’ll be taking over the blog this week.
Last night’s campsite was a little warmer than usual so we were able to get out of our sleeping bags early for a change. We were packed up and headed down the trail at 7am, a Sierra best.
The morning went by quickly. At 10am we found ourselves at the junction for Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet. It’s not part of the PCT, but it’s just 8.7 miles down a side trail to the peak. We were excited for the challenge.
We ate an early lunch by a bear box next to a meadow with a stream running through. We put what we needed for today’s hike in my pack and stashed everything else in the bear box. At 11:00 we were headed for Mt. Whitney.
The trail was very wet at first. Snow melt had the streams raging and even turned the trail into a stream at times. There were occasional snow heaps for the first 3 miles, then we reached a big snowfield and knew there was only snow the rest of the way.
We strapped on our micro spikes and started hiking past some small alpine lakes. The area opened up here and we found ourselves surrounded by magnificent cliffs and mountains. The area was just out of this world stunning.
We walked around Guitar Lake and said hello to all the marmots scurrying around. Then we got to the base of Mt. Whitney and things started to get steep. With everything covered in snow, the trail is a little ambiguous. We followed the numerous hiker tracks which led us straight up the mountain. The going was very tough until we found the trail and got to switch backing up the mountain.
The hiking was still challenging. The switch backs kept passing through these huge steep snow drifts that we had to continue across. Even though the steep snow drifts could have warranted the use of our ice axes, we had no problems and opted to leave them as dead weight on my pack.
We finally made it to the top of the switchbacks and had a hair raising mile or more on thin trail hugging jagged cliffs. The air had also gotten thin as we were over 13,500 feet at this point. We felt this most acutely in the final climb which was just another steep wall of snow. We had to stop and catch our breath every 20 feet.
Near the summit, the snow gave way to a less steep field of rocks and we saw the old stone cabin and knew we had reached the top. It was 3:40pm which was just twenty minutes before our set turn around time of 4pm. It was the hardest climb either of us had ever done. We took pictures and signed the register. We had a bite to eat which we both regretted. The combination of altitude and extreme workout had us nauseous. I felt I might yak the whole way down.
It was freezing and we had only just enough daylight to make it back to camp, so we headed down. There was snow coming in sideways for the first couple miles down, but then it cleared up and we were treated with world class views.
We were both knackered at this point but had to go and so we went. The switch backs and the snow fields were a lot kinder going down. We got back to camp with the setting sun and plenty of light left to set up camp.