Not to give away the story before I even tell it, but, let just say, I survived and won’t be trying that again anytime soon. I’ve managed to get that out of my system and recover, both physically and mentally, from the whole experience. So much so, that I’m ready to start plotting the next big adventure. But before I tell you what I’m thinking about for the next big adventure, let me tell you about the day hike that turned into four long, grueling, stunningly beautiful days, filled with thousands of “Oh my God!” and probably just as many ” Oh, F***!”.
June 6th had been on the calendar for months as the day I would attempt to summit Mt. Whitney in 24 hours. The plan was to summit via the Mt. Whitney Portal trail and to get started at the nice unholy hour of 2am. Thinking, conservatively, that it would take me about eight hours to get to the top and maybe about six hours to get back to the Subi. Oh, what a glorious plan! I still think about it fondly, for I would never have freaked out and starting crying at 13,600+ feet, had I stuck with it. But, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and boy did mine get off track.
It all started with me saying yes to an invitation to hike in via Cottonwood Pass and to summit the Western side of Whitney. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought to myself, we’ll hike in, camp, hike some more, summit Whitney, and then I’ll hike back out on the 6th just like originally planned. “It’ll be great” were my famous last words as I headed out of LA and up to the Eastern Sierra’s on a Thursday evening.
Lexi and I arrived at the campsite after 10pm. She was going to be spending a couple of days my friend, Johnnie’s dad while we hiked and hiked…and hiked. The following morning we got up bright and early, watched the sun illuminate the adventure before us, and ate the world’s best Strawberry Turnover from Schatt’s in Bishop, CA. We dropped the Subi off at Whitney Portal, drove over to the ranger station to pick up my permit, and then we headed out to the Cottonwood trail head. We got to the trail head a little after 10 and said our good byes. Seriously, hiking without Lexi is really hard. She goes everywhere with me and the thought of her not leading the way down the trail ahead of us made me incredibly sad.
Off we went. The temps were perfect. The trail was nicely maintained. The scenery was beautiful. Pretty much everything you could ask for. The trail started to climb as we made our way to Chicken Spring Lake where we were planning on stopping to have some lunch before hiking on. We settled in to a nice spot near the lake and were joined by a couple of PCT hikers. We chatted, ate lunch, and took in our surroundings. We were blessed with a yellow bellied marmot sighting. It made me feel like I was officially in the Sierra’s. Oh, and I amazing Marmot radar. I can spot the little guys from a mile away. Anyway, we packed up and pushed on eager to get on with our hike.
The rest of the day went smoothly, albeit slowly. We passed a rancher with a train of horses. Ah, the smell of horses and pine trees. Is there anything more comforting? We hiked and hiked and then hiked some more. We stopped to rest several times as the trail was getting more and more difficult, as in sandy, rocky, and filled with giant steps that took the whind out of my sails. The surrounding vistas though put the wind right back in my sails. The effort and reward on this first day was totally worth it.
The sun started to set as we started to make our way to Rock Creek. This wasn’t as far as we had hoped to hike that day but with nightfall approaching and the altitude was starting to catch up with me. We made our way to Rock Creek to set up camp and put all of our food into the bear box. I really didn’t need a bear visit on this trip. It was bad enough when we were at Convict Lake. No need to repeat that in the back country.
The following morning, we made breakfast, filled up our water bottles, and got a later start than hoped. The creek was just way too peaceful and the light dinner from the night before had left me starving for breakfast. Also, the two mile uphill hike from the creek was not something I was looking forward to. I know there are some crazy people out there who like to start out with an uphill and most of the time I’m one of those crazy people. But, that Saturday morning, after eating a big breakfast, the thought of the uphill made me a little queasy and for good reason, for as we hiked, up and up and up, I kept thinking, I really hope I don’t see my breakfast again.
Things started to get better after that, at least for a while. We hiked on and spent the day chatting about everything under the sun. The views were incredible and kept getting more and more amazing the further we hiked. There were some clouds rolling in and they only added to the overall beauty and drama of what was surrounding us. Mind you, the clouds also brought with them some snow flurries and rain. Out came the rain gear and then came several miles of serious hiking where about all I saw was the trail directly in front of my feet in order to keep the rain and snow out of my face. This did not deter us.
Eventually we came upon a Crabtree Meadow and I just about died! he meadow was covered in low clouds and everything had a softness to it that made me want to stop for the day, pitch the tent, make a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate, and just lay in my sleeping bag watching the deer, marmots, birds, and passing storm clouds. Instead though, we stopped for a few photos (I may have taken like 100 pictures of the world’s cutest marmot) and continued to push on. As we hiked we talked about how incredible this place was, how stunningly beautiful, and how fortunate we were to be there. We may have also talked about the weather and the difficulty of the hike a lot too, but the memory of that meadow has lived on in my mind for the last few weeks. It was indescribably amazing!
For the next mile or two we hiked along a creek filled with trout and surrounded by spring green grass and beautifully tall pines. To say it was idyllic, even if we were hiking in snow and rain, might sound like I was beginning to hallucinate but I swear I wasn’t. I was however already starting to day dream about hamburgers as the Hiker Hunger was starting to set in (this is why I would make a terrible thru-hiker, I love food far too much to restrict myself for six months). Sorry to digress but I would spend the next few days day dreaming about the burger and really all foods.
Anyway, we hiked and hiked and eventually make it to the first of a series of lakes that we would pass in order to reach the semi-base of Mt. Whitney. Timberline Lake was by far my most favorite lake on this whole trip. Had it not been for the fact that camping is not allowed I would have lain down on the wet earth and refused to go any further. This was as close to heaven on year as one could imagine. I may have commented on its beauty more than once while we were standing along it’s shoreline. Photos taken in the rain do not do it justice. Not at all. I could easily spend the rest of my life next to a lake like this and never venture further than the nearest grocery store. It was amazing, beautiful, incredible, you name it! I was in love!
We had yet to reach our destination for the night, so we kept on hiking, and hiking, and hiking. We hiked several more miles up to Guitar Lake. But this point all of the uphill portions we had been hiking that day started to feel like one giant uphill. I started to forget any downhills or flat portions of the trail. At this point as far as I was concerned all we had done that day was hike up, and up, and up, and up. When was this going to end? My feet were getting tired and sore. I was ready to call it a day. I was ready for dinner and my warm sleeping bag. But, we kept going. Finally arriving at Guitar Lake and pitching our tent, we ate some snacks, watched some marmots run around, and slowly watch the storm clouds break apart. Thankfully, there was no wind (making the tent easy to get up) and the surface of the lake was smooth as glass except for the occasional trout jumping. While Johnnie attempted to build a fire I purified water and filled all of our bottles for the following morning. The following morning we would set out to summit the back side of Whitney. We were looking at approximately 4,000 ft in 4 miles and we were now a day behind schedule. But, I blissfully thought that I would be back to the Subi in less than 24 hours and back with Lexi shortly after. Oh, how foolish was I?
We never got the stove to light so that evenings dinner was not exactly what I had been dreaming about for the last 10 miles. Yet, not all was lost. I took a wander over to the west and was rewarded with a gorgeous sunset. Besides a few other hikers we were alone in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life. The magnitude of the Sierra’s is astounding. You look out across vast expanses and there is not a light to be seen. No houses, no cars, not sell phone towers, nothing. Nothing but you and nature. And maybe bears. But thankfully, you have a bear canister and you hide all of of your food so as not to be awoken by the bear in the middle of the night trying to get at your jerky or your nutter butters.
With that, I’m going to leave you, and follow up with Part 2 shortly. Part 2 has a couple of episodes of yours truly crying and creating a profanity for just about every trail condition imaginable. Plus, a very happy ending because I am still alive and so is everyone else.