May 26 – We end up staying two days in the overpriced town of Lone Pine waiting out the storm that was brewing in the Sierra’s. Snow is still forecast for the next three days but after breakfast we decided to head out not wanting to spend any more time or money in town. We get a ride with MC Hobo, a hiker Rebo knew from last year. Him, St. Nick, Wonder Woman, Scrapbook, Shepard, and myself all cram in his car for the hour drive back up the mountain. As we rise from the desert the air becomes thin and cold. Increasing elevation so quickly makes me feel the effects of altitude sickness for the first time, breathing was hard and I felt dizzy the whole way back up through Horseshoe Meadows. Once back up at the PCT i began to acclimate and the sun continued to shine despite the forecast. We make our way down the trail heading to Chicken Spring Lake, the first alpine lake of the trail. Within a mile we hit our first long stretch of snow, it was beautiful amongst the large sequoia trees. Horseshoe Meadows stretches below in the shape of, you guessed it, a horseshoe. The snow was fun but definitely made me exert a little more energy, the hardest part was navigation. Twice we lost the trail while relying on the footsteps of those before us. Eventually we made it to Cottonwood Pass where we caught up with Javi, Two Pie, and Akuna. We all chilled for a while enjoying the unexpected sun even though camp was only half a mile away. When we eventually made it there, I was speechless. A frozen over lake surrounded by snow and rocky peaks. Oolong, Trip, Lowkey, Rocco, and Oakley all showed up before too long and we all enjoyed dinner around the fire as the temperature dropped at 11,300 feet, the highest I’ve ever camped. Wonder Woman reads the first chapter of Lord of The Rings to us all before we retreat into our sleeping bags for a good nights rest.
May 26 – I wake up to a fire and blue skies in the otherwise snowy alpine zone that is Chicken Spring Lake. As usual we let our gear dry out before beginning our sixteen mile hike to Crabtree Meadows, where we plan to make base camp for our Mount Whitney ascent. Snow covers the trail as we climb up above the frozen lake all feeling the effects of the thin air at 11,000 feet. I break away from everyone to climb off trail for a view of the lake and also the land ahead. The mountains are no joke out here, the Appalachians are foothills in comparison. I keep on hiking, all the while feeling euphoric. All I can think about is how happy I am to be out here. Thru hiking is so much more than just a hike, this lifestyle is the only one I want to live. I’ve had the same thought many times before.
The trail descends for nearly ten miles in which I enter the Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park. The sign indicating this is nearly buried in snow, at 11,000 feet everything is. White meadows are scattered below me, eventually I make it down to one with a large creek flowing through where I make lunch. Completely at peace I enjoy my new favorite, pita bread with cheese, salami, and pepperoni while listening to the roar of a cascade. I soon cross it on a log that was a little too loose for comfort and begin a steep climb back up to 10,000. After such a laid back morning it takes my all to make it up but I’m soon given some downhill as reprieve. The northern face of the mountain I’m descending is covered in snow causing me to quickly loose the trail but I enjoy sliding down on my feet into an expansive Meadow with the backdrop of even more impressive mountains than the last. Dark clouds begin to roll in but they quickly pass and I am again at peace as I walk through the flat land ahead of me. Back on the trail I soon come to my first sketchy snowfield of the Sierras, a 70 degree bank leading straight into a row of jagged rocks. I opt not to put on my micro-spikes since I can see dry ground shortly after and head on carefully with my ice axe in hand. My adrenaline was pumping as I carefully took one small step at a time. At the end I sit down on my butt and slide to the bottom, totally awesome. Crabtree Meadows is a beautiful spot, “Lowkey” is waiting there and we quickly get to work gathering firewood before pitching our tents amongst the backdrop of Mount Whitney’s surrounding mountains. Tomorrow we will wake up early to make it to the summit of America’s tallest mountain.
May 27 – The day started as early as those when we were in the desert. By 5:30 Shepard and myself are headed a mile up the trail where everyone else had camped the night before. Before snow is even a factor I fall in two streams completely soaking my bottom half, not a pleasant feeling when it’s 40 degrees out. At base camp, I attempt to dry my shoes and socks out but only succeed in burning holes in one of each. Wispy clouds float above us, a precursor to a storm. By 8 everyone is packed and we are heading to the 14,000 foot summit of Mount Whitney. We follow the John Muir Trail for the ascent, and will continue following it for the next 170 miles or so of the PCT. We pass Timberline Lake rightly named because a few steps after the trees disappear and snow covers every inch of the ground. I feel entrapped in the majestic mountains around me, there’s no sign of civilization anywhere. At Guitar Lake we eat lunch while the clouds become darker. The first snowflakes begin to fall as we continue on through a large snowfield before heading up the switchbacks. The trail becomes sketchy, ice covers the switchbacks for long stretches leading straight down into massive piles of boulders. With our microspikes on and ice axes in hand, we hike on slowly and carefully, making no more than a mile every hour. From near the top of the switchbacks I can look back and see a winter wonderland behind me. First a white basin filled with ice blue alpine lakes, followed by row upon row of snow covered mountains which seem to go on forever.
The storm picks up in a blink of an eye. Snow is falling hard now and visibility is decreasing by the second. Rocco, Oakley, and I make the decision to turn back while the others forge on ahead. I hurt inside as we head away from the summit. The entire hike back my failure weighs heavily on my mind. I feel incompetent and unfit to hike through the rest of the Sierra. The conditions grow far worse as we get back to the bottom. I know we made the right decision, but damn it kills me.
Back at my tent I get in my bag and lay in my tent for the rest of the night. Again the storm worsens, with fog completely covering even the valley and thunder and lightning to accompany it. It seems like someone is pouring buckets of ice over my tent. The Sierra’s are no joke. These conditions are like nothing I’ve ever hiked in, and I’m man enough to admit that I’m absolutely terrified to keep going.
May 28 – It’s a calm and peaceful morning when I open my eyes again. I imagine the sunrise everyone else is watching and feel envious. Still I feel I made the right decision for myself after the storm that had just ensued. Rocco, Oakley, and I get a fire ready for them when they get back, they’re sure to be cold and wet. We sit by the fire eating and playing uno until noon when Shepard arrives leading the pack. Happy knowing our friends are safe, the three of us head out while they take a break. Our destination is only 8 miles away near the base of Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT.
The trail continues to follow the John Muir Trail through picturesque forest of pine. Snow covers everything as I descend down to the first river ford so far. The water is ice cold but walking through is my only option. On the other side I climb for a while before reaching a phenomenal view of a snow filled valley where I bask in the sun and eat lunch.
3 tenth of a mile late I reach another ford, this one a powerful rapid deeper than the one before. I walk all along the bank in search of a better place to cross but can’t find anything. Instead of crossing alone I wait for Rocco and Oakley who end up having Rebo with them. I watch them cross before attempting myself. The current is strong and the water is icy but it isn’t as bad as it had looked. We speed hike to warm ourselves up but are soon slowed down by miles of snow fields. Late in the afternoon we post hole with every step which is when the snow is so soft you fall right through. Two miles take an hour, by six we are just around the corner from camp before yet another ford lies in our way. We press on not even phased at this point, but we are still overjoyed to find Red Riding Hood, Scrapbook, and Lowkey with a fire waiting up the trail. After drying off and eating I set my tent up with a great view of the snow capped mountains surrounding me and now type this as I listen to the roar of Tyndall Creek and gaze at the stars above which seem a little closer than usual at 11,000 feet. I’m so thankful that this is my usual.
May 29 – For the first time in what seems like ages I wake up without a fire going. It’s cold but the sun begins to rise above the mountains heating the world around me. We all bask in it for a while before Rocco, Oakley, and I take off in the lead. From Tyndall Creek the trail is covered in snow for the five miles leading up to Forester Pass, draining my energy and slowing us all down. We are led into a basin completely surrounded by sheer walls of rock. Ahead of us we can see a tiny notch in one of the walls, that’s the pass.
With no visible trail leading up to the switchbacks we are forced to climb straight up until we hit a patch of dry trail. Climbing straight up is intense, the mountain grows steeper as we gain elevation. Even with my micro spikes on I can’t help but feel vulnerable knowing what’s behind me. I grip my ice axe tightly, thinking I’ll need to use it at any second. Luckily the trail dries up at the switchbacks until about half a mile from the top where we cross the infamous snow chute and then climb straight up the cornice to reach the pass. At 13,200 feet the view is phenomenal, alpine lakes and snowy peaks envelop me. It creates the feeling that there is nothing else besides these mountains, they’re seemingly endless and I’m right in the middle of them. I wait up top for Rebo, Shepard, and Javi. By the time we start descending the snow is soft and I start to post hole up to my waist with every step. A mile takes an hour in these conditions, and the day begins to get late. We head deep down into the valley but even at 9000 feet snow still covers the ground. Navigation is a problem again as I find myself dead ending at a cliff that the trail clearly doesn’t go down. Just as I begin to get the zombie feeling that you get after a long day I came up on Rocco, Oakley, St. Nick, and Wonder Woman who thankfully set up camp a few miles earlier than planned. A warm fire and a hot meal were just what I needed. Tomorrow we hike down a side trail for seven miles to get to the town of Bishop, CA where we will take a few days of much needed rest.