June 14, 2015
Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station (1.3 on Alternate)
15 Alternate miles (Mt. Whitney summit)
795.6 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + > 3,853 ft, – > 3,853 ft
Words fall short on a day like today. Our summit of Mount Whitney was better than we could have hoped, and we decided on the way down to truly indulge in all our post-summit endorphins by taking the afternoon off and spending another night here at the Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station.
We woke up early this morning to clear blue skies. The storm from yesterday was long gone, and we felt a weight lifted off our shoulders…we wouldn’t have to rush through our day and we might even get to spend some quality time at the top of the mountain. We loaded my pack with only the essentials (layers, food, water) and headed out on our 7.5 mile hike to the top. From the first few minutes, the views were outstanding. We were surrounded on all sides by granite walls, rocky spires, and layers of mountains. A few miles in we began passing high alpine lakes, which reflected the sun-drenched mountains in their clear, still waters. We commented over and over on how easy the hiking was since we weren’t carrying our full packs, and realized for the first time just how well-conditioned we actually are. In fact, if we weren’t carrying everything we needed for survival on our backs, we kind of feel like we could walk anywhere for any amount of time.
Right around mile 4 the climbing got more serious and we transitioned from gradual elevation gain to full-blown side-of-the-mountain switchbacks. I let my hands get cold when we filtered water at Guitar Lake (my bad) and they remained a bit frozen and in pain for the next hour or so. But eventually the sun, which we had seen illuminating the landscape behind us foot by foot, reached our bit of trail, and we heated up quickly. The trail had a good amount of snow and ice on it, mostly from the storm yesterday, and my shoes, ultralight trail runners with 800 miles of wear, had a bit of trouble keeping a grip. But we took it slow and used our poles and didn’t hit any unmanageable spots.
A couple miles from the summit our trail joined with that of the day hikers coming up from Lone Pine. It was fun to see such an array of people and congratulate one another on the upward progress being made. Overall, we didn’t feel like it was an extremely challenging hike, but enough to make the top feel like a great accomplishment. We got to the summit in about 4 hours, with the sun bright in the sky, and a group of about 15 to 20 other hikers already taking photos and celebrating their achievement. One of the highlights of the day, as if any one thing could stand above the rest, was seeing quite a few of our long-time PCT hiker friends up on the mountain with us. We ran into Pink Panther and Key Lime right as they were coming down, and then spent some time with Audrey and Moo Juice up at the top. We even ran into Mosey at Guitar Lake after descending!
We ended up spending a few hours at the top of Whitney, the longest I’ve ever spent on a summit. Usually there is some reason to begin a descent sooner rather than later, but today we had all the time in the world and we wanted to soak in all the beauty for as long as we could. It also helped that it was the perfect temperature, there was no wind, and there were no storm clouds on the horizon. We enjoyed our lunch surrounded by jagged peaks and verdant valleys, and then eventually convinced ourselves to head back down.
The descent was just as fun as the climb, and we reveled in the thought that we had the whole day free to relax and enjoy ourselves. When we got back to Guitar Lake we spent some time chatting with friends at the nearby creek, and then slowly sauntered back toward camp. We spent the rest of the afternoon down at the creek near our camp and resting in our tent. Our feet didn’t hurt today for a single second, which is in itself worth celebrating. I should mention that I ended up wearing my same Altra trail runners that I wore in the desert into the Sierras since the new shoes I ordered won’t be here until Tuesday when we go into Independence. They’re the same shoes that I had a love/hate relationship with in the desert. I loved how lightweight they were and their huge toe box, but from the very start their zero drop platform and lack of arch support (they are minimalist shoes) gave me plantar fasciitis and a ton of arch pain. In Kennedy Meadows, on a whim, Mosey gave me a pair of SofSole arch supports that he wasn’t using, and they have made all the difference. The pain I was having has completely gone away just in time for me to truly enjoy my surroundings.
We feel like we could spend months just exploring this area around our camp, and we know we’ll be back in the years to come. We are continuously surprised to learn through conversations with other hikers that not everyone shares our obsession with this landscape and these mountains, and many people prefer the tree-dense East Coast or hot, desolate desert better, but we’re beginning to realize that that only means we’ve found our home and we know where we belong. Some people like shopping, some like cities, and still others prefer the stable life of home and career. As for Pickles and I, we’ll take a day climbing to over 14,000 feet in the High Sierras over anything else in the world. This is what brings us the most joy, and we can’t believe how lucky we are that we get to do it again tomorrow and for the whole rest of the summer.