Pacific Crest Trail

Mount Whitney

Day 48

My alarm blasted me out of my comfortable sleep way too early. I had prepared most of the things I needed to climb Mount Whitney, which was the aim of the day and left my tent and everything that I didn’t need in there to be pick up when I got back from the ascent.

While Mount Whitney isn’t part of the PCT, many or perhaps the majority of hikers choose to take this 17 mile round trip to climb the highest mountain in the contiguous US (I like that I just got to use the word “contiguous”) at 4421 meters (14505 feet)

At 1 am I started hiking in the pitch darkness due to the still missing moonshine. The stars were bright and I think I could just about make out the milky way. Aside from the few meters that my headlamp lit up I could only make out the faintest contours of the further surroundings. So I missed out on those impressions, but that would be remedied on the way back down. It was surprisingly easy going as my backpack was so much lighter. I halfway ran the first section and rather quickly had to take off some of my clothing to not overheat. Eventually I ended up with just tights and a completely buttoned down shirt whit sleeves up despite the relatively low temperatures. At times the path needed some attention in order to not lose track of it as it meandered, crossed longer rock surfaces and of course the darkness. I got to the previously mentioned Guitar Lake and from there on out the trail got steeper and rocky. Behind me and ahead of me I could see small dots of light from other hikers headlamps. We were all aiming to be at the Whitney summit at sunrise. Some were surprisingly high above me where as others were very far below me. This was a surprisingly interesting ascent with interesting rock formations and most of the trail was nicely made and broad despite the steepness and high altitude. I had feared that it might have been somewhat sketchy, but it wasn’t and you’d be sure as long as you took care.

While most of the snow/ice had already melted there were still a few short passages. Some had deep holes from other people’s feet and where thus easily crossed. One section with snow was somewhat slanting and for a brief moment made me wish that I had put on my microspikes. I just took it very slowly and found my way through it.

As I got near a pass the wind picked up and I had to put on some more clothing. Perhaps because I had stopped, I shortly after put on further clothes including my down jacket.

I had thought that I had way too much time and thatI would have to wait and freeze at the top until the sun came up, but the sky had already become much brighter and through rugged incisions at the mountain crest I could see the sky turning red. I was now instead sure that I would not make it. I said to myself that it was okay as I had already had an extraordinarily good day and would at least see some of the first rays. Nevertheless I sped up. Met a hiker called Panda near the top. I had very briefly talked with him a couple of times before. He said that he felt slightly lightheaded from the altitude, and insisted that he would be fine when he got down. I rushed further up and had to take of my down jacket as I was getting sweaty. Shortly after I reached the top and to my amazement the sun wasn’t up, the sky was just very red. Super nice! Ten or fifteen minutes later the sun actually rose. The views were extraordinarily beautiful. I was really taken aback, which I hadn’t expected as I had been at a lot of mountain tops before. At the top I talked briefly with “Doc”, a guy whom I had run into a dozen of times since Kennedy Meadows about research and other stuff. He was a friendly and mellow guy who had gotten his name because he hat stitched up another hikers backpack. The wind picked up and it started to get cold, so I went down. Near the top was an emergency shelter, but the door had been left open so it was filled halfway with a very large snow drift. Anyways the views were nice coming back down and I saw Guitar Lake named for you guessed it, being shaped as a one. I mean shaped as a guitar, not shaped as a guitar lake. He he. I also saw a bunch of marmots, which I think are rather cute with their big eyes and standing on their hind legs. Can you have them as pets? The first one was pretty big measuring I guess nearly half a meter. I got shortly lost twice going down as the trail wasn’t well marked especially when it crossed rock surfaces. Since I had GPS I simply bushwhacked back to trail, but I could probably more easily have backtracked. Anyways, I finally made it down and felt exhausted, so I took a brief nap in my tent. After that I still felt tired but some miles in the going got easier.

At one point I had to ford a creek. This one was a minor one, but you should always be careful as I will probably write some more about later. While packing my stuff including electronics in case I should slip and get wet I got attacked by an army of mosquitoes, I mean like 30-40 or so, most of which I was quick enough to bash away before they sank their snouts in me.

Later in the day the trail let to a high plateau, which was kind of a weird place om one side it was just all gravel and minor rocks as if nothing at all could live there. On the other side there was a small lake and grassy vegetation surrounding it wit a handful of marmots foraging.

Nearing the end of the day there was another fording, which I did together with other hikers and shortly after I camped with a couple of them. Incidentally Panda was at the same camp site and he was well again.

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