Greetings from Lone Pine, CA! We hiked off trail to Kearsarge Pass, and down to the Onion Valley campground. We're enjoying a zero today, for our sanity and for some much needed laundry.
We are partway through the High Sierras, a region contemplated with awe and fear by most PCT hikers. The high point of the PCT, Forester Pass (elev. ~13,100) and the highest point in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney (elev. ~14,500) are back to back in this section. Accordingly, we have cut mileage back. Prior to this, we were regularly hiking 20-25 miles per day. (This was arduous, but doable).
Some have told us (running over to interject into personal conversations) that it is impossible to hike 20s in the Sierras. For the record, we have hiked a 21. But, we're planning on keeping mileage low to enjoy, and to welcome the latest addition to our crew, Ken The Pick. Ken is Leila's stepdad, and earned his trail name through his superior dental hygiene, i.e., he chews a flosser non-stop, even up and down snow-covered passes.
Whitney was spectacular. We climbed from the JMT side, spending two nights at Crabtree Meadows. The plan: day hike to Guitar Lake, and then up Whitney. What actually happened: Gangles and I never actually saw Guitar Lake.
We caught up somewhere short of Guitar Lake (5m) away, but lost the trail in the snow. After 45m of bushwacking, rockhopping and plowing through snow fields, we ended up 300' above the trail, between Guitar Lake and the trail to Whitney. We dropped down to the trail, filled our hydration bladders are started up.
The last time I went up Whitney, it was in full moonlight at the tail end of our '07 JMT summit. As a person with a profound fear of heights, this summit was more harrowing because I could see how far I could fall. Gangles and I powered up the 10 switchbacks, crossing a few rapidly melting, but still slick snow fields. After 3.5h of leisurely climbing, we made it to the summit.
We ate the last of our high calorie snacks (mostly almonds), and two-timed it down because of the encroaching rain clouds. We made it down in ~2 hours to the trail to Guitar Lakes.
Here's where it went awry. Since we never took the trail between Whitney and Guitar Lakes, we had no idea how to get down. We ended up bushwacking for an additional 3h from the beginning of the switchbacks down to Timberline. This is highly discouraged--and a complete violation of LNT principles. We were completely lost, and wandering in pristine, untracked wilderness. The trip back was harrowing, including some steep boulder fields, soft snow, and very fast water.
That said, it was also exceptionally beautiful and memorable, because we were in the High Sierras.
Also, I have sent home the ice axe and crampons in a fit of frustration and hubris. We'll see if this is was a bad (read: fatal) mistake in the next few days. I did this based on two reasons: first, the rangers have been saying they are unnecessary. Second, they are really heavy. My pack is quite heavy now, and I'm taking the trade-off of agility versus grip.
So many people to thank, but special shout outs:
- Nelda's in Lake Isabella, CA for the best milkshakes ever
- Merry Go Round in Lone Pine, CA for quality Chinese food
- Elevation in Lone Pine, CA for being a great outfitter
- REI in Lancaster, CA staffed by former PCTers
Rides & Trail Angels:
- Okie Girl at Walker Pass
- Jamie from Kearsarge to Independence, CA
- John and Tom from Mountain Mesa
- Mike from Santa Monica