Mile 742 to Upper Crabtree Meadow at mile 766
The almost full moon kept me awake through the night. It was bright
enough to cast shadows and I could pick out colors by its silver glow. I
was almost to excited for the next day: a full moon hike up Mount
Whitney to see the sun rise from the tallest peak in the lower 48.
Sleep was elusive.
I got a late start out of camp because I cooked breakfast. I had a
fancy backpacking meal that nearly defeated me. I did manage to eat it
all, and I don't think I could have eaten another bite of anything, but
it hadn't been pleasant.
I finished the uphill that I started last night. I tried to hustle,
but my group was too far ahead. The Sierra's aren't good for hustling
anyway-too much beauty to look at. From one green meadow I stopped and
took a dozen pictures of the great gray beauties that thrust their
ragged ridge lines to the sky. I could have lingered there in the
meadow as long as my food held out, but my first high alpine lake was
At Chicken Spring Lake I found the most of the others ready to push
on. I had day dreamed about swimming in the lake, but one look at its
crystal clear water and the ridge that was still dappled in snow above
its surface I knew I wasn't going in. A quick dip of my toes confirmed
what I already knew. I settled for soaking a bandanna and washing off
my grime covered legs. Goosebumps sprung up in the bandanna's wake.
At the lake's outlet I chatted with Portrait and told him our grand plan for climbing Mount Whitney the next morning-he was in.
Not five minutes after I left Portrait to his snack I started
climbing and found that I couldn't breath. I fumbled with my sternum
strap thinking it was too tight, but after unbuckling I still had
trouble catching my breath. I stopped and looked out over the lake and
focused on pulling air into my lungs. At just over 11,000 feet above
sea level the air felt thin. After a couple of deep breaths I felt
better and started up again-a little slower this time as the smoke from
the forest fire closed in.
I was too focused on the climb to notice when the smoke moved out,
but when I reached the top the view was crisp. It was a stop me in my
tracks kind of view. It made all other views look bad the mountains
where many across the perfectly green meadow. I fiddled with the self
timer on my camera and ended up with two pictures of me, back turned, as
I tried to beat the count down to be in front of the view.
I walked on, the view for company, and as it changed I could see a
plume of smoke past the closest meadow and behind the closest ridge on
the other side. I was relived to see that I was north of the smoke and
hopefully I would stay that way.
After walking along the ridge for a ways the trail started to loose
elevation. I suddenly found myself on switchbacks down the ridge. The
trail didn't feel right, but I couldn't think of a place where I made a
wrong turn, but if I had, I wanted to know at the top of the descent not
the bottom. I dropped my pack, puled out my maps, and flipped to the
right page. Down, down, down to Rock Creek-I was on track.
The down was nice, and just what I wanted. I tried to forget the
gravity law of hiker's: a hiker that goes down must go up. I past some
prime break spots on my way down hoping to catch up with the others at
the creek. I found them on the far side talking about summit plans. It
was decided that we'd hike an extra .7 (uphill) to bring us closer to
Hiker's law was right-the trail climbed steeply after the water. I
brought up the rear of our string of hikers. It did level out for a
bit, and even went downhill. I picked up my pace through the pine
forest as dark clouds started to gather overhead. They moved fast,
unlike the clouds in the desert.
I caught up with the others as they put on rain gear as it started to
sprinkle. I did the same, and then it was time for 2 more
miles-hopefully before the weather got worst. It stayed the same until
reaching Lower Crabtree Meadow, which had six deer feeding in it.
There was much debate over weather and the last .7 miles. Some in
the group wanted to stay put, others move onward. We looked at the
clearing sky and at each other. Finally it was decided that the four
interested in hiking Whitney at sunrise would go on. The other two
It was getting late, and that .7 seemed to go on forever. Just when I
thought I had used up all my strenght we crossed a stream and there we
were. We crossed the windy meadow to the trees beyond and set up
camp. Alarms were set for two a.m. and I hunkered down to try and