Monday, June 04, 2012

Day-44- The View for Company

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 coming up.

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 the mountain.

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 stayed.

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 sleep.

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