Staging for Whitney – Day 63: Chicken Spring Lake to Crabtree Meadow Ranger Station Camp

PCT miles: 750.8 to 767.0 + 1 mile to camp 
Miles: 17.2
I get up early and set out. I tend to get on trail by 6am and the group tends to be more like 7 or 730, but they don’t really take breaks other than lunch and I like to break somewhat frequently, so I figure we’ll catch each other, and if not, we planned to meet up for creek crossings to tackle them. 
I haven’t been hiking for long when I see Karma, Nirvana and Soulshine still at camp. They’re all sitting around in their tents eating breakfast so I join them and chat a little. Nirvana is goofing around with his ice axe and making us laugh and a little nervous.


It’s interesting the different dynamics out here. I feel more myself with Karma and Nirvana but I’ve also known them longer. They seem willing to laugh and my jokes and acknowledge my comments in a way my new group isn’t necessarily. But.. maybe that will come with time? I don’t know. The people part of the trail – where do I fit in, how do I be myself, who is my family – continues to be a point of uncertainty. 

It’s nice to talk to them and a few other hikers join and I’m there for about 45 minutes, but I have more miles to do and I don’t want to slow my group – who passes by while I’m there – down, so I keep hiking. 

The trail is patches of snow and I have to learn to walk on them. I take them slow and it’s mostly fine, and then I take solid ground for granted and slam my knee into a rock. Oops. I take a break to soothe my ego a little and then move on.
Later, Sole Sister and I are hiking together and come to a glissade and take it. A glissade is just sliding down snow on your butt, like sledding. The first glissade of the trail. It makes me feel like a little kid. 
We cross a river where they’re waiting for me and show me where to go. Everyone seems to be standing around and it’s straight up a mountain to camp so I get started. I’m about halfway there when I realize they were standing around because they were waiting for more of the group — oops. I get to camp and set up and when they arrive I apologize. Next time I’ll clarify. 
Tomorrow is Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US. 14,505 feet. We’ll be leaving most of our food, tents, etc behind and slack packing to the top. I am nervous when everyone else seems excited. I’m not sure exactly what kind of terrain we’ll face. I hope I am able to reach the top. 

Into the High Sierra – Day 62: Lone Pine to Chicken Spring Lake

PCT miles: 745.3 to 750.8 + 2ish miles up Trail Pass
Miles: 7ish

This morning our trail angel makes us breakfast – eggs and bagels and fresh fruit and juices. We eat outside on her patio (we did this last night when she ordered us all Chinese food) and her desert tortoise wanders around entertaining us. 
It takes us a while to leave the house and I can tell the group is getting antsy. On the way out of town we split up – I go to a cafe for a sandwich, some others grab Subway, some others are just going to try for a hitch. 
In the cafe while I’m waiting for takeout two older men start asking me about backpacking. Their names are Scott and Mark and they ask where I’m trying to get to so I tell them I’m headed to the Horseshoe Meadow Trailhead. 
“We can take you there,” they say.
“That would be awesome.”
We wait for our food and on the drive they take a couple detours to talk about cattle ranching in the area because that’s what they do. They ask me about hiking and it takes me a while to realize they don’t know I’m thruhiking – when I explain that I’ve been walking for two months (!!) from the border of Mexico and California, Mark says: “So you’re kind of a badass.”
And Scott says: “Like Reese Witherspoon!”
They have a back and forth because Mark hasn’t seen the movie but for the rest of the drive they call me Reese, and when they drop me off they take a picture with me and give me their cards and then take some other thruhikers – “more Reese Witherspoons!” – back to town. 
These are the kinds of interactions I really like out here. I am grateful for any kind of kindness or magic, but because there are so many hikers many trail angels are too overwhelmed to see us as individuals. Bumping into people who aren’t familiar with what I’m doing, who aren’t meeting their 500th thruhiker but their first, kind of breathes some life back into interactions off trail. 


I kill some time at the trail head hoping the group will show up, so I get hiking. I’m not sure if they’re ahead of or behind me and I ask several southbound hikers if they’ve seen anyone, but no one has. Eventually I get to our planned meeting spot and wait and they catch me. 
“Show me the bottom of your shoes!” Sole Sister says. I do. “I knew those were your prints!”
We do some hemming and hawing about whether we should hike further, but ultimately decide to stay at the lake because we heard the next section wasn’t too bad for snow. Soon others – Whoopie, Nature Monster, Campo – join. We all eat dinner by the lake. Campo gets his trail name – Rainfly – because he accidentally sent his tent rather than his damaged rainfly to Big Agnes. 
We talk about how heavy our packs are. Mine weighed in at 30 lbs – and it was the lightest of the group. It has to be food – everyone else’s pack is at least 37. Did I carry enough? I’m wondering. Am I going to starve? 
It’s our first cold night in a while and it’s delightful. We’re at 11,200 feet. I don’t feel any issues with the altitude and I feel hopeful that it won’t be a problem for me. 

Day 60 + 61: Zeroing in Lone Pine

Time off in Lone Pine was the usual – food, resupply, naps. I got my first real intense wave of hiker hunger and no matter how much I ate my brain wanted more. 
How to tell when the restaurant is full of hiker trash 

The road to Bishop after Kearsarge Pass is currently closed – that’s our next resupply after this Sierra stretch. The group I’m with has resupply there so they’re determined to get there, which could mean up to a 15 mile road walk. No fun. Hopefully the road will open again by the time we get there, as it’s closed right now for potential flooding and damage from the snowmelt. 
I also bumped into Karma and Nirvana in town. It was so good to see them again. 
Right now I’m at a trail angels house with Sole Sister, Co, LiterBit and Diggs. I spent the last two nights at the hostel and had expected we would leave today, but the group thinks we might be better to stay another night because of the high temperatures and high snow melt. Fine with me! And then not even an hour after we decided, we went outside to see a fire on the mountain and learned the road back to the trail and the trail itself has been closed for fire personnel and we would have had to stay anyway.
That said, between some stuff going on with family and not hiking, my anxiety is definitely spiking. I hadn’t even thought about anxiety since I’d been out here because the trail manages it so well. But it’s there, humming. 
If the trail is going to be closed tomorrow, too, we might try to hike Mt Whitney while we wait. I’m a little sad we aren’t on trail for Hike Naked Day (June 21st.) But the group has mentioned skinny dipping, so maybe I’ll get to be naked in the wilderness anyway. 
Tonight I am grateful for the trail angel who is generously letting more than ten hikers crash in her air conditioned home, and to be with a group, and for hiking, where I can remember to breathe and that all I need is to take one step, then another. 

Reunions with Friends – Day 59: 10500′ Foot Tent Site to Lone Pine

PCT miles: 735.1 to 745.3 + 2ish miles on Trail Pass
Miles: 12ish

In my dream I see my mother. We are in the kitchen and she is cooking and I am washing dishes but she’s talking to someone like I’m not there. “Colleen needs to go back to the trail,” she’s saying. “What is she going to do here?”
I wake up and my head doesn’t hurt and the sun is rising and I watch it from my tent as I pack my things. Today I am going to Lone Pine – the rest of my group is camping at Horseshoe Meadow to avoid paying for an extra night in town, but I don’t like rushing and I also know I have a lot of phone calls to make so I’ll be trying to hitch.
The hike is uneventful. In my head I bitch and moan about a short climb, but really it’s my head and not the trail. I am leapfrogging with a German hiker named Jon who plans to leave the trail in Lone Pine. I am trying to be positive and supportive of other peoples hiking choices – leaving for good, skipping, hitching, whatever. There can be some noisy hikers, online especially but even on trail, who seem to look down on what other people are doing. But I don’t know that I’ll be a perfect hiker, and I hope someone is kind to me about whatever choices I have to make. 


We talk about his trip to LA that he’ll take after the trail and how he has a job to go back to. We hike on and come to Horseshoe Meadow, which is stunning, and I ask him to take a picture of me which he does. Then we get to the Trailhead. It’s mostly empty but a few cars. It’s Monday, not a popular day for dayhikers and campers. We come across two Asian hikers I’ve been bumping into who say they have been waiting four hours. Four hours!! I see a comment saying that if you walk a ways down the road, there is at&t service. So I start walking. Almost immediately a car heading to town says he can give me a ride – but I don’t have my pack. And why did he pass by the four hikers sitting at the road? There is one girl in the back with a backpack but he seems to think there isn’t room for both me and my pack. He offers to drive me until I have service, but I don’t like the idea of being away from my pack. We have an awkward exchange and he continued down the road.
Soon the road got steep and still no service. I hadn’t brought my pack or water. Boo. So I sit in the shade to gather myself when I hear a car coming and I stick out my thumb – I know this likely won’t be a hitch to town, but I’m hoping at least for a hitch back to my pack. Inside is a man name Mark who had gone mountain biking in the morning and was coming to see if any hikers needed rides. Did we ever! I jumped in and he took me back to my pack, Jon jumped in and the two Asian hikers were jumping in a hitch of their own. On the way down we picked up another hiker, too. 


Mark told us about the history of Lone Pine and the dried up Owen’s Lake. It was a long, winding drive and a drop of over 5000 feet in elevation. Which also meant: Lone Pine is hot. 111 degrees. Luckily it’s a short strip of amenities. Unluckily much of the air conditioning in the stores is sub par. 
Mark dropped us off and I went to the Whitney Portal Hostel. I’d just gotten my room key code when who do I bump into by Cadi and Hobo! They tell me about their bear encounter outside of Kennedy Meadows and that they have decided to leave the trail and complete it next year instead. I am sad they’re leaving but happy they’re making the right choice for them and a little jealous of the road trip they’ve planned around the area. 


The view from the hostel doesn’t suck 

I put my stuff in the hostel room and shower. I get lunch and call my family and spend about four hours on the phone, and then it’s bedtime and my head hurts and I go to sleep. 

Fire on the Mountain – Day 60 + 61: Zeroing in Lone Pine

Time off in Lone Pine was the usual – food, resupply, naps. I got my first real intense wave of hiker hunger and no matter how much I ate my brain wanted more. 

The road to Bishop after Kearsarge Pass is currently closed – that’s our next resupply after this Sierra stretch. The group I’m with has resupply there so they’re determined to get there, which could mean up to a 15 mile road walk. No fun. Hopefully the road will open again by the time we get there, as it’s closed right now for potential flooding and damage from the snowmelt. 
I also bumped into Karma and Nirvana in town. It was so good to see them again. 
Right now I’m at a trail angels house with Sole Sister, Co, LiterBit and Diggs. I spent the last two nights at the hostel and had expected we would leave today, but the group thinks we might be better to stay another night because of the high temperatures and high snow melt. Fine with me! And then not even an hour after we decided, we went outside to see a fire on the mountain and learned the road back to the trail and the trail itself has been closed for fire personnel and we would have had to stay anyway.
That said, between some stuff going on with family and not hiking, my anxiety is definitely spiking. I hadn’t even thought about anxiety since I’d been out here because the trail manages it so well. But it’s there, humming. 
If the trail is going to be closed tomorrow, too, we might try to hike Mt Whitney while we wait. I’m a little sad we aren’t on trail today for Hike Naked Day (June 21st.) But the group has mentioned skinny dipping, so maybe I’ll get to be naked in the wilderness anyway. 
Tonight I am grateful for the trail angel who is generously letting more than ten hikers crash in her air conditioned home, and to be with a group, and for hiking, where I can remember to breathe and that all I need is to take one step, then another. 

Getting High – Day 58: Cow Creek Tentsite to 10500′ Tentsite

PCT miles: 719.2 to 735.1
Miles: 15.9

I wake and am on the trail by 6:20. It is still strange to me that in this group I am the earliest riser. I only get a mile or so before my body makes me stop and eat breakfast, half a Biscuits and Gravy Mountain House that Natalie sent me. Still, I am happy to be hungry again. I eat and half heartedly wave away mosquitos and then continue up the climb, the first of the day, which goes to 10,600 feet – the highest I’ve ever been. I feel sleepier than usual and I’m not sure if it was poor sleep, too little food, the altitude, or a head cold coming, but it doesn’t especially slow me down. The group’s goal is Death Canyon Creek for lunch, but I keep finding myself stopping to eat and drink and rest. I reach Gomez Meadow, a short and flat 2 miles from the planned lunch spot, and it is too pretty and I am too tired to pass it up. I lay my Tyvek down and put my feet up. My group passes – “are you just going to stay here?” They ask. No. I’m just going to grab a nap first.
So I do. It’s the perfect temperature and I stay there for about 20 minutes and then I pack up and go. I feel a lot better after the nap and get to the water source quickly and chat with the group – Ko, Sole Sister, Couscous Balls, LiterBit, Fizzy, Whoopie and Thirsty Detour. I make half a package of mashed potatoes for lunch and eat them with bacon bits. These mountains are making me hungry and I make a note to prepare for that in the next section. 


We still have a 2000 foot climb before our planned camp spot at the top of the next mountain at 10,600 feet. I am the second one to leave because I like to get to camp and rest and go to bed earlier than the rest. I am making good progress when I run into Thirsty Detour. We’ve been watching big, fluffy clouds start to get darker all afternoon. 
“It looks like it might rain,” he says. 
“It can rain, just no lightning,” I say.
Rain it does, a steady sprinkle that is honestly super refreshing. I catch some cell service a mile from the top and call my dad to wish him happy Father’s Day and respond to some texts. I’m hoping there might be service at the top, too.
I finish the climb and I should be scouting for a good camp spot for us all but instead I hang out at the ridge and call Mark. The mosquitos are plentiful and Mark is stressed and upset and it is not a good conversation. There is a lot going on at home and I feel both guilty for not being there and glad that, for some of the first months of my life, I am trying not to jump in and save the day. It is also hard to translate the sense I have of the world out here to the problems of the “real” world – the trail rarely lets me worry about more than what is immediately an issue, and back home there are a series of hypothetical possibilities that may present themselves that everyone seems eager to turn over and over. 
I get off the phone and walk around with out my pack trying to find the best view. This isn’t something I normally do – I usually prefer to take the first viable option. Turns out the first viable option was the best view anyway and I set up camp. I’m starting to get a little worried that I’ll be camping alone (Thirst Detour continued on to meet his group and camp near water) – it’s taking them way longer than I imagined, especially Whoopie and Fizzy who are faster than I am and supposedly were leaving right behind me. But then I hear Whoopie and Couscous and eventually the whole gang is there. Couscous finds a great spot to watch the sunset and we bundle up in our rain gear and head nets to try to keep the mosquitos away. This is the strange mercy of the trail – worries about home rambling in my gut but sitting with new friends watching a sunset over a beautiful valley. 


I go back to my tent. My head hurts – is it the altitude, my pack straining my neck, a head cold, stress? I’m not sure. Some of the others cook dinner and chat, but I put in my earplugs and pull my buff over my eyes and wish a goodnight to the world. “Let us know if we’re too loud,” Sole Sister tells me. But I find their company soothing up here on this mountain, and I fall asleep. 

Building a Sierra Tramily – Day 57: Kennedy Meadows Campground to Cow Creek Tentsite

PCT miles: 704.6 to 719.2
Miles: 14.6

I’m the first one of the group on trail at 6am – it sounds like they tend to start between 7 and 730, but I’m slow and afraid they’ll get far ahead and I also prefer the cool morning hours. I wish I was brave enough to get on trail at first morning light, but my brain goes crazy imagining the sleepy animals still wandering the trail so I don’t ever leave that early. And anyway, today I need the extra time because I have to pack my pack differently than I’m used to because of the 2 lb 9 oz bear can I am now carrying for the Sierra. 

The morning is beautiful and I’m walking under the trees next to the river. It’s so pretty that I think: this is like a day hike. My brain has decided that thruhiking is mostly business, rarely pretty, but somehow rewarding anyway. Dayhiking, on the other hand, is usually packed with pretty if lacking other rewards. So, what I mean to say is, the morning was so packed with pretty I could almost forget what I was doing. 

As the morning continued it started getting warm. The trail goes through several burn areas and meadows in this area which means lack of shade. I was sweating hard and happy I didn’t have to worry about carrying too much water since it was so readily accessible in the creek next to me. 

I was in one of these shade-less stretches when I saw the head of a snake in front of me. It didn’t notice me or was still too cold to care and didn’t seem interested in moving. I think it may have been a rattlesnake – the head seemed a little triangular and there seemed to be a diamond pattern on the back – but I couldn’t see its tail. Better safe than sorry, I walked a wide path around it. 


There was a bit of a climb and then the shade of trees and then I walked out into a meadow with a view of snow covered mountains in the distance. I felt so, so lucky and grateful for the change in scenery, for something so beautiful. The desert tends to be stunning at sunrise and sunset, but the in between can be rather harsh and one-tone. Here this meadow was in broad daylight looking as stunning as ever. 


I spotted Co sitting in the shade and joined her and shortly after LiterBit joined us too. We snacked and rested. I am really bad about packing too few snacks for the trail. I have plenty of meals but few things that are easy to grab. I think this every time but I’m still messing it up. 
We continued on, hiking similar paces, for the next few miles until we arrived at the Kern River. I found a shade spot but they found a better one, so after I ate my (big) lunch, I moved my pack to sit with them. They had a pretty view of the river and tons of hikers were there, floating in the water. Megaphone blew up his air mattress and floated which worked surprisingly well. We watched for a few hours before deciding it was too good to pass up and jumped in ourselves. Plus I hadn’t had a shower in 60 miles and it was good to rinse off. 


We’re showing off our armpit hair 

I got on trail first to head to our planned campsite. Again with walking through stunning meadows. It was still warm but not too bad. I got to the campsite quickly and set up and then the rest of the group trickled in. The mosquitos were bad and Whoopie built a fire and we sat on our bear cans, which was remarkably uncomfortable. I went to bed first and was happy to be among a big group of hikers again, their voices drifting in the background.