PCT miles: 0
We gave up on hitting Mt Whitney at sunrise and instead get up at 330 and are hiking by 445. I’m happy for this because I don’t do well when my sleep schedule is messed up.
We’re hiking in the dark briefly and then the sun rises, but it doesn’t take long for me to realize my group is moving much faster than I can sustain.
After a few miles I am crashing – we haven’t stopped for a break and I’m moving on 200 calories from a breakfast bar. I see some rocks ahead and yell out that I’ll be stopping for a break. They continue on.
Soon I’m moving alone on snow. There is a track in the snow of footsteps going in the right direction so I let myself follow them. It is both peaceful and disappointing. I don’t think it’s smart to be alone out here, and I don’t think it’s a good group dynamic to leave people behind in the Sierra, regardless of the terrain. There are too many things that could go wrong that we’re all new with, more remote, more spread out. But we’ve all been told to “hike our own hike” and we’ve taken it to heart and we’re used to the desert where none of us were beholden to anyone.
And anyway, I’m moving slow. The altitude, the snow, it all makes me take smaller, slower steps. People who left an hour, two hours after us are starting to pass me.
I’ve told the group I’m afraid of exposed, sketchy places but they’re not there when I get to an ice shoot that must be crossed. I put on my microspikes and go gently across and it’s fine. I am glad I practiced with steep, sketchy terrain before coming out here, to learn how to push through my terror. After that there are dry switchbacks and I think: well, at least the sketchy stuff is over.
And then there is a rock scramble. It’s been created by hikers to avoid an even sketchier snow shoot with poor foot steps that few hikers are choosing to attempt. I hate scrambles on terrain like this – loose, rocky dirt with big boulders that look secure and then slide beneath your weight. But there isn’t much choice so I start moving up. I get about halfway when I don’t see any good choices and the fear is getting to me. Some hikers above who had passed me ask if I’d like them to stay until I get to the top and I say yes.
They try to tell me where to step. Then they see another hiker, Couscous, coming up behind me.
“Are you okay?” He asks me.
“I’m pretty freaked out,” I tell him. So he guides me up until I reach the trail again. When I’m on solid ground I start crying. It’s just the release of the fear and adrenaline. I know I’m okay. The tears need to happen anyway.
Couscous offers to hike with me and I accept. I try to move fast and he tells me to slow down and he’s patient with me. But I’m getting more and more pissed off at the mountain. I am not a peak bagger, I’m telling myself. What the fuck is the point of this, I’m thinking. I’m not even moving forward – I have to go back the way I came. I get to the point where I can’t stand my own brain anymore so I tell Couscous I’m going to take a break.
“Do you want me to wait for you?” He asks.
“No, there are plenty of people, I’ll figure it out.”
He moves on and I sit for a break and collect myself a little. My brain is still pissed, but calmed a little, and after a few minutes I keep hiking. I only get about 200 feet up the trail when I see Couscous.
“I felt really bad about leaving you,” he says. “So I waited.”
It’s a sweet gesture and we continue up the mountain. There is more rock scrambling but it’s stable rock and it’s slow going because of the altitude, but not scary.
And then I’m at the top.
I see the hut, still half filled with snow. I write my name in the log book and see that several people have written notes about how hard the hike was and I feel a little better. It’s 10:30 am. I sit near my group and Karma and Nirvana and Soulshine. My group only got there 30 minutes before me, which is comforting.
I call Mark from the top and it is good to hear his voice. I try eat some snacks but I don’t get to relax much before we start to see some clouds roll in.
The group decides they’re headed back down so I pack quickly and go after them. The downhill is much better for me – I can breathe and move. But I see that Sole Sister had fallen behind me and some hikers say she’s struggling with altitude sickness, a bad headache, so I wait for her and make sure she doesn’t lag far behind. We pause at the scramble down and Couscous and Physsie help Sole and I navigate it.
At the end of the switchbacks is a glissade and the group is waiting at the bottom. It’s fun and I go fast, and then I try to learn to walk on slushy snow. I get better at sliding. Thunder starts to rumble nearby. A bunch of hikers are behind me but most don’t ask me to move. The snow seems to last and last and last.
Then it starts to rain. People stop to out on their rain jackets but I push to a dry piece of land to put mine on.
Eventually the trail appears again and about am hour after than I’m back at camp. It’s early, 4pm. I had my rain fly on my tent but had left the door of it open but luckily nothing inside is wet. I grab my bear can and get in my tent and put on dry clothes and eat food. A group of hikers is gathering outside my tent chatting. But I don’t feel like chatting, so I lay there.
I’m exhausted and feeling the leftover fear from Whitney. Forester Pass is in two days and I’m nervous. But it’s also cool to know it’s done. I hiked Mt Whitney. I brought my body to incredible, oxygen-deprived heights.
But I don’t know what else the Sierra will hold for me, and that makes me hesitant. I fall asleep around 6.