Day 45: PCT miles – Zero
Miles to summit the highest point in the continental US (14,505 ft) – 14.6
Elevation gain and loss: 3,822 ft
Link and I have been talking about summiting Mt Whitney for so long, and the day had finally come! Alarm went off at 3:30am and we were walking by 4:15 with head lamps. There are a total of 13 PCT hikers going to the summit today and all the hikers leave their tents and gear at Crabtree Meadow since everyone will be coming back after the summit. This makes hiking SOOO much easier, especially for me since Link just took a few necessary items in his backpack up to the top (water bottles, snacks, micro spikes, ice axes, warm clothes) and let me hike with NOTHING. This was the weirdest and most amazing feeling…I felt so light and free! We each started out wearing our down jackets, beanies and gloves, but we found ourselves shedding those within 30 mins.
It was pitch black at the beginning so Link tried taking a pic, leaving the shutter open for a while. It turned out awesome!
By 5:15, we had ditched the head lamps as well and were able to navigate without any problem. We walked by Timberline lake, Guitar lake and Hitchcock lakes…it was absolutely stunning from minute one.
We had a few small sections of snow on flat ground, but once we got to Guitar lake (after 3.4 miles) there were more snow sections with a steeper grade so we put on the micro spikes. Since we were at such high elevation already, the snow had hardened up quite nicely over night. This made walking with the micro spikes super easy…I pretty much felt “one” with the snow and wasn’t slipping or postholing at all. One of the hikers (Splinter) actually had to self arrest using his ice axe WHILE I was taking this pic of Link! Hopefully you can zoom in to see him doing this in the background. Super scary, but he did a great job and only lost 2 water bottles in the process. Phew!
There were a ton of switchbacks on the way up which were hit and miss with snow coverage but we left our spikes on the whole time because taking them on and off every time would’ve taken forever! Then we got to the trail junction where people doing this climb from the Lone Pine side would’ve met up with our trail. But since they still aren’t honoring permits for Whitney, we had it all to ourselves which was such a treat! After the junction is when the gnarly traverse sections start which is probably no big deal when there isn’t snow, but all those parts had a ton, of course. Super steep drop off on one side…I had to try not to think about it.
We made it to the top at 9:15am and found ourselves the first ones there…unbelievable! We had the entire summit to ourselves to take pictures, FaceTime the kids, call our parents and really take in the amazing sights. I’m thinking on a normal year, there would be tons of people up there at the same time (they allow 160 permits for day hikers and overnight hikers per day usually!). But instead, we were able to take a 360 degree video without another sole in the picture!
Once everyone made it to the top, we took a group picture which was so fun. We also signed the trail register and checked out this little cabin at the top which was filled with snow!
At 11:30 we decided it was time to make our way down which, honestly, made me more nervous than going up. The sun had been shining all morning so I knew the snow would be getting soft and slippery. Even though ascending Whitney was more physically challenging, I felt like descending was more mentally challenging…I think that wore me out more for sure. We were postholing A LOT more, and now the micro spikes weren’t able to bite the snow like they had before. Slipping and sliding on these traverses with the sheer drop on one side was exhausting. I didn’t even realize I was basically holding my breath every time we crossed one until I got to the other side with a huge sigh of relief. Link did a great job of leading the way, trying to make an easier/safer step for me and everyone behind us. But sometimes the unforeseen would happen and I had 2 close calls. Once, I postholed and my momentum pitched me down the mountain on my back. Thank goodness my foot got stuck in the snow so I only slid a couple feet but my phone dropped out of my pocket in the process and, thankfully, into a snow cup instead of sliding all the way down the mountain. Plus, I dropped the ice axe instead of plunging it into the snow like I’m supposed to so that wasn’t too good. Although, the snow was so soft by that point that I imagine it probably would’ve just gone through it like butter…not ideal. But soon after, 20 year old Juice said, “you guys are legend for breaking trail like that, I haven’t met another couple as badass as you two”…Awww, shucks! 😁 I hope I’m not scaring some of you away from bagging this peak if it has been on your bucket list. It really was phenomenal, and no words can accurately describe how amazing those views were from the top! I’m sure that without snow, those traverses were no big deal and the trail looks completely different 😁
As we were descending, more and more clouds started forming. Then they started to look dark as well. This is why summiting Whitney and all high peaks early is best because mountains make their own weather sometimes and you never want to be stuck on them during a storm!
We only had a couple miles to go before getting back to camp when the rain drops started falling. All we could think about was whether or not the entire tent was over our down quilt. Since our tent uses Link’s trekking poles, we had to collapse it in order for him to use the poles to hike with this morning. We assumed we had covered everything, but it was early, dark, and we weren’t entirely sure. So we tried to pick up the pace, but our legs were pretty darn tired by this point! We were back in camp by 4:15 and all was well with the tent, plus it ended up just being a light sprinkle. The sun even came out so we could make dinner outside and chat with friends…Snapshot and Circus are here and plan on summiting Whitney tomorrow! We both wore our water proof socks for the first time today and think they worked great. There was so much snow melt that we were walking in water/streams A LOT today plus all of the postholing, so the socks really got a workout! We will definitely wear them again for some of the snowy passes coming up. What an amazing, exhausting and super packed day. What a treat to not have to set up camp when we got back from the long day…I think we will both be sleeping super well tonight! Thanks for reading, guys! Double Down