Days 39-46 (703-788.7)
The Sierras are here. And they're mighty.
DAY 39: 703 to 704.6
Sleeping in is the best. Although "sleeping in" is around 6am, this is the traditional life equivalent to an 11 o'clock wake up.
We started out with all you can eat pancakes at Grumpy Bear, and spent the rest of the day with stomach aches and a fullness unnatural to the hiker life. I mean, just look at these pancakes!!
Anyway, today was mostly spent hanging around Kennedy Meadows waiting for my resupply to come in! Because KM is so remote, I had to have food sent to this location. Shoutout to the best resupply dream team (my mom, dad, sister Catherine, and faux-sister Melissa) for putting together this package. A bear can, 9 days of food, new shirt (!!), new hat, and ice axe made today basically Christmas morning. I can officially enter the Sierras.
After somehow packing our packs, Monk, GQ and I pushed out of KM for a quick 2 mile hike to the nearest campground.
Despite being just a mere 2ish miles into the Sierras, it feels good!! The next volume of the PCT has begun.
DAY 40: 704.6 to 725
Ohwe are DOING it now!! Climbing up to elevation is always exciting, but even more so when you know you'll maintain a chunk of it for a few weeks. We're going to be living above 10K feet for weeks! What??
One of the highlights from today was absolutely the campsite we chose. We played cards (duh), made a campfire, and watched our first real-life Sierra sunset.
Life is good out here. We know it's about to get real, so we're soaking up these easier miles as long as we can. 😊
DAY 41: 725 to 743.9
Waking up, I was relieved to find that my sleeping bag wasn't wet from condensation! I attribute it to camping at 10K feet. Rolling over in my bag, I grabbed the breakfast shake I had prepared the night before and began the grueling process of squirming out of the warm confines of my 20° bag. Overall, today was a really nice day! We were able to wrap up the descent from yesterday's climb in the early morning light. The snow was hard and the surrounding peaks were waking up, reflecting the sun we could not yet see. Definitely made me think of that one CS Lewis quote:
"I believe in God as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I can see it, but because by it I can see everything else."
Snaps to that.
Monk, Evan and I took a morning priesta (pre-siesta) about 7 miles in, killing a bit of water and snacking a bit. A little later, we hiked to Owens Valley Overlook, where I was able to score some cell service! Future PCT hikers, only AT&T works here. Just FYI.
Climbing back up to 10k feet, we were greeted with Sequoias and fresh snowmelt! I love the Sierras.
Also, I took another 2 hour nap at lunch... I'm becoming known for my ability to fall asleep wherever and whenever. Naps- a trade I don't mind being good at!
After the nap, we scooted up a few miles to our campsite! It's crazy how easy miles are coming these days. Despite the blisters and occasional knee twinge, I'm finally feeling like I earned my hiker legs!
Our campsite right now has a beautiful view of the valley below, peaks above, and surrounding sequoias. We tested out our crampons on nearby snow patches and ready for a long day of hiking to the Whitney Trailhead tomorrow!! Let's do it!! DAY 42: 743.9 to 757.73
Let's be real: there is an incredible satisfaction earned when you wake up to your first alarm in the morning. This satisfaction is tenfold when it's at 3:30am, it's freezing, and you have a good bit of miles to crush in the snow.
Y'all, today was awesome. In addition to the whole waking-up-thing, we were able to truly put our snow gear to good use!! While the crampons gave us new blisters (yayyy), it was a blast going up and over these ridges with traction under our feet.
A lot of the day was spent finding the trail, or at least making sure we were near it. The rangers and PCTA haven't cut a formal path through the Sierras for the year, due to the caliber of snowfall. This made way to some true backcountry hiking.
It's been said that we are no longer hiking, but doing some light mountaineering. Only at 11,400', I could not agree more! This snow stuff is brutal!! And SLOWS. US. DOWN.
We entered into Sequoia National Park around 10AM, our first National Park of the trail!! Sequoia is one of my favs (thanks Beau Glenn) and it's known to be the most scenic of the trail.
We were anticipating a 24 mile day, and hardly scored a 14. The snow began to get pretty slick in the afternoon, so we took inventory of our food and decided that we'd have plenty to do an early camp!
I built a fire pit (💪), played chess with Monk, and started working on some blog things. Annnd here we are. Counting down the minutes when I can start eating Din Din and excited to catch some Zzzz's before our last push to the Whitney Trailhead!
PS- Monk just said "I'm living like a king." That's how majestic the Sierras are. Despite the difficulty, all of this feels so surreal. DAY 43: 757.73 to 767.0
That's all I have to say about this morning's 3:30am alarm. We were camped on an edge of a ridge, and could definitely feel the cold air that had settled in the valley as we descended around 4:00. Crampons were necessary for a bit of the descent, but we soon abandoned them once the snow got sticky enough.
With two creek crossings and a descent amount of elevation gain, woo boy did a we get a good understanding of the Sierras!
We rolled up to the day's highest ascent just after 9:00 and took a 3 hour siesta. Again, I just love naps.
After lunch, we moseyed on down (okay, we glissaded) to the PCT/JMT junction and headed down the Whitney Trail to set up camp! It's surreal that we're already on the John Muir Trail. Back in the planning days I imagined intersecting the JMT wayyyy down the trail. Either my planning was poor, or a good amount of the Trail is in the bag. Dang.
Tomorrow we're waking up at 12:30am to begin our ascent up Whitney. Yikes, y'all. That's usually my bedtime in traditional life. Anyway. So happy to be out here. 👍
DAY 44: 767.0 to Mt. Whitney Summit to Wallace Creek (770.3)
What. A. Day.
Currently writing this entry after a very, very long 20 hour trek. I could sleep so hard right now, but I think it's important to log this day in the moment! So let's do it.
It's Whitney Wednesday!!! Today we planned to summit the 14,500' Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States.
At 12:30am my alarm went off, but I was already awake. A perfect storm of adrenaline, anxiety of missing the alarm, and an early bedtime kept me wide awake.
[wpvideo 2rMrgq8U] We (GQ, Monk, and I) pushed out of the Whitney trail camp at 1am, with all hopes on summiting by sunrise. We did this for two reasons.
First, safety. The softer the snow, the more dangerous it is- especially on the descent.
Second, the beauty of the sunrise. We were also told we couldn't make it before sunrise, so we were determined to prove the naysayers wrong... even if it meant trailblazing in the middle of the night.
[wpvideo 8yATRLkq] There are no words to describe the climb up Whitney. We navigated the snowy basin of the peaks, with moonlight beaming down on the snow. As the miles and hours ticked by, the moon slowly set. However, we were gaining 4000+ feet of elevation and had the moon in sight for nearly the entire climb!
Summiting Whitney was an unreal accomplishment. With a bit of boulder scrambling, we avoided ice chutes and made it to the top just a few minutes before the sun popped over the horizon.
Oh how I wish I could give you the feeling of this morning. Intense humility, matched with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and determination. Experiencing the glory/power of mountains and the grace of a sunrise. It was all just too much. God is big. I'm really tiny.
The storm shelter on the peak was completely blown out with snow. Look how crazy that is!!
For 2.5 hours, we were the only people on the summit. The silence was deafening (how can something so powerful be so delicate??) and beautiful. We watched the sky dance in gradients, and I imagined the sun illuminating the entire United States below me.
[wpvideo IkJNmDvT] Needless to say, Whitney was a treat.
After a small breakfast on the peak, we made our way back to camp. With the sun beating down on the snow, a lot of our traverse back was post-holing and navigating through slushy pine forests. Arriving at camp, we took a small siesta and headed back to the PCT. The entire trail was a mess. Incredibly slushy and pretty steep, I had a glissade run turn sour and I ended up upside down in a tree well. Ouch ouch ouch.
A few miles before our anticipated camp site, we had to cross Wallace Creek. This was our first ford and MAN it was cold, deep, and fast. After safely across, we abandoned any thought of putting in any more miles. We quickly built a fire to keep warm, pitifully dried out our wet clothes, and made dinner. I cashed out at 7:45 and buried in my sleeping bag.
This day went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. That's the PCT. That's life.
All in all, the Sierras kicked my bum today. And tomorrow we climb back up above 13k feet with a river fording at 4am. Y'all. Every other thought bounces between "I am not cut out for this" and "let's freaking do this!!" Either way, this isn't hiking. This is mountaineering. And I'm a noob at mountaineering.
Day 45: Wallace Creek (770.3) to near Forester Pass Approach (777.46)
Holy smokes you guys, the Sierras are NO JOKE. We forded our second Creek at 4:30am, completely surrounded by snow and ice. The air temp was about 23°, and the water had to be around 40°, as it was all direct snowmelt. BRRR. ☃️
This ford completely killed the day's motivation to cross Forester Pass, the PCT's infamously dangerous highest point. Completely chilled to the bone, we camped in a dry spot across the creek to counter any chance of frostbite. We put ziplocks of boiling water on our feet, slipped into our sleeping bags, and eagerly awaited the sun to rise. Y'all, this is the coldest I've ever been FOR sure.
A bit after sunrise, we trudged on with frozen shoes, water and packs. Honestly, this was pretty miserable. We knew we had a potential next ford a few miles down the trail, and were not wanting to hike wet the rest of the day.
I desperately prayed for some snow bridges for the next crossing and, after a half-hour of searching, we found one!! PTL. Seriously. Thank you, Jesus.
Our dreams of crossing Forester Pass today slowly decreased with the rising sun. Around 10, the sun-cupped snow fields turn to mush, and trekking across them is just brutal. I reaaaaallly wanted to push over Forester, but a spot just below the pass's approach definitely called our name. As GQ says, "Planning out a day in the Sierras is a waste. Wake early, and hike until you can't hike."
[wpvideo lRo7aukV] At this KILLER spot above 12,000 feet, we dried out our stuff, napped. snacked on all the things, and played a bit of cards. I also got the opportunity to work on my blog (heyo!). Forester Friday tomorrow. Let's do this.
Day 46: Forester Pass Approach (mi. 777.46) to Kearsarge Pass/Owens Valley (mi. 788.7)
Wind is a funny thing, ya know? We casually talk about how you can feel the wind, but not see it. As Christians, we are quick to make lazy allusions to the Holy Spirit without realizing the depth of the representation. I'm not *exactly* sure where this train of thought is going... but maybe these Sunday School examples of the Christian faith are becoming much more real to me out here.
The wind was mighty today. On an exposed boulder field, it kept me up a lot last night. And as we approached the highest point on the PCT, it said "hey what's up hello."
However, wind aside, the Forester approach was a blast!! Traction footwear (crampons or microspikes) is definitely recommended, but wooboy was it fun!! The waxing moon illuminated the approach, dancing off the snow covered faces. The sun rose as we reached the top of the pass, and MAN was it beautiful. Also, we're officially through Sequoia National Park! That's nuts!
[wpvideo KgXzxpVF] PCT'ers- Forester was quite easy and not very technical. I would not want to do this in the slush... so for safety do this in the early morning! Due to the caliber of snow and steep grade, I think our toughest passes this year will be Glen and Pinchot.
On top of Forester, I had a blow out with my right crampon. Jerryrigged and a little sketchy, the crampon did hold out for the rest of the day! So praise to that. Because I really wouldn't want to do the descent without traction.
The rest of the day was spent getting from Forester to Kearsarge Pass, our exit for our next resupply. Honestly, we should have split this day in two. The slow was way too slushy to do an afternoon Pass, but we were low on food and really wanting to get to town.
A 7.5 mile trip off the PCT, the Bullfrog Lake + Kearsarge Pass trail exit was slushy and tough. We were all pretty over it. But after a mid-day Hershey's Bar, my mood changed! On the descent from Kearsarge, I pretended like I was a kid on a snow day. Monk and I just laughed and ran down the slushy slopes. We lost the trail quite a few times, but it was a game changer. Spirits were high, shoes were soaked, and miles were crushed.
[wpvideo eCKOeipe] We scored a 15 mile hitch into Independence and another 40 mile hitch to Bishop for resupply. Tonight we're staying in a Comfort Inn and plan to crush some Mexican food before heading to bed. The first bit of Sierras is done. Time for allllll the rest and prep before getting back in the madness.