Mt Whitney to the Tyndall Ford
June 22, 2014
I get a little sleep, although it seems like as soon as I drift off, Bluesman can’t sleep and he starts rattling things around. I think he’s cooking. J’s snuggled me in to keep me warm, and I try to drift back off. Bluesman wakes us up: “I think it’s getting light out.” He goes outside to check it out – “It’s almost dawn.”
I get up and put on my shoes. I’m not going to be on top of Mt. Whitney for the dawn, then just miss it because I don’t want to be cold. Man! It’s cold out here. The clouds of last night have cleared, and the dawn breaks cold and clear and pink. It’s a quieter event than the sunset gala that was given to us last night, but beautiful. Katsumi puffs up to the summit – he started at 2am and then missed the sunrise by just 15 minutes. Bummer. (There’s no way I would have gotten up from my sleeping bag at 2am, in the cold, to go anywhere.)
As soon as the blush wears off, I charge back into the summit shelter and start packing up. I’m not spending another moment up here that I don’t have to – relief awaits me at 11,000 feet. Bluesman has just fallen asleep, but he’s going to have to get up anyway. “Oh, man, I don’t think I slept at all last night,” he complains.
“Let’s go!” I urge. I hustle J and Bluesman and we start the hike down at 6:30am. I’ve been on top of Mt Whitney for 12 hours. Time to go! Time to go! (Before we can go, I have to blow my guts out one more time. My quadruple-bagged grocery sacks must weigh three pounds.) We start downhill – thank goodness, it’s all downhill. I’m as dizzy as yesterday, and panting on the descent, all wrung out. Once again, I just focus on the trail. Bluesman walks behind, pep-talking me the entire way. “Gizmo, I’m so proud of you. Gizmo, you really put it out there, let’s just get down and get some rest. Gizmo, that was some amazing effort, let’s just get downhill.”
We pass hordes and hordes of hikers going uphill – I think there were thirty people sleeping at Guitar Lake last night – but there is no one at Guitar Lake now except for fat little marmots and brazen chipmunks. I’m dangerously dehydrated, so I make a liter and a half of tea, drink the whole thing. I blow up my air mattress, strip down to my pink long johns, and fall asleep. J covers my feet with some clothes so I don’t sunburn them, and I sleep and sleep. Every hour or so I squint my eyes open, to see the granite spires, the blue lake, the white ridges of snow. “If I must feel bad,” I think once again. “I’m glad it’s here.”
Five hours at Guitar Lake and I’m somewhat revived. I’m exhausted and starved, but still too nauseated to eat. Bluesman moved on already. He pep-talked us before he left, encouraging us to go another ten more miles today, but you can tell he didn’t think we’d make it. I think we might though – let’s see how it goes.
We go down to Crabtree meadows, another 1000 feet lower, and I feel a little bit better. I’m as unsteady as a newborn foal, but I can finally eat a little.
We head back out on the PCT. We have to go back up to 11,000 feet two more times, but slow and steady we make it. The big, high plateaus we cross are above timberline, and they look like the surface of the moon, if the surface of the moon was rolling with fat, furry marmots. I adore the marmots. I know they can be pests for hikers, but that seems more like our failing than theirs. The look like tiny, fat bears when they walk, but they mostly scamper, bellies rolling.
Dropping off the plateau one last time takes us down to Tyndall ford. Hallelujah, we made it. There’s a bear box here for campers, and someone has camped directly next to it – someone in a small, yellow bivy. We’ve caught up with Bluesman.
“What kind of jerk camps right next to the bear box,” I joke loudly. Bluesman appears, disoriented and exhausted. “Oh no! You were asleep!”
“You caught up with me,” he mumbles. “I can’t believe you made it. I’m glad you guys made it.” Then he talks incoherently for a bit.
“Bluesman, go back to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Ok,” he mumbles, then disappears into his bivy again.
Looks like we’re back on track. We’ll climb Forester Pass tomorrow morning, then cross into King’s Canyon national park, out of Sequoia. Forester Pass is 13,200 feet, the highest official point on the PCT. Hope that goes well…