May 28, 2016
Guitar Lake to bushcamp (mile 768.8)
Miles: 14.4 (1.8 PCT miles + 12.6 Whitney miles)
Our story began on August 23, 2012. We both hiked the John Muir Trail and met on top of Mt Whitney on the last day of our respective hikes.
Today we summitted Whitney for the fourth time. For Laurie this was special because it was her first ascent in the snow.
For Andy it was special because we hiked from the Mexican border to get there.
For both of us it is special because the mountain brought us together.
Our alarms were set for 3am but we woke up at 2:48 am from our rustling. We had placed a space blanket under our air pads for additional warmth and the noise our air pads made was astronomical (pun intended).
Laurie was bright eyed and eager to look out the tent to check the weather. Andy was not so quick to move as he had a headache. Andy kept pleading for another 5 minutes of sleep but Laurie knew if she lay there any longer she would lose momentum and never want to get up.
We were dressed and out of the tent by 3:30am. Andy didn’t get water last night, electing instead to get water this morning. We brought our shoes in last night and Andy didn’t want to get them wet again.
In hindsight that would have been the better choice instead of scooping and filtering freezing water in the middle of the night. This delay didn’t sit well with Laurie as she secretly hoped to get to Whitney for sunrise.
We woke up earlier than we expected to but not early enough to catch the sunrise. We would have had to start hiking around midnight to make that happen.
Once we started walking we warmed up quickly. Initially we had every layer on but after 45 minutes we were hiking only in our baselayers.
The air was cool, the wind nonexistent and the snow just hard enough to not need crampons. The Brits (Josh and Tom) hiked with us briefly. They disappeared into the thin air when we stopped after the 5th or 6th switchback to put on our crampons. The temperature was dropping as we climbed and the snow was more slippery.
We loved the traction the crampons afforded us. Even Andy was enjoying himself with the added reassurance of pure grip.
We enjoyed daybreak as we hiked, stopping many times to take photos. This mountain and the views it affords does not lose its charm. It’s simply stunning.
Around 7:15 we reached Trail Crest.
“Let’s be there before 8” Andy challenged us.
We continued on, only to be slowed about a quarter mile later by tricky and narrow chutes. A few places called for practically leaning into or hugging big rocks to get around them.
Laurie did great while Andy took his time, slowly getting around the tricky crossings.
We were almost at the first Window when Laurie said to Andy “smile” as she pointed the camera in his direction.
“NO, just keep hiking will ya?”
Andy later explained to Laurie that he was not comfortable waiting on the exposed ledge longer than he needed to be and wanted to get to more stable ground.
After what felt like an hour we finally made our way across the long traverse and made the final push to the top.
We got to the top of Mt. Whitney at 7:57am! There was no one in sight. We took in the views, keeping a watchful eye on the grey clouds to the northeast. After signing the register, we went into the hut for warmth. Inside were Ruben and Sue, Josh and Tom, and Berbard – a French hiker we met a few days ago.
No one looked very happy. It was hard work getting up there and everyone was cold and tired. It didn’t help matters when we got socked in fifteen minutes later.
Most everyone decided to make their descents after the clouds rolled in, leaving the summit for just us to enjoy until 9:45am. We took photos, time lapse videos and watched the clouds cover massive mountain ranges only to expose them moments later.
We tried calling family and friends before leaving but much to our surprise neither ATT nor Verizon worked.
On the way down we passed many day hikers and other thru hikers. A lot of the thru hikers had camped at Crabtree Meadow and had a longer hike to Whitney and back.
We purposefully chose to camp at Guitar Lake to make the trip to Whitney shorter. Storms usually come through in the afternoon so we wanted to be down as early as possible.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen because it started snowing (albeit lightly) around 11:30am. We switchbacked down and down some more, saying hello to the multitude of hikers still heading up.
After our last major switchback we chose to glissade down about 300 ft. It took us longer to get ready than to actually glissade. We had to reposition the tent on Andy’s backpack, collapse our poles and get the ice axe out.
Laurie slid down the hill like a champ, managing to record her descent with phone in hand and not falling over. Andy’s descent wasn’t as graceful. He barrel-rolled and even slid right over an exposed rock, but he made it down with a smile on his face.
The snow accompanied us on and off until we got back to a Guitar Lake.
Our plan was to pack up our tent and hike to Wallace Creek but just as we got to Guitar Lake the wind picked up and it started snowing heavily.
Tired and hungry we decided to wait out the storm. The last few days it would snow for a few minutes and stop. Today though, the snow just kept comin’.
We hunkered down for about an hour and a half until we got restless. We packed up and waited for our window to pack the tent up and go. Laurie sat with backpack packed, shoes and gaiters on with her feet sticking out of the tent for 10 minutes. Finally, we gave up and emerged despite the light snow.
We’re glad we did though because we didn’t want to be at Guitar Lake any longer than we had to be given the conditions.
We hiked down around 4:15pm, still running into many thru hikers making their way back to camp from Whitney. These guys had a really long day.
At the Crabtree Meadow junction we continued on for another 1.8 miles, where we decided to stop for the night. We were tired, hungry and cold.
Just as we set the tent up, we saw a few flakes of snow. An hour later lightning and thunder passed through, bringing more snow.
We’re cozy in our tent and happy with how today went. We are confident we can make it up and over Forester Pass in two days time. For now though, it’s time to rest our tired bodies. Goodnight.
Tonight we are thankful for sunny mornings and crampons.