Day 52-56: North Star and Mt. Whitney
Day 52: Kennedy Meadows (Mile 702)-Near Clover Meadow (Mile 709.5), plus 0.5 off trail; 8 miles
Anna received a trail name today! Blueberry, one of the hikers Anna caught heading the wrong direction on Day 33, suggested Anna be called Right Way. We liked this suggestion, and felt a route-finding name was appropriate, since Anna is always helping other hikers navigate. After some brainstorming, we felt North Star was perfect, as that star is used for navigation, and it also represents our continual bearing towards Canada as we hike the Pacific Crest Trail. From now on in the hiking community, Anna will be called North Star.
For the upcoming 11 day stretch in the Sierra Nevada mountains, we equipped ourselves with 44 pounds of food, 2 bear cans, 2 pairs of Microspikes, and a warmer jacket and shirt. After dividing this evenly and adding it to our packs, we weighed them. Shutterbug’s pack weighed 45 pounds, and North Star’s, with a much lighter camera, came in at 39 pounds. This was the heaviest load we anticipated carrying on the entire trail.
Shouldering these hefty packs, we left Kennedy Meadows in late afternoon and walked a few miles. Our backpacks are designed for lighter loads, so we found ourselves adjusting straps frequently to keep them from causing pain.
Around 6 PM we found a good camping spot overlooking a meadow. It was our first night in the wilderness after our bear encounter and North Star was spooked by various critter noises in the night. She didn’t sleep well, but our bear cans protected our food and the night passed without incident.
Day 53: Near Clover Meadow (Mile 709.5)-Near Gomez Meadow (Mile 727.5); 18 miles
We began the day walking through a burned forest. There we saw a large black bear with lovely brown fur. It was scared of us and ran quickly up the hillside.
After the forest we came to a large green meadow, with peaks in the distance. Soon we reached the Kern River, wide, shallow, and clear, winding through the meadow.
We continued walking past the meadow and into a forest where we cooked lunch near a creek. Water was everywhere, in stark contrast to the desert section of the PCT. Tuna Helper stopped at our lunch spot and had Shutterbug sign a witness form. He was attempting a PCT speed record and planned to walk 35 miles each day through the Sierras.
We climbed further, eventually finishing 3500 feet of climbing for the day, as we entered the high Sierras. We were exhausted, especially North Star. Our 40 pound packs weighed heavily on our shoulders and backs.
Also the tent zipper was breaking just as we were entering mosquito territory, and we wouldn’t be able to replace the tent for a while. This was very frustrating!
Day 54: Near Gomez Meadow (Mile 727.5)-Above Poison Meadow (Mile 747); 19.5 miles
In the morning, we climbed through sparse pine forest with manzanita. Climbing higher, we saw pristine meadows below. They resembled perfectly manicured golf courses. Barren peaks loomed above, some with patches of snow.
The weight of our packs was still oppressive but slightly improved, as we had eaten some of our food, and we were more accustomed to the weight. The day’s climbing was hard with such weight, but we did it.
We lunched near a spring, and we each took a quick power nap. Revitalized, we walked on until we had covered almost 20 miles for the day, then camped in a rocky area above a meadow.
Day 55: Above Poison Meadow (Mile 747)-Crabtree Meadow (Mile 766); 19 miles
In the morning we saw our first alpine lake of the hike, beautiful evidence that we had finally reached the Sierras.
A rocky climb followed, then a sandy walk to a creek, where we ate lunch. We were famished and out of energy. After a wolfing down a pot of curry lentil soup, we tackled a very steep climb, one of the steepest on the PCT to that point. We were energized by our lunch break and the climb went great. We felt fast and strong.
Miles later, at the end of the day, we were achy and humbled, but excited by our strength on the climb. Our efforts paid off as the evening’s campsite was a beautiful meadow under Mt. Whitney, with a creek running through. Deer grazed in the deep green grass as the sun gradually reddened on the peaks. Just after sunset we watched fish jumping to catch insects in the transparent water of the creek.
Day 56: Climbing Mt Whitney; 17 miles off-trail
We woke with excitement as we were about to summit Mt Whitney, the highest point in continental United States. Whitney’s summit lies at 14505 feet, which meant we had 4000 feet of climbing to accomplish for the day. Fortunately we could leave our heavy packs behind, because we were doing Whitney as a day hike, a side trip off the PCT.
We were excited to find the climb itself quite lovely. Meadows and lakes abounded, and marmots too, especially near Guitar Lake.
The views were panoramic as we approached the summit.
About midday we reached the top. We found large rock slabs and a hut there, as well as a number of other hikers. Mountain peaks extended in all directions.
Though thru hiking the PCT is much more difficult than climbing Whitney, we still felt good about completing the climb. We spent about three hours at the summit. We gazed at the views, ate, and ordered a new mosquito-proof tent and new socks.
The 4000 foot climb back down was time-consuming, but the views were even better since we could more easily gaze at the mountains and lakes below. When we returned to the meadow where we had camped, the deer were again grazing and the sun was setting. We were tired and satisfied.