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Day 52-56: North Star and Mt. Whitney

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The views were panoramic as we approached the summit.

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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.

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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.

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18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan Alexander #

    North Star is a perfect name for you, Anna! Just perfect.

    And what beautiful country you have been through. How large are those bear canisters? How can they possibly hold all that food?

    June 21, 2012
    • Thanks, so glad you like it!

      The bear canisters are actually pretty big — they take up a good portion of our packs. So we can store a lot of food, especially when we pack it carefully, a technique North Star has certainly mastered. We are very happy with them, though we did have to change how we pack everything else in our backpacks to accommodate them. Now that we have a new system, it’s all good. Maybe eventually we can post about how that works!

      June 21, 2012
  2. Chris #

    Your bear posting was a bit frightening so I was glad to see the bear cans in your latest posting. As I sit in Chicago visiting Alex I am wishing I were in the mountain coolness with you ( sans 40 lb packs). Amazing vistas & amazing photography! Look forward to a book. Best to you both.

    June 21, 2012
  3. Great Post – loving your photos – thanks for sharing!

    June 21, 2012
  4. Suzanne in berkeley #

    The views of the sharp mtn peaks from above are amazing. And what a contrast tothe meadows. I was wondering what the bird life is like. Do you hear much of a (pre)dawn chorus? If so, does it wake you up or are you already packing by then? Has it changed since you hit the sierras?

    June 21, 2012
    • Yes, we love the contrasts! So many different landscapes and ecosystems.

      There is a chorus in the morning, but we don’t know most of the calls. We wake up before dawn so we hear the birds while we hike. Midday on mountainsides we sometimes hear the deep, resonant “whoomp whoomp whoomp whoomp” of the sooty grouse, one of the largest birds in the Sierras.

      We hear a larger variety of calls in the Sierras than we did in the desert, and the calls are different. For example, the California Quail’s “ChiCAgo, ChiCAgo” call was common in the desert, but not in the Sierras.

      June 23, 2012
  5. wow…that terrain looks really beautiful….i can feel the silence…….yes taking weight uphill is very hard work indeed…………if you guys were here i would have to call anna southern cross………..and in my mind i shall think of her as such from here onwards………….be safe and be careful and enjoy………..incase you may not have realized i am actually attempting to tempt you guys and your readers to come and hike south africa if you can……..the drakensberg are beautiful to the extreme……………….did you have any problems with altitude sickness on the mountain?………..

    June 22, 2012
    • That’s right, the Southern Cross, I have never seen it. I want to someday! We would love to visit South Africa at some point, though we also have many places on our list. New Zealand and Alaska are high on the list right now.

      We had a few reactions to the altitude, but nothing serious. Mostly we just noticed we were breathing harder than usual.

      June 24, 2012
  6. Jan Alexander #

    I can’t get over how utterly beautiful the peaks around Mt. Whitney are. I keep coming back to enjoy them over and over. Yes, looking forward to the book, definitely!!

    June 22, 2012
    • Yes, that area is awesome, I’m glad it came across. Whitney won’t be in the book since it isn’t technically part of the PCT, but I have plenty of other photos waiting to be sorted through!

      June 24, 2012
  7. Mary #

    Lindley and I camped near Kennedy Meadows years ago, so I was excited to see your photos and read about your experience with that area. Photos of the Sierras always provide a heart lift. Congratulations on summiting Mt. Whitney! The views are awe inspiring. I’m so glad your have 2 bear cans. North Star is a beautiful name for Anna. Happy walking.

    June 22, 2012
    • Thanks Mary! We were in a more southern part of Kennedy Meadows than most people visit, so it may have been a different part than you saw. We are thinking the more visited part is probably prettier. The part we were in had cacti and was fairly dry, more of a desert to Sierras transition area. We still enjoyed it but once we reached the Sierras proper, we found them quite different, and awesome.

      Hope you and Lindley are enjoying North Carolina!

      June 24, 2012
  8. dante #

    Wait – did I hear you say you ordered a new tent when you were on top of Mt. Whitney? Let me guess, you ordered it from Marmot. Ha! Get it? Marmot Mt Works, I hear, is really run by marmots. Either that of Oompa Loompas.

    June 22, 2012
  9. So enjoying your blog!!! Thank you!!! I am finding it hard to do anything but read read read and in the process feeling a huge pull towards PCT in the future… Maybe 2014… You mentioned day hiking Mt. Whitney without your packs. So did you leave them behind in your campsite?

    February 24, 2013
    • The PCT is magnetic for some people. It pulled us in, and look what happened!

      Mt. Whitney is very close to the PCT, so many thru hikers do it as a day (or night) hike. We left most of our gear in Crabtree Meadow’s campground and bear lockers, bringing only our cameras, food, water, etc up to the top of Mt. Whitney. It’s an awesome day hike.

      February 26, 2013

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