Tentsite – guitar lake
15.5 PCT miles. 3745ft up. 3290ft down.
3.5 Whitney trail miles. 996ft up. 206ft down.
I was surprisingly warm last night, although I did have my puffy on inside my sleeping bag I was the perfect temperature, nice and cosy. The wind picked up in the night and it came in gusts that made my tent flap about wildly. I think I woke up every time the wind blew. At one point I had a panic because my pack which leans against the ‘doors’ of my tent seemed to have disappeared, but the fly had come loose from its stake and the bag had slipped under. Phew. Not stolen by a bear. I positioned the bag so the hip belt was pushing into the side of the tent and I could feel it poking in my leg. That way I knew it was still there. I had bizarre dreams all night but I was pleased when my alarm went off and woke me from a dream about having a car crash.
We were off just after 7 and the wind was pretty cold and gusty. But ahead was clear blue sky and behind us in the distance a big black band of cloud was gathering. I’m glad we aren’t over there. Last time I was here the trail was covered in snow so I was pleasantly surprised that the trail was nice and smooth and relatively rock free with nicely graded switchbacks. The only difficulty was the wind, several times I had to stop and brace myself against it. But thankfully they were quick bursts and didn’t last long.
We did the 3 miles in just under 2 hours which was good and when we got to the top we had reached the highest point on the PCT. It was windy and now we had stopped moving we were getting cold so we didn’t hang around for long.
We could see the wind whipping across the lake below and as we descended the gusty wind continued, but eventually the sun came out from behind a huge bank of cloud and it started to warm up a little. I found a rock to shelter behind so I could sit and have a snack. Finally after we got down into the trees around midday we could take some of our layers off.
We crossed the Bighorn Plateau and got our first view of Mt Whitney. The temperature was lovely in the sun but as soon as the sun went behind a cloud it got cold. Most of the gathering of clouds was behind us, they were moving fast and we could watch them floating over to join the party. Ahead of us seemed to be clearer skies. The winds continued to gust so there wasn’t much opportunity to sit and snack.
I was walking along a nice smooth bit of trail and checking my GPS to see how far we had left to go when I tripped and went down like a sack of potatoes. I hurt my knee, heel of my hand and shoulder. And I was very dusty. I hate falling over.
We arrived at the junction the Mt Whitney and this is where we would go our separate ways. I will go and climb Whitney and Catwater will continue on to Cottonwood Pass to meet her friend and go to a The Who concert. We will meet up again in 5 days time at Kennedy Meadows, that’s the plan. She gave me her supply of matches so I could light my stove to get hot water. I’m still convinced it’s a faulty gas canister.
We saw a couple at the junction who had enormous packs. Twice the size of ours. We chat to them for a while and they are hoping to climb Whitney tomorrow too. That makes me feel better, at least I’m not out here totally alone, and it makes Catwater feel better about leaving me. Mt Whitney isn’t officially part of the PCT, and having already climbed it I wasn’t going to bother with it this year. But it’s right there, I couldn’t resist!
I walk about a mile down the trail to the junction for Crabtree Meadows campsite. I put all the stuff I won’t need, extra food and a few other bits, into a bear locker so my pack is nice and light. This whole thing would be so much easier if we didn’t have to carry food!
I then carry on another 2.5 miles to guitar lake where I plan to camp. I’m worried about the weather, the couple we spoke to mentioned ‘the storm’ but my research said Saturday was going to be clear but Friday night might be a bit windy. As I walk towards Whitney the weather seems good, it’s clear in front of me and a bit cloudy behind me. The wind is still gusty but not too bad.
I collect some water from the stream and set up my tent behind a massive boulder in the hope that will shelter me if it’s windy. I’m in my tent by 6pm. I want to make sure I’m warm. I am worried about it getting really cold tonight although so far so good.
I’ve not eaten much today and I’m suddenly ravenous. I cook a beef stroganoff, only thanks to the matches and at about 6:30 I hear a person shouting ‘hey you in the tent, can I ask you a question?’ It was a man heading down the mountain and wanting to know which way the trail went. He looked cold.
Just before it got dark I went out for a pre-bed wee and I noticed the sky had completely clouded over. I hope it doesn’t rain, but sometimes the clouds can make it a bit warmer so it might be a good thing. Being so close to water I hope there’s no condensation. My alarm is set for 2:45am. I have a crazy plan to get to the top for sunrise. But if I look out my tent and it’s totally cloudy and freezing cold then I’m going to wait until it warms up a bit and head up in the sun. It’s only 4.5 miles to the top.
At 7:30 I hear voices and peer out my tent, there are a couple of headlamps coming down the mountain. They are really far away but I can hear their conversation really clearly. I drift of to sleep, preparing for my early start. Around 9:30 I hear shouting, I pop my head out my tent and ask if they are ok. ‘Oh my god another human!’ They cry. ‘We are really lost, can you help us?’
Kyle and Josh tell me they were supposed to take the Whitney Portal trail (the other side of the mountain). They started at 4am this morning and have now got separated from their friends. I tell them the bad news, all those switchbacks they just came down – 2.6 miles and nearly 2000ft – they have to go back up because they missed the junction. Then they have another 7 miles to get back to their car.
They are really tired but they have nothing with them, no tent, no sleeping bag. We chat for a while and they decide there are going to get a few hours sleep before heading back up. I tell them I saw another boy earlier who seemed a bit lost, maybe he was on one their friends? They didn’t think he was. They said they were scared of bears so asked if they could lie down next to my tent. Sure. Kyle lay out his survival blanket and they both lay on that. It’s a pretty warm night, but I can say that from the comfort of my sleeping bag and neoair. They are lying on the ground. I’m concerned they are going to get really cold but I don’t have anything to offer them.
I’m walking thousands of miles for Just A Drop because everyone should have access to clean water. Please donate here, every little bit helps.