To the Summit!
JULY 5 – 18 miles Crabtree Meadow up and over Mt. Whitney
When we arrived at Crabtree Meadow around 6pm, it was a strange site to see. Around 50 tents arranged in a crypt-like silence and hardly anyone talking. Crabtree is basecamp for folks who make the push out to Mt. Whitney (so named in honor of our Lord and Savior, Ms. Whitney Houston) and there was definitely some stored-up energy vibing around these parts. Was it reverence for the giant day that lay ahead…nerves?…or maybe just the quiet reflection of the last pit toilet we’d see for 24 hours…
Sara, Olivia, and Jacob had hiked on and done a 24 mile day to Guitar Lake, so it was back to our original crew. We were on a mission now, with clear skies around, wildfire danger behind us, and only ~5,000 ft of elevation gain remaining to reach the highest contiguous point in the United States. After one last gutbomb dinner of Knorr Side rice, I laid out my stuff like it was my first day of school because I knew I wouldn’t have the brainpower (or the daylight) to see if I’d left anything behind. The pack was, of course, the lightest it had been all trip and I greedily laid out the extra 2 bars we’d gotten from Dr. Human Rights on Forrester Pass. I laid down to listen to 30 seconds of a podcast before falling asleep like it was Christmas Eve.
Mike outside my tent: Hey Kate….
Me: *groggily* yeah?
Mike: It’s go time.
Kate: Let’s do this.
We broke camp before first light and Joe made sure we stepped out to the meadow to take an unbelievable view of the Milky Way. The gravity of how lucky we are to get to do adventures like these really hit me in that moment. We hiked out a ways and made our breakfast so as not to disturb the aforementioned crypt.
Hiking as the sun rises is something I don’t have words for, because it always feels like one of those motivational posters with a kitten on it or some woo woo meditation. Everyone’s got their own experience with this. So suffice it to say, I was FEELING GOOD and we trekked onwards.
As we made our way up, I caught up with Sara (Lightning), who was getting her ass kicked by altitude sickness and pushing forward like a goddamn champion. What I learned about Sara (and Olivia) over the course of this trip is that they live in SufferLand better than anyone. They’ve moved in, they bought a house there, put up curtains and redecorated the Pain Cave. I get a paper cut and the guys hear about it all day long. So when we met back up, I knew how badly Sara wanted to get to the summit, and I also knew that everyone needs to make that call for themselves and assess what they can handle. Spoilers: Sara can handle A LOT.
From the trail crest, it begins to get gnarly. Joe had gone to the top before, so he stayed with Olivia (who wasn’t feeling the tight crumbly pathway up) and they watched our packs so that me, Mike, and Sara could go more lightly. While it’s only ~3 miles from trail crest to the top, the ascent is a doozy.
After a couple hours of scramble, we made it to the top to enjoy breathtaking 360 degree views.
4:00pm – Oh right, and then you have to go down
So you’ve been up since 4am, climbed one of the biggest elevations of the trip, and now it’s just a knee-grinding drop down to Whitney Portal for another 8.8 miles. What could go wrong? The adrenaline fuels us for the first few miles and it’s all gravy until we see the canyon wind down down and down and start questioning our life choices.
We were really down to the wire with our food now and coasting on fumes. Eventually, the girls and I started to jog down the mountain and I’m only pausing to strategically smile and say something nice to every day hiker we pass, knowing full well we need a hitch out of here. At last, the tunes are pumping in my ears and I see the parking lot that means we’ve made it to Whitney Portal. I can’t seem to control my speed anymore and nearly crash into the people at the trailhead.
But we are DONE with 200 miles and 15 days of wonder. I call my wife for the first time in weeks, make apologies for not being able to get a message out, and I know I’ve tested her patience bigtime. Make a mental note to dig myself out of the doghouse when I’m home and bring a Garmin InReach next trek. I join the crew for giant plates of french fries and beer at the store and we start talking about town meals, showers, and the pool at Del Valle Motel that awaits us.
Enter the first rule of hitchhiking: send the girl. A group of 6 is not likely to get a hitch all together, so Olivia and Sara split off to find their own ride and I stay back with the boys. Now, I know where my responsibility lies here. People are WAY more likely to pick up a female hitchhiker, so I go ask a lovely gentleman we saw day hiking up the trail. Jason, as it turns out, has a 1983 VW VAN. When I tell Jason that I come with 3 dudes and their packs, I can see the moment’s hesitation on his face. I’ve learned in these moments the art of negotiation and the second rule of hitching: make the request, continue eye contact, and shut your damn mouth. Jason is an angel and offers to bring the 4 of us all the way to our hotel. He’s from LA and visiting a friend in Bishop.
Once we’re dropped in town (Lone Pine), I’m pretty sure I black out from re-introducing all the simple pleasures of not filtering water, being clean for the first time in weeks, the market aisles with an overwhelming assortment of whatevs, and the deep sense of shared accomplishment we carry as we close out this adventure. Olivia shows off her newly tricked out Sprinter van (deLUXE), we spend some time at the pool until Caitlin (bless her) comes to collect us, and eat meals every hour on the hour.
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