Mount Whitney Trip

This post is a walk down memory lane.  I found my trail journal from a trip in the Sierras I took with my Dad and a couple of his friends.  The hike took place in August of 2011 and culminated with a successful summit of Mount Whitney.  It was not without some struggle and upon reflection, I spent more journal lines on some hardship than I did on the standard descriptions of beautiful views and fun times.  Was striking to me as I re-read it 5+ years later.

Friday, August 5, 2011 – Getting to the trailhead

We had flown into LAX and enjoyed some steak and wine at Matt’s house in Brentwood.  Matt is a friend of my Dad’s from college.  The next day, we drive up to Lone Pine where we meet up with Jim, another of my Dad’s college friends.  Jim rounds out our foursome and while his hip is bothering him a bit, he decides to give it a go.  We arrive at Cottonwood Pass Trailhead Camp (near Horseshoe Meadows) in the mid afternoon.  There are a lot of tent sites but the place is packed.  Luckily we find site #20 is open and set up camp before a dinner of awesome rib eye steaks!  Gotta have that good hiking fuel!  We’re at ~9800′ and the air is thinner – simple activities become a bit more tiring for my almost sea level lungs.

Steak is good, even eaten out of a cardboard box

Saturday, August 6, 2011 – Cottonwood Pass Trailhead over Cottonwood Pass and beyond

The first day is always tough and as I’m not in the best shape, it kicks my ass.  We start from the trailhead and head west to Cottonwood Pass.  This is about 3.7 miles and an elevation gain of ~1200 feet.  We pick up the Pacific Crest Trail at Cottonwood Pass and proceed to lunch a mile or so away at Chicken Spring Lake.  I’d love to hike the PCT one day.  Lunch is a mix of chicken and oriental ramen (a salty staple of our hikes) with some sliced hard salami.  I add a raisin walnut Clif Bar as well and am still hungry almost immediately.  From there we want to get to Rock Creek but Jim, Dad, and I are dragging.  From Chicken Spring Lake to the side trail to Rock Creek is ~3.5 miles and is a constant up and down roller coaster.  Many sections are very sandy, making the hiking far more difficult than it looks on the map.  We decide to stop about 2.5 miles from Chicken Spring Lake beneath an unnamed body of water.  It’s good to have a water source nearby and everyone is slammed.  Jim’s hip is really hurting him and he talks about going back.  Matt is the only one in hiking shape and gets water and cooks.  A big help to all of us.  Along the trail today we met a 51 year old woman who is solo hiking the PCT for the fourth time!  For those of you that aren’t familiar, the PCT is Mexico to Canada.  Unreal accomplishment – further highlighting how out of shape I feel.  We did only 7 miles but it felt more like 20.  We are camped at ~11350′ among some foxtail pines and enjoy some Blue Label.  A fine evening.

First campsite in the backcountry

Sunday, August 7, 2011 – Our unnamed lake to Lower Rock Creek Crossing

Our goal for today is to follow the PCT up over an unnamed divide, down to Rock Creek ,and continue on to Guyot Creek.  It’s another beautiful day and the sun doesn’t really beat down on us because we are on the west side of a ridge.  My hips are a bit achy but Im generally doing well.  Unfortunately, Jim leaves up as we get to the divide on the PCT, east of Siberian Pass.  His hip isn’t doing any better so we split up gear and food, splitting it up between Dad, Matt, and I.  Jim will go out via Cottonwood Pass Trailhead in a day or two.  We continue on but don’t make it all the way to Guyot Creek.  We stop at Lower Rock Creek Crossing at ~9500′.  We dropped ~1850′ and while I’m a little sore, my knees are doing well so that’s a plus.  The campsite at Lower Rock Creek Crossing is beautiful – there are benches, a campfire ring, and sandy tent sites.  We hiked 7.5 miles today and while we didn’t get all the way to Guyot Creek, we feel good.  With Jim gone, Dad and Matt tent together and I have my tent to myself.  I’m about 40′ from Rock Creek and it’s running.  The sound of the water is awesome and quickly lulls me off to sleep.  The night is cool at this elevation, but nowhere near as cold as last night.

Nice campsite at Lower Rock Creek Crossing

Monday, August 8, 2011 – Lower Rock Creek Crossing to Crabtree Ranger Station

We get on the trail by around 815am.  Someone has lashed a handrail up by two fallen logs so that we can walk across Rock Creek.  I unclip my wight belt, toss my poles across, and got over easily.  we have to climb up 900′ to Guyot Creek and we power through it in less than an hour.  We’re feeling good and grab some water at Guyot Creek.  We have 500′ to Guyot Pass and the bugs are out.  We Deet up and begin the climb.  It is harder than we expect.  The pause at the creek breaks our rhythm and tired us out a bit.  We pause at the pass to enjoy the view.  I figure out the timer on my camera and get a group shot .  We continue down the PCT for another 3.3 miles to Crabtree Ranger Station.  The mileage is fairly level but it is hot and very dusty.  We were in some pine forest.  It wasn’t too dense but you couldn’t track progress well and seemed slow.  We camp at 10640′ near the ranger station in a decent site, rather buggy though and we can’t have a fire.  We hiked 7.1 miles today and climbed 1140′.

On the way to Crabtree Ranger Station

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 – Crabtree Ranger Station to Whitney Summit and back again

This is the highlight day of the trip.  We are going to day hike up to the top of Whitney and back down again.  Its a 16 mile roundtrip with a 3860′ climb and descent rolled in.  It’s a long day, even with just a day pack.  On the way up, we have amazing views of Timberline and Guitar Lakes.  We see 3 ravens as well.  The climb is switchbacks for a while but then gets rocky.  There are steep drop offs on one side and sometimes both.  My fear of heights kicks in a bit in many places.  ~1000′ from the top, I tweak my right knee but don’t mention it to the others.  It happened on some loose stone with lousy footing.  I have issues with my knees at times and I’m used to it.  No excuse to turn back at this stage!  Near the summit we cross over a snow field and I let my Dad know about my knee.  I was going slow over the snow – but we’re close now.  We get to the summit around 2pm and it was awesome!  We spend the next 30 minutes taking pictures and videos and eating a lunch of hard salami and cheese.  We drank some Blue Label inside the Smithsonian Shed and signed the register.  I switched my brace to my right knee and we begin the descent.  The pain was manageable but I stepped wrong a couple times away and it took my breath away.  A bit scary for sure.  I was really upset, not because of the pain but the frustration of being injured.  The possibility of ending my hike short was a killer and while I was able to hike along now, I was worried about what would happened over night as the knee stiffened.  At one point I had to sit down – got rather angry and shed a few tears.  Rubbed my eyes and pushed mu contact into the corner of my eye.  It took Matt and my Dad blocking the wind and sun for me to be able to put it back in correctly.  What a comedy of errors!  A rather emotional day for sure.  It took us until around 8pm to get back to the ranger station.  We saw the Rob the ranger.  He was rather rough but his wife, Laura, was an EMT and checked me out.  I had the option to go out with a group of stock horses in the morning but it wasn’t something I wanted to do.  That night I was certain I was leaving on a horse.  The knee stiffened up and hurt a bunch.  I kept my brace on overnight and tried to keep it elevated.  I slept well after such a long day.

Shot from above Guitar Lake, on the way up Whitney
The three of us on the summit of Mount Whitney

Wednesday, August 10, 2017 – Crabtree Ranger Station to Lower Rock Creek Crossing

We wake up and as it’s my Dad’s birthday, we give him some cards.  We speak with Rob and Max, who is one of the drivers of the stock train.  They believe there is a group coming through Crabtree Meadow stock camp in late morning.  I could hook up with that group and get a ride out of the wilderness.  The meadow is a mile away and I can walk it.  Max is kind enough to put my pack on a mule and take it much of the way.  He refuses a tip and tells me to spend it on steak and beer – people are very nice in the back country.  We break camp and walk to Crabtree Meadow.  We ford a stream and find the stock camp on the other side.  We get there about 11am and it is empty.  We must have missed the group.  My knee felt pretty good but I was hampered by doubt.  The right thing to do was to play it safe but that felt like giving up.  An injury out here, away from anywhere isn’t anything to be trifled with.  My friend, Kevin, messed up his back in the middle of nowhere Alaska.  He had no ranger or pack train or anything and had to gut it out.  I talked to my Dad and it came down to no wanting to miss the end of the hike.  Max had left my pack near the bear box on the other side of the creek so we went back across and I threw it on.  The knee felt pretty good now that I had loosened it up and I was pretty happy.  It was definitely a decision point – no regrets.  At that point we modified our trip.  We had intended to go cross country over Crabtree Pass and then out over New Army Pass.  That was too strenuous to risk so we decided to go out the way we came in.  We headed for Lower Rock Creek Crossing.  In our way was Guyot Pass.  The climb wasn’t that bad but I was very tired and was favoring the knee, throwing my stride off.  The pass was 3.3 miles from Crabtree Meadow, at 10900′.  From the pass it was 2.5 miles to camp.  We descended 500′, crossed a level piece and then dropped down another 900′.  I took the training wheels off the knee.  I was tired of favoring it.  The 900′ descent was rocky, broken switchbacks.  Its the kinds of stuff that can shred knees.  I wanted to test the knee so I threw myself down the descent.  I was hopping and pushing off my trekking poles.  I felt a little like mogul skiing, bouncing from landing to landing.  My knees were like pistoning, never hitting them hard.  The knee held up but looking back, it was a pretty silly approach.  I needed confidence in it though and that certainly helped.  I knew that I would be able to finish the trip and that was exhilarating.  Other than Whitney, that moment was the favorite part of the trip.  I grabbed the same campsite at Lower Rock Creek Crossing that we had on our second night.  I don’t sleep very well because of more issues with my contacts.  Glasses come out for the rest of the trip.  I listen to some Mumford & Sons and fall asleep.

On the way to Lower Rock Creek Crossing

Thursday, August 11, 2011 – Lower Rock Creek Crossing to our unnamed lake

We leave Lower Rock Creek Crossing for our campsite we stayed at on the first night.  We have a long climb (1600′) to get up to the divide where Jim had left us.  I felt good – no knee issues.  Dad’s knee had started to bother him the day before so we kept a close eye on that.  With my knee and without my sunglasses, the sun a glaring, my eyes watering – I wasn’t making the best time either.  Our usual order forms.  Matt and his tireless long legs are out front.  Dad is in the middle and I bring up the rear, pausing if I catch up so as to avoid crowding him.  We grab lunch of beef Ramen about a 1/2 mile from the side trail to Siberian Pass and 2 miles form camp.  The hike to camp is grueling in the heat of the day.  We move slowly but make it with any major issues.  I blow up my air mattress and immediately fall asleep.  Dinner is beef stroganoff and is our last in the wilderness.  Bittersweet to go out tomorrow – it was a tough trip but great in the end.

Dad and Matt taking a break on our second to last day

Friday, August 12, 2011 – Our unnamed lake to Cottonwood Pass Trailhead

I know we made it out but I didn’t actually take any notes so we’ll leave it at that.

Matt on his way out of the wilderness

A little reflection…

When I first read through this journal, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to post it.  It contained a lot of emotions and wasn’t a typical, positive, hiking memory.  Many of the published trail journals that I’ve read are overwhelmingly positive – they focus on the good times.  Hiking isn’t all gorgeous views and walking 20 miles without breaking a sweat.  There can be a harsh reality to it and you have to be prepared to deal with that.  While the experience for this particular trip wasn’t ideal, it has prepared me to face injury in the backcountry with objective perspective and to know that I can overcome adversity.  And for that, I am grateful.


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