Day 61 – Mt Whitney Summit via JMT Return – 27 kms

How to concour a mountain. Wake at 2.45 am (under a full moon of course for all the good vibes the planets and universe can muster), walk in the dark along a raging creek and follow a snow covered Meadow to a bunch of shaley switch backs, leg it up them, cross some snow and then get topless atop Americas tallest mountain. 

 Now to fill in the gaps. At alarm sounded at 2.45 am, pushing us out of bed. Harriet hadn’t slept much, and the rest of us had slept fitfully. We packed up our slackpacks which included sleeping bags, warm clothes, a days worth of food, water and Harriet’s tent split between myself (Meg), Harriet, Bruce and Mushy. Phoebe hugged us farewell, looking adorable in her puffy, sleepy eyed and ready to crawl into Bruce’s tent for some more slumber. She was going to spend the day practicing self arrest, walking of steep, snowy slopes and getting some rnr. 

Off we went, led by Justin along the path to Whitney. Through some snow covered pine forests we trekked, along a creek, the water rushing past us in the dark, more noise than anything else. It drowned our voices and pushed us up a bank to keep our feet from getting soggy. We scrambled off track of fallen trees rocks. We slipped down and pulled ourselves back up, all the while the full moon shone down on us, casting silver shadows through the pines and across the meadows. After a while we cut up steeply to join the John Muir Trail. From here we left the creek briefly and walked steadily uphill. At one point we realised we had lost the trail, and that we were in fact far too high up on a rocky out crop, the trail veering away under us. We scoped out the area and found a huge boulder in which we could lower down our packs one at a time and then ourselves. We set up a conga line to do so, put our packs back on and headed into a valley. At one point the tree line ended and we walked again along a creek, it moved slower that the last. Big open pools of clear, crisp mountain water looked thick and velvety compared to the white, rushing creeks we had avoided hours before.  As we ventured up it we could look back down into the valley from which we came. The moon was incredible, it lit up an ampetheatre of mountains in front of us. The white snow contrasted against the grey beige shale underneath. Jagged peaks pearcing the horizon which steadily began to clearer as the sun rose. We walked in single file, our head torches beacons of light and connection. 

Eventually the valley began to rise steeply and up we climbed, and like some kind of climactic unveiling the sunrise poured out across the land before us. Behind us the moon hung in a multicoloured horizon. Layers of blue, pink and purple were the backdrop as she shone yellow, irradecent and huge. The stars twinkled innocently, dancing their way into the morning. The growing sunlight was caught by far off mountain peaks and they turned a bright pink. It was truly a sight to behold. Bruce and I both agreed that sunrise today was one of our favourite parts. 

After climbing up into the valley we came upon Guitar Lake. It legit looks like a lake, and if it wasn’t covered in snow would be a beautiful place to hang out. Alas we just walked solidly across a Meadow of snow cups. In the early morning the snow was still crisp underfoot but by the time we had got to the bottom of the switchbacks we were all exhausted and ready for a break. 

At 6.30 am after walked for just over 3 hours we layered up and bunkered down behind a rock away from the freezing wind to have something to eat. And then we began to ascend Mt Whitney. Up and up and up the switch backs went, our bodies working constantly, fatiguing as the elevation increased. Harriet was struggling quite a lot. She felt faint and dizzy, sucking in the air she sat down a few times and then stoically continued on. A few times the switch backs got lost on a snow drift and instead of traverse them we would scramble up the shale to the path above. Eventually the switch backs ended and the path slowly gained elevation of a relatively straight fashion. The landscape opened up before us, mountains comanded the horizon and at times portal holes opened up allowing us to see down to Lone Pine and the desert below. Just before the summit we put our crampons on and walked up one last snow drift, it was short lived and we soon had to take them off to get up the final stretch of trail. Harriet and I walked hand in hand to the top. We hugged and had anothe hiker take photos of us. We got topless (cos that’s what you do), and Bruce got naked (cos that’s what he does), took some more photo, revealed in our success and then tucked in behind the summit shack, which is full of snow to have some snacks. 

The way down was far easier and quicker. That was until we got guitar Lake and the Meadow. In the midday sun the snow had melted and become slushy. We butt slid as much as possible and basically just put our heads down and headed for home. I got us lost at one point in the same place we had become lost this morning. We named it the Bermuda Triangle. This time we had to head down through some thick brush, and cross a few small streams. We cheered as we came back into Crabtree Meadows, slung down our packs, hugged Phoebe, who had done some snow art and headed to the creek for a swim. The rest of the day was spent resting and getting ready for what lies ahead. We are exhausted but so happy. 

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