After our late evening escape from the ‘Kennedy Meadows vortex’ we only walked about 2 miles. That was okay, we had achieved our goal of leaving. This was particularly noteworthy because had we stayed another night we surely would have got sucked into pancakes in the morning and then feelings of over-fullness in the middle of the hot day, and we’d never have left Kennedy Meadows! Also our packs were really heavy with a week’s worth of food (including some delicious home baking!), bear canisters, ice axes, and microspikes. We needed to ease into it.
Anyway there wasn’t much noteworthy for our 2 mile long evening walk, except maybe for this.
But we still aren’t sure what that was. It was randomly in the middle of the desert.
We awoke early the next morning to try and get lots of climbing done before it got too hot (and we’d get tempted to return to Kennedy Meadows). So we set off and soon enough came upon this nice sign.
And a nice creek. Look at all that sexy water.
We were just getting into the foothills of the Sierras but liked them already. Then we came upon one last rattler…just a little guy but apparently they can get more out of control with their venom.
After a final stint with burnt desert forest we climbed up to a new land of meadows, water and mountains.
It was real nice but we sure did have a lot of climbing to do to get up to the Sierras and Cashmere was constantly complaining that her back hurt from her bear canister pushing into her spine and she didn’t want to walk too many miles.
Meanwhile Physio was feeling wonderful. Despite the absurd weight in his pack it was no longer crushing his shoulders. This could most likely be traced back to the kind work of our friend OCD who adjusted our packs for us before we left Kennedy Meadows.
Even though we were trying to ease into the hike, we still walked around 17 miles and finished hiking by 4:30pm. We finished the day at almost 10,000 feet (approx 3,000m) elevation. Despite it being the highest point we had reached on the PCT it was surprisingly warm, and we had a wash in a nearby creek.
We started the day with more climbing over Olanch Pass. We were excited about going over our first high mountain pass in the Sierras and eagerly awaited the use of our ice axes and micro spikes.
As we climbed the snowless south side of the pass we hoped there would be snow on the north side (where there is less melting). Alas, while the climbing was tough there was zero snow for us.
As we descended the other side we got our first view of the Sierras, which revealed little snow – even on the tallest peaks. The only mountain with any substantial snow on it was Mount Whitney – which we were planning to climb. With the weather so hot we were convinced even the snow on Whitney wouldn’t last. We were becoming convinced the snow/ice gear was weight on our backs that we didn’t need.
With such disappointing snow levels Physio started to think the Sierras are over-rated. What’s the use in huge mountains with no snow on them?
While we were feeling dissatisfied with the mountain scenery, we still enjoyed hiking through forest. It was a nice change after hundreds of miles of desert.
Meanwhile as the trail veered east we were reminded that the desert was not as far away as we thought.
After around 20 miles we finished the day with another wash utilising a cold mountain creek. We were relishing the abundant water – although Physio was finding it hard to warm up after the late evening dips.
After washing Cashmere kindly inflated Physio’s sleeping mat. When Physio entered the tent he noticed there was something wrong…
Two of the air baffles on Physio’s REI Flash mattress combined into a super baffle. From here-on in the mattress would be known as the ‘Yabby’ after a small Australian crustacean with one large claw and one small.
The birth of the Yabby occurred the same evening that Cashmere became very itchy. During the night Cashmere’s arm was driving her crazy, as was the impact of the Yabby on her sleeping space.
Despite Physio’s lopsided mattress he slept soundly, so Cashmere got creative.
So the theme of the Sierras continued, Physio excelled with a heavy pack at high altitude, while Cashmere struggled.
As the PCT meandered around we gradually got closer to Mount Whitney – the object of our desire.
As the day wore on Cashmere’s problems only compounded. She started to feel pain in her heel and became convinced she had heel strike. Eventually the pain became overwhelming and Cashmere broke down completely. In tears, Cashmere declared she would not be able to climb Mount Whitney tomorrow. Luckily Physio has dealt with these sorts of melt downs before and was unperturbed. However, we stopped to try to address the issue.
Upon inspection Physio determined the issue was not heel strike, but instead concluded Cashmere had developedyet another blister under an already very thick callus (from multiple previous blisters in the place). Being a badass field surgeon, Dr Cashmere forced a needle and thread deep into her heel from two directions to relieve the pain. It was hard because the callused skin was so thick and tough. Amazingly the needle and thread trick still worked on the deep blisters and Cashmere was able to continue uninhibited and much more comfortable.
The trail continued to wind around the mountains and seemed to be going away from, rather than towards, Mount Whitney. Walking in a huge circle around Whitney made us feel incredibly silly since we knew we would be climbing it the following day.
Eventually we made camp around 5 miles from Crabtree Meadow – the starting point for the climb up Mt Whitney.
We woke early because we had a huge day ahead of us. A 5 mile hike, followed by a 17 mile return trip up Mount Whitney. As we approached Whitney we saw more and more people who had climbed it the previous day. We were told there was plenty of snow up there.
When we arrived at Crabtree Meadow we quickly pitched our tent, emptied most of our pack contents into it, and then began our ascent with only food, warm clothes, and our micro-spikes and ice axes. Sadly Cashmere realized that she had lost her sunglasses in the previous stretch! What bad timing.
Long before we even started climbing Whitney we were struck by the beauty of the surrounding scenery.
At the foot of the mountain we ran into our friend Nips who had climbed Whitney at 2am that morning (we sometimes call him Johnny Nightwalker due to his interest in late night walks). He said the trail was really scary with no micro spikes – especially when icy during the night. We finally started to feel good about carrying our micro spikes.
Within a short time of beginning the actual ascent it became obvious why spikes would be helpful. In many areas the trail was buried in snow, and the snow was on a steep angle. One slip and you would be on your way back down to a frozen lake at a rapid speed.
With micro-spikes on Physio was initially making light work of the enormous ascent – however behind him Cashmere was once again struggling.
After Cashmere had another mini-melt down:
“I can’t keep up with you…just walk ahead without me!”
Physio chilled out and started stopping for regular breaks.
As we got closer to the summit we ran into more and more of our friends coming down – many of whom had no micro-spikes and declared it was the scariest thing they had done in their lives. Okay, so maybe carrying the extra weight of our spikes was a good idea after all.
As we got closer to the summit we also realised that despite Cashmere’s insecurities (“I suck at hiking”) how much quicker we were than many other people. It turns out that 7 weeks of hiking had made us a lot fitter than the Weekend Whitney Warriors who we flew past.
The final stretch of climbing was intense – with steep and deep snow. It got especially hard when within around 100 yards of the summit Cashmere managed to get one of her her poles completely stuck in the snow. Physio was ahead and could not bring himself to descend 25 feet (~8m) back down to help – but luckily two other hikers helped Cashmere release her pole from its snowy bind and her ice axe finally came in handy.
Once on the summit Cashmere was having yet another meltdown – this one altitude induced. Despite being on the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,500 feet (4300m) with incredible panoramic views of snow capped peaks Cashmere wanted to have lunch inside a stone hut. Physio refused and led a nauseous Cashmere to a rock on the summit to enjoy the views and eat almond butter on crackers.
After around 40 minutes and some food Cashmere was finally able to enjoy the amazing scenery and fully appreciate her achievement.
Sadly our happy fun time on Mount Whitney had to come to an end and we made the long snowy descent back down. Cashmere found leaving the thin air and going down much more enjoyable and we took our time and enjoyed ourselves. In fact we practiced using our ice axes to self arrest in a safe patch of snow on the way down because when we were on top of Whitney we could see much more snow on the mountains to the north, where we were headed next. Eventually we made it all the way back to Crabtree Meadows. We were exhausted and satisfied. We had a cold wash in the creek, dinner and slept.
Unfortunately Cashmere didn’t sleep too well after Whitney. It was cold and Cashmere’s eyes hurt from all the bright snow on top of Whitney. She was scared that she would be trying to hike blind and Day 51 involved another big day – climbing to the tallest point on the PCT – 13,000 foot (~4300m) Forester Pass (Mt Whitney is not on the PCT but rather is a side trip).
Despite some tearing and irritation. Cashmere was not completely snowblind and her pack was finally starting to feel lighter as by now we had eaten a few days worth of food.
First we had to do lots of descending down from Crabtree Meadows but of course we then had to climb back up from the river valley. These initial efforts were soon rewarded with a great scenic spot to have morning tea.
We continued to climb up and along toward Forester Pass. We went through forests and more barren landscapes.
We walked some more and then stopped for lunch by a little stream where we soaked our feet for short cold increments of time. We had a view of Mt Whitney which we’d tackled the previous day (or maybe Cashmere would say the mountain tackled her).
We carried on past frozen puddles and lakes.
As we approached Forester Pass it became evident that it was kind of a crazy pass. Unfortunately we really couldn’t quite capture it with pictures, though of course we tried.
Basically the pass involved switch- backing on rocky paths cut into the mountain. We even passed a monument for a guy who died while constructing the pass.
Eventually we made it to the top of the pass.
And the views were seriously stunning.
The only thing is…what goes up must come down. And sadly despite there being an abundance of snow, the conditions I’m NB look good for glissading. So we started walking down and got our first taste of postholing. Post-holing is basically when one thinks they will be walking on top of snow…until their foot sinks in. Sometimes you hit rocks. Sometimes your foot gets stuck, as Cashmere’s did when she potholed and did not get her foot out of the 4-foot-deep hole immediately. Physio tried to come to her rescue. She eventually did manage to pull her foot out of the post-hole only her shoe stayed frozen in it!
Luckily Physio was clever enough to put the ice axe to good work to rescue her blister-inducing shoe (better than barefoot). Eventually we made it through the post-hole snow zone but then we followed a weird foot track off the trail accidentally and descended down an extremely rough and sketchy way. Others that we’d been hiking near simply casually came off the PCT. Oops.
The views only seemed to get better as we descended with snow-capped peaks and canyons abounding.
Compared to Mt Whitney, Forester Pass had actually seemed not too bad, and so we felt strong and task-oriented. We had a lovely dinner in the sun with an excellent view, then walked a few more miles down into the canyon to get to a lower, and hopefully warmer, elevation.
Eventually we found a nice spot by the river and set up camp.
While the Sierras had been amazing, we were excited to be approaching a trail town the next day where we could take care of the ‘yabby situation’, eat, and hopefully rest a bit.
However, there aren’t really towns in the middle of the Sierras so we had to hike 7.5 miles off the PCT, through Kearsarge Pass, and way down to go to the desert towns just east of the Sierras. Luckily for us Kearsarge Pass is absolutely beautiful and so we hardly noticed the steep climb up to the pass and then descended down the trail toward food.
On the way down from Kearsarge Pass we kept running into our PCT friends who had been ahead of us and we’re returning to the trail from their break. It was great to see them all and catch up but it did take us awhile to get down!
Once we finally reached the trailhead and parking lot we realized it might actually be a bit hard to get tpackage
After chatting with some other hiker trash and calling a few different motels the owner of the Independence Inn agreed to come pick 5 of us up.
Independence is a small town with a few motels, a couple of cafes, two service stations and a taco truck. Cashmere was desperate for tacos so we hit that as soon as we had checked in.
After tacos we went to the Post Office to collect our package…or so we thought. Post Offices are all too often the places where dreams are shattered. For some reason the Post Office had forwarded our package to Bishop (apparently there’s a Robert McElwee on the trail who wanted his package forwarded). It would not be there for several days. Physio fell into a state of depression.
Upon returning to the Independence Inn we borrowed the owners phone to call REI and sort out the ‘Yabby’ situation. After about half an hour of talking we were told we could mail the busted sleeping mat to their returns department where it would be assessed. If they decide it’s faulty they will give us a refund. While on the phone Jim modelled some alternative sleeping mats to keep us entertained.
We then had an incredible feast at the Still Life Cafe – courtesy of Barb. Then we took our food comas to bed for the night.
We took a zero day and caught a ride with Jim to Bishop to sort out a whole variety of issues. Cashmere was yet again in a terrible state – suffering headaches, nausea, and general feelings of helplessness. Physio was not much better.
Despite all our emotional and physiological problems we still purchased new hiking shoes (without even planning to), a new sleeping mat for Physio, mailed the old busted mat to REI Returns, and bought 7 days worth of food.
Then we hitched back to Independence with a family sized pizza – around 40 miles away. Our first ride was with a lovely real estate agent, who took us 10 miles to the town of Big Pine. Then a log truck picked us up and took us the rest of the way to Independence.
After eating most of the pizza and drinking a couple of tasty double IPAs we hit the hay after an extremely emotional day.
Jim gave us a ride back to the trail head in the morning with our friends Booty and Coach. I’ll leave the rest of that story for the next blog post.
Thanks for reading – we hope you like our attempts to capture the beauty of the Sierras.