My alarm goes off at 11:30pm, Yoda’s nearby at 11:45 – thank goodness, because I’d fallen back asleep. I hate everything a lot less than I think I will, particularly since I was smart and did most of my packing last night, but after clothing myself and grabbing my food out of my bear can and stuffing everything I need into what turns out to be my now absurdly light pack, it’s still 12:30am before I leave camp. 7.5 miles to the summit, sunrise at 5:15-ish – it’s gonna be tight, I think, but I’m trying to stay positive.
At first it’s a game of hot and cold – I take off my puffy because I’m too hot, put on my windshirt because I’m too cold. Yoda catches me, then Outro, and we all pass one other gentleman who is, as far as we can tell, the only other soul trying to make it up the mountain.
Squish through a muddy section; look all around for mountain lions through a rocky section. There’s more down than I think there will be, which means there’s more up, too, in a long morning of up. This headlamp tunnel vision thing is also pretty terrible, all stark edges and little forgiveness. The stars are out, though, encouraging – if I can see them, I can probably still make it.
I’m on the ladies’ heels as we have to ford a stream in the dark, collect water in the dark, unsure of what’s around us. Outro and Yoda slip away from me, faster, as we approach the switchbacks, and I’m alone. When I turn around, though, there are plenty of bobbing headlamps, some of those stars fallen to earth to shoo me upwards with them. Or just Risky Biscuit and crew, trying to make it up for sunrise, too.
The switchbacks start and shit gets hard, harder than anything on trail has been so far. I’m anal-retentive about my breathing and about the time, urging myself onwards with shot bloks and cursing and constant references to the clock – I can’t keep stopping like this, can’t keep going like this. More than once, I’m tempted to weep, especially when I look up and see how much more up I have to go, but it won’t help.
It gets cold, so cold, and the puffy comes back out and I layer on the rain jacket and the trail angles up even harder – then softens, softens to the junction down to Whitney Portal. Praises be. The summit is still 1.9 miles away, the hour getting later – it’s going to be tight, but I still have a chance.
And then everything turns to talus, and I greatly despair.
I’m going to break an ankle, fall off the mountain, or worse, not make it in time. The trail is thin and unforgiving, exposed below me, or so I assume in the darkness and with the height. And what the shit is this, a snow hill? Covering the trail? That I have to climb? And not die coming down? It’s sketchy, but I manage, getting to an eastfacing keyhole in the rock for my trouble.
The sky is bleeding red with the coming dawn. Shit. I have to move, but it feels like I’m moving through molasses, making progress but not fast enough. Go. GO.
Walking, weaving my footsteps over around on keep moving, walk walk walk, up the first snowfield, up the second, and around – almost there, almost. The sun seems to be waiting for me, though, holding off, though it feels like it should have risen hours ago.
One last rockfield and I can see the hut, see people milling about, hear Big Spoon greeting me, but I have to touch the hut to truly make it–
I’m here, on top of this part of the world, the sun yet unrisen.
I chat with Big Spoon1, find a place for the show, get settled into my sleeping bag on my sit pad and wait for the sun for ten whole minutes, as other stars-turned-headlamps bearing hikers at their helms continue to roll in before it stretches its rays out and obliges.
But how obliging it is.
We hoot and howl and holler appreciatively, helping the sun over the horizon. We take pictures and we sit and we laugh and we chat and exist at the end of the ups.
We indulge in silliness; we eat breakfast and learn about the Brexit and freak out about the world markets. We call friends and family and sometimes even actually wish they were here. But it’s special, this morning, because it’s all thruhikers up here. Just us.
The cold gets to me, and I retreat into the hut with a bunch of other folks trying to warm up. I ungracefully nestle into my sleeping bag while standing, then slither down to the floor to be a little warmer. I nap, despite the conversation; wake sated, sleepdrunk, happy, among friends.
Pineapple, Sprinkles, and Homegrown all arrive after I shake the sleep off, sign the register. There are more pictures, more silliness is accomplished. We exist simply, in this time and place, and love what and who we are here and now.
Six hours pass before I get scared that the sleepiness will take me before I can get back to my tent, six hours before Yoda asks if she can follow me back down. Of course. So we make our way back, light illuminating everything we’d missed on the way up.
So many dayhikers! We give the ones on their way up words of encouragement, and the ones going down a side-eye, wondering if they have any food. Another thruhiker just asks, and is rewarded with chocolate-covered donettes and a couple of bars, the former of which she shares. Something to be said for being blunt.
It’s easier in the light, though we stop so often to let dayhikers pass I think we’ll never make it back to the Portal Junction. But, of course, we do.
And then it’s down, down the switchbacks to a snow-covered bit of trail that Yoda decides is ripe for glissading. I’ve never done it before, and am skeptical of the sheer height of the run – but it looks pretty great when she does it, and, I mean, she dropped a water bottle. It’s only polite I go pick it up for her. The snow is smooth and soft and holy shit this is sO MUCH FUN. Hilariously, I almost slide right past the bottle, but I manage both that and getting us back to the trail overland, too.
We take an extended break when we see the others making their way down and almost take the glissade, though they don’t. We wait for them, sit with them, enjoy the warming afternoon until my legs, in their black leggings, start to burn under the relentless sun. Then it’s the home stretch, the veritable run back to our tents.
I’m near Timberline Lake when I slam face-first into that proverbial wall of exhaustion I’ve been avoiding. My legs feel like lead and I can’t see straight; my bowels are complaining and I have to sit for a second. Or thirty. A general feeling of malaise sweeps my everything, but I can’t sleep yet, can’t stop yet. It sucks, but I have to get up. Put one foot in front of the other until my tent and sweet release.
I release my bowels in an emergency fashion a little ways down the trail, am unconvinced I’m going to make it as I wind my way back towards my tent. A mile left. Three-quarters. Four-tenths. Then sweet Mountain Hardwear, I’m home.
I don’t even have the energy to complain about how tired I am; I flop a greeting hand in Homegrown’s direction and basically crawl directly into my tent and sweet unconsciousness.
I’m only out for two hours before my stomach calls; I start eating, and the others join me, one by one – including Big Spoon, who apparently had an adventure glissading when it was still icy out. His arm is wrecked; apparently, he stood, and then bounced. Nothing like Yoda and I had a few hours later.
Pineapple says she’s moving on tonight, but I’m not going anywhere. She’s going to make four more miles, meet us at the base of Forester Pass tomorrow. We might only do 9 miles to the base, but we’ll figure that out when we get there.
Then it’s early to bed, hopefully early to rise tomorrow for Forester Pass – after today, the highest point on the PCT should be a breeze.
Start: 767.0 • End: 767.0 • Day: 15 on the side trail to Whitney and back
Notable Accomplishments: Made it to Whitney summit for sunrise • Napped at 14,505 feet above sea level • First glissade!
 Big Spoon, Stork, and Skittles all spent the night up here. They got sunset and they’re gonna get sunrise. Rad.