Adventures in Colorado and around the World

The Start of the Climb: Day 5 on the High Sierra Trail

After two 15+ mile days, we were all looking forward to a relatively easy 8 miles. Unfortunately our camp at Junction Meadows was there lowest we would be until we exited the trail at Whitney Portals 3 days later. From camp it was almost all uphill to the top of Mount Whitney.

Since we were only hiking 8 miles, we decided to have a relatively slow morning. By this point, we were all used to rising with the sun, but took a little time with our morning chores.

As expected, the trail started uphill as soon as we left camp. I was quickly stripping layers as I warmed up on the switchbacks. We quickly rose above the trees and could start to see the Kaweah peaks starting to peek up from the west.

We flip-flopped with our friend Jim from the previous day. When we’d stop at the same place, he’d sit close to us but didn’t want to be drawn into conversation. After an extended break at a waterfall where we filtered water, ate some snacks, and Jason fell in the water, we eventually pulled ahead of him for good for the day.

The hot springs magic from the previous day was still working it’s magic because my back and legs felt good, even with all the climbing. After about 4 miles of continuous uphill hiking, we took a lunch break at the junction with the John Muir Trail. The trail junction was noticeably more crowded than any of section of trail we had encountered to that point, but wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. We heard from many hikers that a lot of people had postponed their plans because fires had closed Yosemite.

After our lunch break we started on the remaining 4 miles to our camp near the Crabtree Ranger Station. The rest and the increasing heat and altitude didn’t do me any favors. I soon found myself slogging along at the back of our little pack again. It didn’t help that we immediately started up an exposed hill after relaxing for almost an hour.

Most of the time when I’m feeling slow I fixate on my GPS, telling myself I won’t look at it for x minutes. Then when I inevitably look, I think my GPS is lying because there is no way I could be moving that slow. It’s usually not that slow, but in this instance I was really moving slow.

I can’t even take a decent picture when I’m like that

Luckily all uphills eventually level out, and this one leveled out in a completely new-to-us environment. We reached a plateau of dry desert and dead trees. I was probably dehydrated at this point because I remember stumbling through it in a dream-like haze. Unfortunately I didn’t take as many pictures as I remember during this section so I can’t compare memories to the reality of photos. It did snap me out of my misery though.

We eventually made it to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail and followed the sign to the Crabtree Ranger Station (as opposed to the Crabtree camping area which followed the PCT for a little longer). The trail was steep going up and down into sandy washes.

At the next trail junction we found a box of WAG bags (backcountry toilets in a bag) that we would need to use the following day or two while we were in the Whitney Zone. The WAG bags allow you to do your business without having to dig cat holes and pollute the fragile alpine environment.

We picked up a WAG bag and hiked the short 0.2 miles to our home for the night. Even though it felt like I was moving at a glacial pace and we had a relaxing morning, we still made it to camp by 1 pm.

With all the extra daylight we alternated relaxing and exploring. We checked out the ranger station, and even met up with the ranger on our way back to camp. We found the open air pit toilet, our first since leaving Hamilton Lake and the only one that didn’t have angry bees swarming in or around it. Overall it was a pleasant day, hiking through amazing scenery. That and the fact that we decided we would only hike 3.4 miles to Guitar Lake the next day did wonders for my mood. Tomorrow we would enter the Whitney Zone!

To view the route, click here (you will need to create a free Suunto Movescount account to download the route or email me and I’ll send you the files).