Started: 07:45 @ MM 750.8 Chicken Spring Lake (Elevation 11,213ft)
Finished: 17:30 @ MM 766.3 Crabtree Meadow (Elevation 10,321ft)
Elevation Gain/Loss: +2,312/-3,206ft
Food: Oatmeal, Tortilla w/cheese and salami, Trail Mix, Cliff Bar, Granola Bar, Gummi Bears, Beef Stew
Health & Hygiene: 0 Blisters, Days since last shower 2, Days since laundry 3
The High Sierras are often thought of as the jewel in the crown of the Pacific Crest Trail. It is undoubtedly a stunning section of the trail, passing through some of the most remote and spectacular wilderness areas that America has to offer. The PCT follows the same route as the John Muir Trail for almost 200 miles and during that section it crosses five passes over 12,000ft. The first and most notorious of these is Forrester Pass which, at 13,200ft, is the highest point on the PCT! It was still two days away but frankly I was shitting myself about it and the fear consumed every day of hiking towards it.
When I awoke at Chicken Spring Lake it was bitterly cold and at over 11,000ft I was still feeling the effects of the thin air. On yesterday’s long climb I had really noticed the lack of oxygen. I would liken it feeling slightly narked on some kind of benzo. I was curiously detached, my speech was a little slurred and my judgement was almost certainly compromised … anything more demanding than very slow walking would have been tricky. Thankfully, the morning would be all downhill and I looked forward to some clarity returning.
What I was less enthusiastic about was what waited for me at the bottom of the descent … another ridiculous climb and the first of many creek crossings. Challenges abound out here in the Sierras and if the high passes and icy traverses aren’t enough, then the torrents of snow melt rushing through the creeks will keep you busy. Being washed away to your death is a real thing and unfortunately seems to happen more regularly than sliding down a snow chute to your demise. Neither way seemed like a particularly pleasant way to go. I was almost rigid with fear but for reasons that I cannot fathom I continued walking north to my almost certain death.
Just before lunchtime we reached Rock Creek … It was fast, wide, deep and very intimidating! Butterfly plunged in and showed us how it was done. I took the plunge next, my first thought was how is it even possible for this stuff to be flowing … it was so far below zero that it defied the laws of physics. I edged across the icy rapids, water riding up to my thighs. I couldn’t get across fast enough to prevent all feeling being lost in my lower extremities. Thankfully the sun shone enthusiastically and when I finally reached the other side it took no time to dry out and warm up. We ate lunch in the meadow and toasted our first successful creek crossing … there would be plenty more to come and with the thaw now really setting in, they would certainly be more challenging!
After a leisurely lunch break we started out on the climb that would take us to Crabtree Meadow, the point where the PCT and JMT became one and the start of the Mount Whitney trail. At 14,480ft, Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Many PCT thru-hikers take the extra day to climb Whitney, however I had absolutely no desire to indulge in additional and unnecessary life endangering risks. I happily settled for a lovely meandering river and shared an idyllic campsite with a handful of playful marmots. We were now just a day away from Forrester and I was feeling no less fearful!