Before we bedded down for the night we had set 9am as our “launch” time. We were close. Last minute packing and repacking occurred, as well as a thorough search of our vehicles to ensure that no fragrant things or food items were left in the car (as I write this sitting in Crabtree Meadows, it occurred to me that we may have left our car freshener thingy in the air vent. My only hope is that a bear has not gotten into our car and pooped in the front seat…shit!) Before heading out we have a “safety” meeting. We talk about pacing, staying hydrated, the fact that Jan has asthma that is altitude and exertion induced, signs and symptoms of altitude sickness, and how to use our Delorme InReach SE in the event we have an emergency that requires outside help. Once everyone is on the same “page”, we head to the trailhead. At the trailhead, we talk some hikers who have to finished their weeks hike to take our “before” picture, and then we are off.
Most of our packs are heavier than we would like them to be, but the weather forecast was so uncertain, and the fact that it was 33° again last night made it hard to discard the some of the heavier clothing items. The approach to, and the beginning of the climb to the pass and entry to the Golden Trout Wilderness was a relatively flat and easy hike across crushed granite. Soon the climb began. We would gain 1260 ft in 2 miles over many switchbacks. Somehow I remember this being easier.
An hour into our climb, an impromptu break with the removal of shoes and the breaking out of food occurred. Umm, if we are to get anywhere, these kind of breaks can’t happen hourly even if we are only going 8 miles. (As a side note, I have been carrying bag of Maui Onion BBQ chips, to which Steve finds fascinating, and April wishes to sample. I have decided though that said chips will only be enjoyed when, and if, the vacuum seal of the bag fails due to the altitude, which I hope is 14,000 ft…or so.)
At long last we reach the apex of Cottonwood Pass (11,180 ft) and are greeted with patches of snow stubbornly staying put.
We examine the chip bag. It appears that it has swollen to maximum capacity and may “blow” at any moment, but it hasn’t. After the obligatory photo ops, we are onto Chicken Spring Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Before we left Horseshoe Meadows, “Reject” had told us that she and a few other PCT thru-hikers were meeting Ned Tibbets for a “snow” class, that would take them all the way to Forrester Pass.
When we arrived at Chicken Spring Lake, to water up and take a break, there was “Reject”, as well as “NightCap” and “CottonBall”. We visited for a bit, and then took a long “shortcut” around the lake and back up to the trail fully loaded with 3-4 liters of water each (to drink for the remaining 4 miles, dinner, breakfast and water till the next watering hole).
The views were as amazing as I remembered, however our collective group was gassed by the third mile, and a few were feeling the effects of their altitude gains, so we called it. It was apparent that faint signs of altitude sickness was rearing its ugly head. April and Trevor had a headache and Jan seemingly took ill (she looked absolutely grey) and retired immediately to the confines of her one man tent to “sleep it off”. Altitude, and exertion at altitude affects everybody differently. I know I need extra time to acclimate, and take medication for quick assents. We chose this route to climb Mt. Whitney to minimize the affects of, or possibility of, altitude sickness by acclimating over these next three days. Altitude sickness is nothing to ignore, as it has already claimed two lives of seasoned climbers at Everest this year. We shall see what the morning brings. Hopefully we will all be able to continue. The ironic thing is that the majority of our fatigue was caused by the 3 liters of water we carried from Chicken Spring Lake, and as it turned out, there was running water (not the faucet kind) where we camped… runoff from the snow cornices overhead on the steep granite walls that curved around us. We were greeted by cascading (and continual) “ribbets” of thousands of frogs stealthily hidden, as we set up and dined on various MountainHouse meals. The frog chorus continued and was soon joined by growing waves of snoring, creating a unique nighttime harmony.
This “campsite”, or the water source was NOT on the map or Halfmile’s app, but was a welcome and timely find. We even witnessed an avalanche, of the rock variety. Pretty cool…as long as you are not in its path that is. As it was a pretty strenuous way to start a backpacking trip, most were in bed early, but not until after a reading from Steve, of “Tales from John Muir”. Me thinks this will be a nightly occurrence.
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