Day 4 (59 Total)
Chicken Spring Lake to Crabtree Meadows, 15.5 PCT Miles + 1.1 Non PCT
918.5 Total PCT Miles
I know I’ve been spoiled rotten by the weather thus far because when it begins to lightly drizzle as I hike away from the lake this morning, I begin to feel bitter. Seriously? Rain? Rude. As if I didn’t spend days and days in the rain hiking on the PCT in 2019.
Actually, the thing that really made me a little grumpy as I hiked was the trail condition. It had been so ground down that it was like walking on the beach. Slow and sandy. But eventually, the clouds began to burn off, the trail surface improved, and I settled in to a rhythm for the first ten miles of my morning.
It’s funny, when I first was planning this section I planned for 10 miles a day. I mean, I don’t know! I’m coming off a year of a desk job. I wasn’t going to have trail legs. This section has elevation gains for days and is all at high altitude. I told my dad this as I was preparing and he goes, “Oh, 10 miles a day? That’s great, KK! So…what are you going to do with the second half of your days then?”
And I was like…thats a good point. He was right, too. I’ve been hitting ten miles or more by lunch and I can’t imagine stopping there. Turns out I’m good at hiking and not so good at the actual camping portion (ie- hanging out). So, I eat lunch after ten miles by this beautiful little stream that I later can just rock hop across.
The climb away from lunch though is a monster. Plus, the trail is all chewed up I assume from the pack mule team that came down as I was eating lunch at the creek bed. On the plus side, I’ve only been carrying a liter of water at a time because the streams are finally not dry on this section, so my pack doesn’t feel too heavy.
And then just like that, after an uneventful and hot afternoon of climbing up then descending down, I find myself at Crabtree Meadows where I will camp before hiking Mt. Whitney. As I’m falling asleep later that night, I hear outside the voice of the thru hiker I’d met earlier. Unzipping my tent, I yell out her name and she comes over to say hi, having just gotten back down from Mt. Whitney herself. Turns out some of her thru hiker friends will be doing a sunrise summit the next morning. Am I in? Ah, the beauty of the trail. I met this girl Gueeg (her trail name) two days ago and now I will be setting off at 12:30am with her friends Chappy and Wild to summit Mt. Whitney. “See y’all in 3 hours,” Chappy says.
Day 5 (60 Total)
14.8 miles (all non PCT Miles)
Ok hiking at 12:30am sounds cool the night before, but when the time actually comes it is slightly harder to drag myself out of my sleeping bag. I’m tired. Also, I’m cold. Peaking my head out of my tent, I see the insane stars above me and it’s like…ok I’m actually doing this.
We begin hiking. There is a wild, wild expanse of stars overhead. I can even see the Milky Way and it’s stunning. Weirdly, I don’t feel too nervous about night hiking. As we walk, I see an occasional circle of light from Chappy’s headlamp above me and some headlamps switchbacks behind me, so it doesn’t feel like I’m alone out here.
The first three miles are deceptive. 3 cruisy miles an hour, easy, and that’s with some elevation gain. I know we’re passing some lakes; I saw them on Guthook and I can feel the cool, eerie expanse to my right, but all I can see is the trail in front of me.
Miles 4-6, though, hit me like a train. Up until about 12000 ft, the climb has been hard but I felt fine. Nope. Not any more. I feel like trash from about 12,000 ft to 13900 ft. Like, I am sure that I am going to vom any second now. I just feel really weak. I was raised at SEA LEVEL ok. Bend, at 3,600 something ft, felt like a move to “high altitude”.
I’m also a little distracted. I can see city lights off in the distance the higher I go and almost walk off the edge as I’m staring at them, not realizing the trail has twisted. Sorry mom, I figured you didn’t need to know that detail at the time. I stop looking off to the side of the trail after that.
At around 14,000ft something changes and I begin to feel fine again. Or, at least I don’t feel like I’m going to spew chunks everywhere, which is a definite improvement. Plus the trail has “flattened out” (note the quotation marks) and the last little bit to the summit is perhaps the best I’ve felt all morning. I made it for sunrise! And it’s freezing!! Immediately all my layers go on and I curl up into my sleeping bag to watch the sunrise.
There’s a handful of JMT hikers up there, but they leave pretty immediately after the sun is up. Once they’re gone, there’s just three of us up there: me, and two thru hikers, and it’s really nice and peaceful. On the descent I’ll see the hoards of hikers but from 6-8am it’s quiet as we all are buried in our sleeping bags, waiting for the sun to hit our cold bodies with just our faces exposed.
Eventually, though, I feel ready to head back down. I’m sleepy, and I know it’s a big descent. Three hours on top of Mt. Whitney seems like plenty of time. On the descent, I’m a little proud and a little horrified at what I climbed in the dark. I mean, I’m afraid of heights, ok? And I knew there were some narrow sections…some scrambly pieces…but oof, I’m glad I didn’t have to see that on the way up.
The other great thing about this sunrise summit is that it’s like a whole new trail on the way down, and I get to see everything I missed in the dark. Views on views on views. Lakes and marmots and a sprinkling of wildflowers and that thin ribbon of dirt trail stretching out before me.
I think I sleepwalk the last three miles back to where my tent is still set up at Crabtree Meadows. I shove some food in my mouth and then crawl into my tent, eyes immediately closing into a deep sleep. I’m woken up by the sound of someone trying to pound their tent stakes into the absolute center of the earth. Excuse me, what? This is a massive meadow with tons of flat spots and they choose to set up like 8 feet from where I’m trying to nap off the early start?
It’s almost enough to make me pack up and leave but I have no reason to head out today so I just lay there in my tent trying to sleep. (Hint: I don’t though because I’m now camped next to the loudest hikers of all time). Early dinner (Annie’s Mac and Cheese is the best trail food of all time) and then I basically pass out at 6:30pm.
Day 6 (61 Total)
Crabtree Meadows to Bullfrog Lake Junction, 22.1 PCT Miles + .9 Non PCT
940.6 Total PCT Miles
Up until my little bear situation, this was quite possibly my favorite day so far. It was like walking through a moonscape today! Almost all my miles were above treeline and the views were insanely rad.
There are meadows and rocks and streams and I am all alone which is freaking awesome. I do pass a group of men who look like they collectively bought out the zip offs and safari hats at REI (I’m just speaking the truth here) but besides that I seem to have the trail to myself. This also means that by the time I climb to the top of Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT, I have the place to myself. Just me and the marmot. After yesterday on Whitney, the climb up here didn’t even feel that bad and 13,200ft doesn’t even feel too high! It’s all relative.
The descent, too, doesn’t feel all that bad. It’s definitely a lot on my feet and knees, and I also feel like I’m crisping up here above tree line…but no complaints. It’s too gorgeous for that. And still, the dreamiest weather continues for me! I can’t imagine doing this in the rain, or trying to race a storm. At the moment, I’m just feeling really proud of myself. I’m kind of flying through this section and loving every second of it.
However, as I start it descend back into the tree line I begin to hear a lot about ~the bears~. It starts out in general terms; people telling me about “bear activity” ahead. And I’m sorry, but I’m like, yeah obviously there’s “bear activity”, we’re in the mountains and bear cans are required. This isn’t news. But then it gets more specific. Bears are biting into bear cans. Bears are wreaking havoc. Bears are being problematic. This catches me for a minute, but I’m like yeah it’s probably fine. ~lol~. It was not probably fine.
Finally, I tell myself that if one more person tells me anything about any bear then I will turn my 20 mile day into a 23/24 mile day and hike all the way to the junction for where I will exit tomorrow for town. Not 5 minutes later, a hiker tells me to keep an eye out. He just saw a large bear ten minutes down the trail where I am headed. Ok FINE I will keep hiking. Whatever.
It happened as I was walking past the tent site I was going to stay at. I was staring wistfully at all the flat ground right by the water – a pretty sick looking campsite that I was bummed to be missing out on. Then in the distance, I notice this big dude standing on a large rock. At first I don’t hear anything so I assume he’s, I don’t know, taking in the view or something. Cool cool cool. I slowly keep walking. But something feels a little off. I stop and stare over at the rock again, and that’s when I hear it. “Don’t fuck with me!” I’m like…what’s that guys problem? Weirdo. From where I’m standing, then, it sounds like there is something else in the distance making noise. I tell myself I’m just being jumpy because of all the bear stories. There’s no way I just heard a bear. I don’t know why my brain is not putting anything together faster. I consider continuing to hike, but instead call out “you all good, man?”
When he hears me, he starts yelling “Help!! Bear!! Please make noise! Help!” Immediately I leave the trail and starting running across the campsite screaming (which sadly, my voice really doesn’t have much to offer as far as volume but beggars can’t be choosers). Briefly I wonder how stupid it is to be running towards a man on a rock possibly being charged by a bear but I don’t really have time to think too much about it. As I reach him, I clamber up onto the rock (haha oh wow that bear is indeed v. close right now why is it still approaching aren’t bears supposed to be afraid of us making noise). After a little while of the two of us yelling and a well aimed rock by the guy, the bear finally begins to back off a little bit. And I do mean only a little bit. I’m kind of speechless. “You fucking saved my ass!” The guy says. I’m nodding silently, mostly because I’m processing the fact that I just sprinted towards a bear and also wondering what would have happened if there weren’t two of us. “My SOS countdown was at 11 seconds and everything!”
We still haven’t taken our eyes off the bear, though, because that little brat is still lingering. When it finally backs off far enough, the guy hops down to pack up his stuff while I stay up on the rock to make sure the bear doesn’t come back. A bunch of his gear is shredded, even though all his food and scented items were in the bear box. As it turns out, he’d been up on that rock for nearly AN HOUR as the bear tried to first get into the bear box, then shredded his stuff before approaching/charging him. And then I showed up.
I’m eager to get hiking and leave this psycho bear behind us. Not ten minutes later, though, the guy stops walking so suddenly I run into him. I peer around him to see why and that’s when I notice the SAME BEAR on the trail, standing there looking at us. I can’t believe it. He’s been following us. Now I’m even more nervous and also starting to get angry, like hey bear mind your own business I’m tired and hungry and just want to get to a campsite with other people. We get up onto this rock so we can try and watch the bear wander off (this guy’s trail name, at least to me, is now Bear Rock) and seeing that it appears to be gone, we continue hiking.
It goes like this all the way to the junction. Talking loudly, feeling very jumpy, eyes peeled for bears. We do come across a mama bear and two cubs, but thankfully when we make a lot of noise they amble away from the trail like bears are supposed to do. When we get to where we’ll be camping later that night, I’m relieved to see two other tents. Heck, I would have even been excited to see a large group of Boy Scouts camping there which is the only time in my life I would ever say that. Safety in numbers or something like that, right?
As we begin to cook our dinners, another hiker comes up the trail and goes, “is this the bear refuge?!” Turns out the bear had harassed him too, ripping into his pack when he set it down for a few minutes to filter water or something. I still can’t believe I almost camped down there.
That night, every little thing goes into the bear can and I try to pretend that I wasn’t eating a snickers bar in my tent after hiking Mt. Whitney yesterday. Chapstick? Yes. Food? Obviously. Advil? I’m sure that has a scent, put it in. This random tiny wrapper from last summer? Can’t risk it, it’s going in the bear can. And now my lips are chapped as heck and they’ll be staying that way tonight because my bear can is the furthest away from my tent I’ve ever put it. Tomorrow I’ll be hiking into town and I look forward to a little time off trail. Although writing this out it doesn’t seem like that scary of an event, this bear encounter has definitely shaken me up a bit. I have a feeling I won’t fall into the deepest sleep tonight…