Whitney Portal to PCT/JMT/HST Split
10 October 2016
My alarm wailed at 4a this morning. It took me a second to get my bearings, then I remembered: today, today, today! I willed myself upright, then I balked. I was so comfortable and happy that I really didn’t wanna get up. I just wanted to sleep in. But with the ranger’s assurance that we’d get some weather today around 11a, I wanted to be done by then, so I forced myself out of my warm bag and into my crusty trail runners. I was hiking by 430a and at the trailhead a little before 5a.
The Whitney Trail is gorgeous, and it’s a super highway. Hiking up as the sun was rising behind me was awesome. The light hues on the towering peaks were just beautiful. I hardly noticed my shin splint today, much to my surprise. I was making great time, passing loads of hikers on the ascent. It was fun to be back on maintained trail again, total cruiser miles. Topped out at 1046a this morning.
I’m an engineer by education, so I’m always curious about numbers. I like numbers. And I’m competitive. I don’t pay attention to how well anyone else does it; I just wanna know how well I can do it. I’m competing against myself. What is my best, exactly? Start to finish, the whole route took me 114 hours 24 minutes. And I got to do the whole thing my way, beholdin’ to none. Feeling satisfied.
Had the summit all to myself for about an hour. Didn’t expect that at all. Took loads of photos and just soaked up the view and the solitude. Once some other hikers started arriving, I got ready to head down the JMT. Turns out Verizon gets 3G atop Mt. Whitney, so I lingered a bit and gave my mom a call. No answer. I can’t believe Whitney gets cell service. Something about that just doesn’t feel right to me. Sorta like the light shows over Niagara Falls. A little outta place for somewhere so cool. Ah well, something for everyone.
As I was leaving, Slaughterhouse spotted me by the trail register. “Hey, are you Sochi?” I love that. Hearing my name, the name that I hear so infrequently in the real world, is such a cool reminder that I’m a part of a really cool community. Plus it brings up a whole flood of memories from the PCT, of the beautiful places I saw and the wonderful people with whom I shared the experience. And then there’s the ego piece. So often we’re unseen in our lives. Hearing someone I don’t know say “Hey, are you that guy I heard about?” is pretty cool. Almost like being famous. Turns out Slaughterhouse was hiking with Buck-30 who I’d met while waiting to get my permit back in Lone Pine. Small community.
Hiking down the JMT toward the HST, I was reflecting on the L2H. In any pursuit, our experience is different than that of others, perhaps especially so on a cross country trek between two so extreme points. Though there were over a dozen of us who set out on the route this year, none of us experienced it the same way. And of the couple dozen who have come before us, well ours seems to have been far different than what I’ve read of theirs. Water can be difficult. Heat, bugs, logistics, anything. Whatever challenges you face on the L2H, the important thing is to pack your sense of humor! This stuff is supposed to be fun!
For me, this nagging shin splint has been my main concern. The weather has been really mild at both ends of the spectrum. Highs in the valleys around the mid-90’s; lows in the high country around the high-30’s. Really quite pleasant, considering. And there has been plenty of water along the route. I definitely could’ve gotten away with just one cache this year, but I was happy to have the insurance. Actually, I constantly caught myself carrying too much. I remember more than once walking along and just dumping out extra liters of water. Like, “Wait, why am I carrying all of this??” It felt like a sin to dump out something so precious as water on the L2H, but it felt like an even bigger taboo to arrive at my next cache with two or three liters of water in my pack. That would’ve been just silly.
For me this year, it was a totally manageable, even fun experience. It was challenging but not nearly the sufferfest I was prepared to endure. I love this stuff. Being sleep-deprived and uncomfortable, troubleshooting challenges on the fly, exploring away from the beaten path, and pushing my own limits. Out here, I’m happy. There’s nothing better. I’m feeling great, and that’s why I chose to keep going. SEKI, here I come!
The trail down from the Whitney summit was familiar, though it looks quite different in the fall. Not so lush and green. It’s satisfying to be back here in the High Sierra. Wow, this place holds so many memories for me.
Only saw a handful of folks hiking the JMT en route to Wallace Creek where I’m camped tonight. The high country is comparatively quiet this time of year. Understandably so, it’s getting chilly up here. Of course, it never snowed despite the ranger’s assurance that it would. “Twenty percent is basically an all-out certainty up there,” she told me when I got my Whitney permit yesterday. Haha, this time I’m happy the ranger was mistaken.
Got into camp at 6p tonight. It was nice to have some light left. I did some chores and set up a shelter for the first time this trip. Gah, I love cowboy camping. Figured it was better to play it safe tonight. Twenty percent chance of precip again tonight…you know, that’s basically a certainty and all. I think I’ll start a little later tomorrow, give the sun a chance to come up. Not really on a timeline anymore. I’ll just dial back a little bit the next couple days and enjoy this incredible place. Also- that shin splint felt great all day long, so I’m hopeful that being back on a trail will help.
Seeing the junction here for the HST brings up a very vivid memory that I have of the moment I passed this same junction during my PCT thru-hike in 2014. I’d heard about the HST in Kennedy Meadows and had desperately wanted to hike it as a side trip, but I didn’t have the resources I needed to effectively plan for it, so I forced myself to skip the turn off. I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll be back for you.” And now here I am. Tomorrow I’ll pack up, split off of the JMT/PCT, and head down the lesser-known, wicked-sick High Sierra Trail. Kern Hot Springs, here I come! Stoked.
It’s not even 8p, and I’m turning my headlamp off right meow. Six o’clock wake up call tomorrow morning. Looking forward to 10 glorious hours of sleep tonight, and so grateful for the lovely walk about the mountains today. Sweet bliss.
Miles Hiked: 23