Day 2: Tuesday August 14th - 15 miles
Chicken Spring Lake to just past the PCT/Whitney Creek Junction
We woke up at Chicken Spring Lake on Tuesday and ate our meal bars for breakfast. Logan planned the food for the trip and thought we would be okay just having meal bars for breakfast and lunch and then one hot meal for dinner. The meal bars were my biggest regret of this whole trip! I feel sick just thinking about them. It’s not that they tasted terrible. They actually tasted good for the first few bars! But to eat 2 meal bars for breakfast and another 2 for lunch every day is enough to drive anyone insane. I was always just thinking about dinner, which was our one hot meal for the day. I’m definitely packing different food for the next trip and way more variety so I don’t get sick of our food. Honestly most of our days on the trail were spent talking about food we wish we could be eating and brainstorming what food we’d bring on our next hike.
After breakfast, we packed our tent, headed to the lake to filter some water, and then started back on the trail! The beginning of the day was easy and we made our first trail friend, Kota! He was hiking the trail with his parents (who were in their seventies!) but he was a little further ahead of them so he walked with us for a couple miles and we were able to hang out and talk while still hiking the trail. We actually saw a lot of older people, like Kota’s parents, on the trail who were killing it and I was super impressed by all of them – I think a lot of them were way better at hiking than me, too (especially at the beginning)! And everyone we met on the trail was super friendly! Honestly meeting all the friendly hikers and making new friends was the best part of the trip. You never meet a stranger on the trail! We met another woman later that day who was also older and hiking by herself. We talked with her while we were filtering more water by a stream and I soaked my already sore, tired feet in the freezing water. We also got to see Kota again who we had lost track of earlier that day. He caught up to us and was setting up camp while we were still filtering water. Filtering water seemed to take forever, but I enjoyed the break. As we said goodbye to Kota, we told him how much further we were going that day and he seemed a little surprised. I was feeling motivated and confident at this point so Kota’s reaction didn’t faze me. I put my faith in Logan that he wouldn’t push us too hard on the second day since the first was such a breeze, but as the day went on I started to lose faith.
This day was one of the hardest days for me. After saying farewell to our new friends, the day seemed to drag on and on. Logan was trying to get us all the way to the bottom of Whitney so we could hike it the following morning but that meant hiking over 15 miles, which wasn’t a distance I was used to yet. My feet were hurting and I was already starting to get blisters. My lower back was in a lot of pain, too, and I ended up putting my ThermaRest Z-seat in between my back and my pack to help ease the pressure. I kept rearranging my pack straps with all the buckles and pulls over and over hoping to find the right position that would ease my pain. I worried I hadn’t arranged the contents inside my pack correctly too and that I had uneven weight distribution. I was mostly just upset I was hurting and trying to fix it desperately because I knew we had so many more miles to hike that day (and the days after). Looking back I’m sure repositioning helped some, but there was probably not much I could have done to ease my aches. It was the beginning of the trail breaking in my body (and my mind) to be able to handle the journey ahead, and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. Logan was also not feeling well because he started getting elevation sickness (thankfully I didn’t get it because I don’t think I could have handled it that day), but even so I’m pretty sure the most difficult thing for him was listening to the sound of my whining increasing with each mile. My feet were mad, my back was hurting, and I wanted to blame someone. I kept telling Logan he should have eased us into the hike more instead of doing 15 miles the second day and also said a lot of other things Logan probably remembers better than I do. I was going really slow (that’s what Logan tells me) and we were both in bad moods (me from the hike and Logan from dealing with me on the hike). I kept telling myself it would be over soon, but then I would look ahead to see we were nowhere close to being done and not want to take another step. At the end of the day we were mostly silent and sullen (trying to avoid arguing) and Logan wasn’t sure how much further he should push me. It didn’t seem like we would make it as far as we originally planned since we were going so slow and it would be dark soon. After a few scuffles about where to set up camp, we settled a mile or so before we had intended and I tended to my hurting feet while Logan went to get some water by a nearby stream.
By the time we finished setting up camp and filtering water it was dark and that meant cooking dinner by lamplight. I was feeling exhausted, cold, and desperate for a hot meal. I sat on a rock in my thermals and used my headlamp to shine light while Logan cooked. He told me I had to be the lookout for bears and other animals since he was cooking in the dark so I was frantically trying to listen and peer into the dark all the while imagining what I would do if a wild animal really did show up. The first few days of the hike I was pretty scared of the possibility of bears, snakes, and other dangerous wild animals. This fear dissipated over time, but this night I was still fully afraid and not okay with being in shared space with wildlife. I knew the smells of our food and the fact that it was night only increased our chances of an encounter, but thankfully no animals showed up to join us for dinner.
Finally, our meal was done! I was so excited. Food was my only solace after this long day and I couldn’t wait to eat – which is why it was devastating when Logan took the first bite and realized he had made a mistake. He had made a prepackaged camping meal - Good To-Go’s Korean Bibimbap - that we had never tried before and it was way too spicy. If you know me, you know that I can’t handle spicy food at all, and so Logan had to eat the whole thing so he could use our pot to make me another meal. Even Logan had a hard time with how spicy it was! While he ate and cooked another meal for me, I finished off our bag of kettle chips (the only salty snack left) and watched for bears in the dark. He made me a delicious chickpea concoction that was thankfully not spicy, but I could have eaten twice the amount he made me given the opportunity. After dinner and clean up we were both exhausted and fell asleep quickly in our tent hoping for a better tomorrow.
Day 3: Wednesday August 15th – 5.5 miles
Whitney Creek Junction/The Bottom of Mt. Whitney Past Guitar Lake
We slept in and had a slow morning on day three. We were still trying to recover from the day before and were not in any rush to get started. We had stayed in a meadow the night before so everything was damp and we were trying to give our things time to dry out in the sun before we packed them up. We ate our meal bars, brushed our teeth, and enjoyed the views from our site that we didn’t get to see the night before. I was bandaging up my feet with band aids and duct tape hoping it would help my toes survive another day. There were a few marmots laying out in the sun on rocks near our campsite that morning so we took lots of pictures of them and hoped they didn’t have the guts to try to steal our breakfast.
Once everything was packed up, I was ready for a new day and hoping to redeem myself from the day before. We were trying to get to Whitney and I was nervous and excited to meet the biggest mountain in the US. The morning was easy and we didn’t have a ton of elevation to climb at the beginning of the day. The beautiful scenery around me lifted my spirits and reminded me why people thru hike in the first place. One of our first scenic stops was Timberline Lake and we stopped to take pictures and enjoy the water. We passed lots of friendly thru hikers heading southbound and enjoyed our passing conversations with them. Many of the hikers discouraged us from hiking Whitney that day. They told us the weather could be dangerous on the mountain in the afternoon, which is when we would be getting to the mountain. I was feeling really energized and not wanting to give up, and both Logan and I were set on trying to hike Whitney that day so we wouldn’t get off schedule. We started going uphill for a good stint and met a ranger on her way down. She didn’t think climbing Whitney in the afternoon would be a problem so we felt encouraged and kept on our way.
It didn’t take long for us to get to Guitar Lake where there were a lot of campers and sites set up. They were most likely posted there and planned on climbing the mountain in the morning. We went a little further up past Guitar Lake and spent some time relaxing and getting water in a less crowded area. It was so beautiful and I really enjoyed relaxing by the clear, pristine water. I took my shoes off and let my feet and socks air out and rested on the grass. The air was cool but the sun was shining and it felt amazing. I was really enjoying this day and felt confident we would still be able to scale Whitney.
After our break, we packed up our things and left our beautiful resting place for higher ground. We passed a few older women coming down from Whitney and asked them for their advice before heading up the mountain. They told us it took them 6 hours to get up and back down which made us reconsider our plans since it was already 2pm. Even if we did it faster than them it would still be a late day, plus they warned us again about the potential for dangerous weather. I didn’t want to give up, but it seemed like we weren’t going to be able to climb Whitney that day like we’d hoped. We decided if weren’t going to scale the mountain that day we would at least get as close as possible. We kept hiking until we found a spot right at the base of Whitney to set up camp.
It rained a little for the last bit of our climb and we passed some Canadian hikers who were getting on their rain jackets and headed the same way as us. They arrived to the campsite right after us and set up camp on higher ground. As we started to set up camp it immediately started hailing and we were frantically trying to get our tent set up so we could get inside. The ground wouldn’t hold our stakes very well so they kept coming up out of the ground and we kept having to run around and re-stake the ones that had come back up into the ground again. We eventually started putting big rocks on top of them so they wouldn’t come up and were able to get ourselves into our tent and out of the hail. The hail didn’t last long and we were able to spend the rest of our day relaxing at our campsite in perfect weather.
After the storm passed, one of the Canadian campers came down to our site and offered us free food! They were going over the mountain and finishing their trip and had a ton of leftover camping meals they didn’t want to carry. This kind of thing (getting free stuff on the trail) is called trail magic and it really was magical because we were so tired of eating meal bars (especially me!). We thanked our new Canadian friend, Bob, and his fellow campers and I convinced Logan to cook us 2 meals instead of 1 for dinner because now we had extra hot meals and I was so hungry! They also gave us energy gummies that tasted like candy and I ate several right away. My stomach was a little upset the rest of the day but I figured it was just from so much food it wasn’t used to. I was so excited about all the new food we had and enjoyed our unexpected easy day. The sunset at the base of the mountain was beautiful. We went to bed early because we were waking up at four in the morning to start the climb and we wanted to try to see the sunrise at the top of Mt. Whitney if we could.