Location: Black Velvet Coffee Shop, Mammoth Lakes, CA
Cumulative Miles: 906.6
Showers Taken: 17
Avocados Consumed: 34
The most talked about section of the Pacific Crest Trail: The Sierra Nevada. For 1.5 months you hear trail rumors of sky-high snow levels,
blistering cold temperatures, deadly river crossings, monster bear attacks,
and word of Big Foot himself. Trail rumors, they are a funny, funny thing. It didn’t take us long to ignore every.single.one. of them. The only way to know what is coming up next on the trail is to put your boots on and go see
for yourself. There is always a fear in the unknown, but how one handles
that fear is what makes up the character in each of us. What I am getting at here is this: the PCT tries hard to kill us everyday. It’s a love/hate relationship, I love the PCT,
the PCT hates me. Everyday something terrifying happens, and boy is it
toughening us up to no end. They say the trail changes you, you don’t quite notice while it’s happening, but it does change you. We are not even halfway done yet, but I can say with complete conviction, I am not the same person who started on April 12th. I’m way prettier
Without a doubt in my mind, the first 12 days in the Sierra were the most mentally and physically challenging of my life. Even though the toughest terrain on the PCT (I had no idea this was the case when I decided to do all 12 days straight) what was really tough was keeping my head on straight. Towards the end of the hitch I started getting frustrated more easily, and almost, ALMOST threw my poles in a hissy fit. Talking with other hikers, I was not alone in this, everyone was challenged in that regard. We all agreed it was the most amazing section, but boy were we tested in every way imaginable.
It’s June 3rd, we begin our hike towards the mountains. The first couple days are spent climbing up to 11,000+ ft. and getting acclimated with the elevation. It’s hot, dry, and gorgeous. Lots of climbing, lots of phenomenal sunsets and prime campsites right where we needed them. Everything was picture perfect, we averaged 24 miles each day through the weekend. This is way more than most people do, but we were excited and hit the ground running. We all felt good with the high altitude, living in Wyoming for 3 years gave me a good base to work off of, and even the sea-level New Hampshire enthusiasts exceeded my expectations with their adaptation skills.
We also needed to hike that many miles because we planned to summit Mt. Whitney, a 17 mile round-trip hike off the PCT. Can you say “DAYYYY TRIPPPPPP” woot woot! We were all so excited for Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, 14,508ft. I have never been above 14,000 feet, so a little nervous with how it was gonna go, but so excited to reach a new height.
We all started at different times that morning, somewhere between 4-5AM. We felt really lucky again with the weather window, just a week earlier no thru-hiker (well, I’m sure the extremely badass ones did it) was able to summit Whitney because of the snow and ice. It melted a lot since then and we were golden. It was such a nice hike, few miles of an easy approach, then up an ice wall, then conquering a bunch of dry switchbacks with the occasional snowy ridge, then to the snow-covered ridge line that led to a scramble of boulders to the summit. I was feelin’ good, so I kept my momentum and went ahead. I was .8 from the summit, at 14,000 ft when I realized I didn’t want to summit alone. I hung out on a rock really hoping one of them would turn the corner before I got too cold. 20 minutes later Centrefold popped out of nowhere and off we went. He said Spoon and Chuckles were behind quite a bit, so as much as we wanted to summit all together, we decided to keep moving and wait at the top.
The views up top were incredible. I will say this, the top 2 moments of this achievement came from Jon and Maggie. Jon is an amazing athlete and hiker, but he’ll be the first to tell you he gets bad anxiety and panic attacks when it comes to heights/altitude/ridges, so he was a bit concerned with how he’d react when he got so high up. He crushed it. I don’t even think he knew how deep his doubts ran because as we reached the summit I saw the biggest smile radiate from him exclaiming “I never thought I’d do this!” It was such a cool moment to witness, climbing mountains has to be the most rewarding endeavor out there.
Maggie has the toughest time with altitude. Being a chain-smoker throughout her youth, she deserves it.
Hah kidding, I just wrote that because I know it’ll make her mad at me for a second and that makes me laugh. Maggie is a complete badass, she definitely struggles with high elevation, which makes summiting Whitney an unreal accomplishment. Way more impressive than any one else’s summit, in my opinion. I’m really annoying and had a great time going up, just making it obnoxiously obvious how much oxygen my muscles were getting, if this were Maggie’s blog she’d probably describe it like this “ohhh look at me look at me, such a tall blonde sprinting up this mountain! I’ve never done anything easier! No water, no food, who needs calories! The last time I had a sip of water was in ’97, I’m fine!” (that was me, making fun of me, Maggie, hope you enjoyed it.) ANYWAYS, Maggie and her iron-horse she calls a husband (most supportive and encouraging husband I’ve ever seen, it’s also really obnoxious how nice they are to eachother, tough to be around for sure.) make it to the top and a clearly exhausted Maggie exclaims “I really didn’t think I could do this.” She almost called it quits I imagine, several times. She didn’t though, she kept pushing it. That is way more badass to me than anything else that has happened so far on this hike. I was so proud of her, I wrote allll about it in my journal that night, totally taking away precious time I like to spend journaling about MYSELF…betch.
We were the last people down the mountain, but it wasn’t too bad. The reason why you don’t want to hike in the snow too late in the day is because it softens up and you begin to post-hole (when you are walking on top of what you think is stable snow, and then your leg disappears). Post-holing sucks. It’s not only dangerous (sometimes you’re hiking over large fast-flowing creeks, or sharp rocks) but it’s also incredibly exhausting constantly pulling your lower half out of the snow. I got stuck once, and it wasn’t fun – it was funny, but not fun. It’s also the main reason people run out of food in the Sierra and have to adjust their plans. You need a lot of calories with all the climbs, cold temperatures, and because you use a lot of different muscle groups hiking in the snow. One guy told me there was a very low chance I’d make it to Mammoth with what lie ahead, that a lot of thru-hikers had to hitch into a town halfway through. After careful thought, I labeled him a fear-monger and kept my head up. I will make this food last, and I will get my butt out of my sleeping bag at 4am to avoid any unnecessary exertion of soft snow. I will hike on ice, and make it to Mammoth, damnit.
The day after Whitney was the toughest day for me. We again started at different times and I found myself alone for most of the day. I got lost several times trying to navigate the endless snowfields leading up to a climb of Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT (13,200′). It’s really cute because the trail makes you start the day with a few miles of descent, so all the while you want to MAKE IT STOP, because you know you’ll need to make all this back up in a couple hours. It was a really sunny hot day on Forester, and the reflection of the sun was so bad that my lips blistered up, and are still severely blistered, 10 days later. I have to cut up my food and hope no spice hits my lips, it’s been dreadful, they keep me up at night throbbing. The bottom of my nose got burnt bad that day too, it’s peeling now, so that’s a positive!
Finally, the day was done. It was our last night together for awhile, they were heading into town in the morning, and I was heading up another mountain pass, continuing my hike. We camped next to a lake and snow and then were surprised when we woke up freezing and soaking wet with condensation? Hah, worth it though, it was gorgeous. Before they left they gave me any extra food they had so I didn’t die. It was super nice of them, I know I was a bit crazy to take this on, but their support gave me such a huge boost going into the second week alone. I missed them before they left.