Day 17: 10.5 miles, 184.5 cumulative, Center Basin to Tyndall Frog Ponds (11,030′)
I woke early and crawled out of my tent. I was surprised to see many of the backpackers already moving around – everyone was so quiet. We all knew what was ahead I guess. And that would be Forester Pass. At 13,110′ Forester was our highest pass, and 1000′ feet higher than we had even been so far. I knew the climb would be super hard…2700′ feet up with less than optimal oxygen. But out there on the trail, no matter how hard the climb or how much I wanted to quit in the moment (and there were plenty of those moments), quitting literally wasn’t an option. My only choice was to keep hiking. And so…
We packed up and soon left the forest. Almost the entire day we would hike above the treeline. And yeah…it kicked my butt. Apparently there is even less oxygen above 12,000′. Slow and steady wins the race, right? There was one particular climb through the snow that was super steep and seemed endless.
We reached a false summit and sat down for a long break with several hikers we knew. As we snacked (and breathed) we all watched a NOBO hiker slowly find his way across the boulder and snow fields before us…making mental notes of his route so we could copy it. When he finally reached us it turned out to be a very late season PCT hiker. He was an older guy, who intended on hiking the PCT until it started snowing again. We met a lot of interesting people out on the trail.
After our break we headed out into the snow and boulder field, loosely following the PCTer’s route. It was hard. The boulder field was super challenging – getting through without breaking an ankle. There was a tricky snow field on either side. And finally, there was one last boulder scramble to the top.
At the top, a crowd grew as everyone wanted to savor the rewards of a hard earned climb. That adrenaline rush… The views were incredible. And we were all pretty beat.
After the pass we just had 5 miles of down. It was a little scary at first as the trail hugged a steep edge. Then lots of exposed switchbacks. It was four miles until we even reached the treeline again. Eventually we made it to Tyndall creek where after a wet crossing we found a nice spot in the forest. It would be our last “normal” night on the trail.
Nathan and I were looking forward to food and showers. We had been wearing the same clothes for 19 days and had only showered on days 6 and 10. I had planned on doing laundry on the trail, but never did. Too little time and too much exhaustion. By now we weren’t just seriously dirty – we smelled. But in spite of how much I wanted a shower…I was sad it was winding down.
Day 18: 11.7 miles, 196.2 cumulative, Tyndall Frog Ponds to Guitar Lake (11,910′)
I knew this would be our last regular hiking day, since we would be summitting Mt. Whitney the next day. I was going to miss it. Nathan and I had our last hot breakfast and coffee (we ran out) and packed up. We climbed to start the day, leaving the trees behind once again. We now hiked across Bighorn Plateau which was other worldly and beautiful.
We finally head down towards trees once again, and Wright and Wallace creeks which were wet crossings of course. We never even dipped below 10,000′. But it was a very pretty section with some amazing views.
We reached Crabtree meadow where the trail finally left the PCT (the trails had been the same for about 180 miles) and headed east continuing on to Guitar Lake. Guitar Lake is the last main campsite before Mt. Whitney, so there were lots of people camping there. We had dinner and hung out with some of our hiker friends. At this point food completely consumed our thoughts. Hiker hunger had kicked in, and no one ever wanted to ever see a protein bar again. We all talked about what food we missed most, and what we were going to eat first. It had been a really great day.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. -John Muir