Day 49: Mt. Whitney- Here comes the Sun!

Day 49
June 6
Mt. Whitney!
Guitar Lake to mile 774.3
about 19.7 miles

Dust Bunny had let me borrow Pancake’s thick orange down jacket that he no longer wanted to carry with him for the night before she decided whether to pack it out on her descent down Whitney Portal or hand it back to him. I placed it over my sleeping bag and hoped that I would both be able to get a little sleep, and be able to get up just after one in the morning to start preparing for the ascent. Fortunately, everything went according to plan. I slipped the borrowed coat over my layers to keep me warm as I ate a snack, put in my contacts, and packed up my things. I had never woken up this early to climb a mountain in the dark, and I wasn’t feeling comfortable. I summoned my bravery and talked myself through it. I wished I could have worn the heavy coat to the summit, as my layers were not nearly as warm! As I was packing, my gaze caught some tiny lights in the distance and I watched to see if I could determine their source. They seemed to be moving toward me and I soon realized they were a line of headlamps! It was as if 4 little reindeer were making their way to the North Pole! I grew excited, knowing that I would no longer be alone! But they were making good time and I had to hurry! I tore off the heavy coat and stuffed it into its sack, clipped the straps onto my backpack, hoisted it on my back, and grabbed my poles. The reindeer were getting extremely close! I scrambled down off the rock and stepped quickly toward the trail. As I approached, a male voice called out, “Who goes there?”.
“Wendy,” I answered. “Who are you?”.
“Birdman and Cowboy,” the voice returned.
“Yay!”.
People that I knew! Cowboy told me to join the train. They had camped at Crabtree Meadows and had started about an hour ago. It was now around 2:15 and I told them they should slow down so they don’t get to the top too early and freeze. The stars were brilliant overhead and we stopped to take them in. I told them that I had been suffering from giardia since Lake Isabella. “You’re climbing Whitney with giardia?” Cowboy asked.
“Yup.”
He asked me if I was staying hydrated and I told him I was. I followed close behind, exerting more energy than they were because they hardly had any weight in their packs. I didn’t want to leave anything behind at Guitar Lake because I didn’t want the marmots chewing up my gear. When the boys stopped for a break, I continued on, so I wouldn’t fall too far behind. They caught up, one by one, and I let them go ahead. Hooligan, who had been bringing up the rear as the fifth in the group passed me and said, “Now I’m not the loser anymore. You are!”.
“I am NOT a loser!” I said.
The air was cold and my toes and fingers were becoming numb. The altitude was making it harder to take in oxygen and I had to tell myself to keep going, keep going, or I wouldn’t make it in time for sunrise. Luckily, this climb was not nearly as exhausting as Mt. Elbert was. Even though the guys didn’t wait for me and I was left alone to climb, the sight of their headlamps on the switchbacks above me provided some comfort. This definitely would have been a much more challenging experience all by myself. I would stop every so often to take my pack breaks, get some breath back in my body, and occasionally sip some water. But then I would push myself to keep moving, just keep walking.
I caught up to Birdman and Cowboy as Cowboy was taking photos of the horizon that could by seen through two vertical walls of rock. Light was already appearing! We needed to move faster! I told them my stomach was hurting and Cowboy said that altitude makes giardia worse. “It does?”. Great. He offered me a Werther’s candy from his pocket and said they sometimes help soothe his stomach when it is distressed. I happily accepted and continued the climb with something to help distract me from the pain.
As we made our way through a section of suncups, it was now Birdman, Cowboy, me, and Hooligan in a line. Just keep going… It was getting harder to lift my legs. Birdman said we were close, but we weren’t as close as I had hoped. We still had the steepest section to go. Birdman and Cowboy pulled ahead while Hooligan remained behind me. My breath was labored and I had to stop more often than I wanted. I tried to take a picture, but my camera lens immediately retracted and the power shut off. No! Not now!! I tried a few more times with the same result. I was in disbelief, but had to keep moving.
Finally, I saw the summit building. I had made it! I walked over to the rocks and looked over the horizon. It was a couple of minutes after five. U-turn and Jug were sitting in their sleeping bags. We weren’t late after all! We took pictures of each other and then waited for the sun.
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The bright orb appeared and lit up the sky in fiery colors.
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I grew colder and colder as I watched. Jug wanted to take jump shots and I volunteered to take his picture doing splits over the sun. Then, I wanted my picture taken. No one was able to get a picture of me in the air, though! I jumped and jumped, each time, drawing more and more energy from my legs that felt like lead. This was tiring!
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In the end, there was only one shot of my body in the air and it would have to suffice. Cowboy was next with a straddle split jump. When everyone was done, I asked who would like to help me make some coffee, as I was getting dangerously cold and needed help. Jug volunteered since I took such a good jumping photo of him. I asked him if we could make it in the hut. My fingers were so cold that they could not function. Jug had to open the clips of my pack straps, dig out my jetboil, canister, and coffee, and start it up. It didn’t ignite after a few tries and I started to worry. Luckily, he had a lighter and I showed him where to place it. We had a boil! I added two packets of via and some powdered milk and we shared the coffee. I was still too cold, however. I told him I needed to drink some more hot water. Jug was sitting on his sleeping bag and all I could do was stare at it and wish I could crawl inside. I had brought mine with me, but it was all the way at the bottom of my pack, and my fingers were too cold to get it out. I finally asked him if I could get inside his and offered him mine to sit on if he dug it out. I had seen that he had gotten in his bag with his shoes on while the sun came up, so I asked if he minded if I kept mine on. I was way too frozen to even try to undo my shoe laces. Hooligan came in and told us that he had learned a method of keeping warm in Nepal and started to demonstrate by bracing his hands on his thighs. “Uddiyana bandha!” I said.
“How did you know?” he asked in amazement.
“Because I do yoga!” I said.
He still didn’t understand how I knew about that! (Maybe now he wouldn’t think I was such a loser). I was still freezing cold and patiently waiting for some circulation to return to my body. Jug took out his iphone and pointed it at me. “Are you taking a picture of me?”.
“Yes,” he said. “I want to show people that there was a girl in my sleeping bag,”. Someone else came into the hut and Jug said, “This girl is a beast. She climbed up here with a full pack AND she has giardia!”. Cowboy and Birdman had signed the registry outside the hut and were ready to head back down. I didn’t find the idea of holding a pen in the freezing cold at all appealing, so I didn’t even try to find the register. Jug said he was getting ready to go, too, so I got out of his sleeping bag, warm enough to start the descent, myself. (Thanks for saving me, Jug!)
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We reached the suncups together and then he took off and left me to my own pace. Since this was the first time that I was seeing everything in daylight, I stopped often to take pictures. By now, the trail was becoming busy with hikers climbing up Whitney Portal from town, and thru-hikers that didn’t want to make it to the top for sunrise. Two of those were 5- Star, who I hadn’t seen in quite awhile and Purple Haze. I chatted with them and found out that Purple Haze had also gotten giardia in the desert, but was now completely recovered. I told them I hoped to get some antibiotics in Lone Pine. We headed our separate ways and I continued to greet the ascending hikers. I was really glad that I was able to summit the mountain as a thru-hiker with the ability to get there for sunrise and share the space with only a handful of other thru-hikers.
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I met another thru-hiker climbing up who told me that if I waited long enough- usually around 10 days- the giardia will go away on its own. “Really?” I happily responded. He said that he had picked it up a number of times in his overseas travels and often wasn’t able to get antibiotics for it. I had already been suffering for nearly 10 days, so maybe I could wait it out. (Then, I thought back to how I tried to wait it out when I got it after the AT and nothing resolved until I took antibiotics weeks later. My body is very slow at healing).
My calf muscle started hurting on the descent. I hoped the pain would dissipate. It was taking forever to get back to Guitar Lake!
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Finally, I reached the stream that ran toward the lake and stopped for a snack and collected water. I still had 2.7 miles to get back to Crabtree Meadows to retrieve my canister. Those miles dragged on as well, seeming to be even longer than the first time I had hiked them!
Finally, I crossed the creek and came to the bearbox where my canister was waiting. The rest of the guys were resting in their tents that they had kept up while they climbed Whitney. I walked over to the little area across the way that I had contemplated spending the night at, and although I wanted to put in some miles, my body was extremely tired and needed some rest. I decided I could lie down for about an hour. I saw Cowboy take his pack and head towards the creek and suddenly felt like I needed to get moving, too! I had to remind myself that I didn’t need to keep the same pace as anyone else. When I finally got going, I saw that Cowboy had just gone down to the banks of the creek to nap. So, I was the first one to leave after all.
I never did see Yardsale. I guessed that he had made it all the way up to the summit last night and slept in the bivy spot partway down. I didn’t get to give him his bandana, after all.
The day grew warm and I had to change back into my short sleeved shirt. I made it back to the PCT and walked alone for several miles. Cowboy and Hooligan caught up while I was taking a break and Cowboy was surprised to see me. He thought I had planned to take Whitney Portal into town, for some reason. Hooligan wanted to hike all the way over Forrester Pass by this evening, which Cowboy and I thought was absolutely ridiculous. “That’s dangerous!” Cowboy warned him. He didn’t seem to care. Birdman came along and wanted to take a snack break, so the others joined him as I moved on.
I later came to a rushing creek that didn’t look easy to cross so I decided to take Ned Tibbets’ advice and follow the creek upstream to see if there was an easier crossing. There wasn’t. In the meantime, the guys had made their way across. Mosquitoes were coming out in droves and were making the evening unpleasant. I made it across the creek, walked until I needed a break, and then as I moved on, noticed that Cowboy was behind me, somehow. He looked tired. I thought he would catch up to me, but never did. I saw a rabbit run off in the distance and noticed that it was a different type than the bunnies I had seen in the desert. I thought that it must be a jackeloup. I walked on, and Cowboy stayed well behind. Birdman and U-turn were waiting for him along the trail and I took the opportunity to take my pack off for a moment. They wanted to push on as far as possible in order to hike down Kearsarge tomorrow. That was a long way to hike and no part of me wanted to do that! I asked them why they needed to do all of those miles by tomorrow. U-turn said his girlfriend was coming to meet him. Cowboy just looked at me.
I moved on, crossing an open landscape, as I grew more and more tired.
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I knew there was another creek crossing coming up and I told the guys it would be best to wait until the morning to do that. When I reached a bear box, I decided I was stopping there for the night, even though it was just after 5. I was done!
The sky had been filling with threatening grey clouds, and I decided it would be smart to set up my tent in case it rained. I scoped out the area and picked a tree to camp next to. I had a lot of trouble setting up my tent, however! Apparently, it had been so long that I had forgotten how to do it! The walls were not at all taut, but I didn’t want to struggle with it anymore. Birdman, U-turn, and Cowboy all passed by and kept hiking. Jug later came by and decided to stop here, as well, however. I asked him if he could help me lock my bear canister, as I couldn’t seem to do it (I had lost my quarter) and was trying to use my credit card. He was unable to help. I figured that as long as the bear box was locked, it would be fine.
I cooked my dinner and crawled into my sleeping bag as a third hiker arrived. I peaked out through the mesh of my tent and saw that it was Bambi.

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