18.0 miles (720.8 to 738.8), plus 0.4 to/from creek
Happily, my stomach settles. I’m fine all night. We hike out before 7am. A little over a mile in, we run into a hiker called Bloody Smooches. (She’s the one who spotted the rattlesnake at Fox Mill Spring the other day.) After chatting for a minute, Cucumber and I continue our climb. We gain the top of the ridge and stop for a snack break with views out to the surrounding snowy peaks. It’s chilly enough that I put on my rain jacket to block the wind. Smooches arrives, hangs out for a few minutes, then continues on. We soon follow.
The trail descends for miles through open pine forest (lodge pole and foxtail?) where awesome campsites abound. Eight miles into the day, we cross beautiful green Gomez Meadow.
The weight and position of the bear can against my spine are creating an area that feels swollen and angry despite the clothes I shoved between the can and my back to provide more cushioning. This hurts. What else can I do? When Cucumber and I stop for lunch at Death Canyon Creek, I have a flash of inspiration and stick my red Lone Peak insoles into my pack’s back panel in hopes of relieving the pressure (thankfully I’m still carrying spare insoles!).
Smooches comes over to our campsite just as we’re packing up to hit the trail. She was swarmed by mosquitoes at the creek and is looking for a peaceful napping spot. She’s come to the right place. Cucumber and I agree that this spot is dangerous. It would be easy to accidentally spend half a day in the shade here.
We leave the creek and tackle the 1,600 foot climb that awaits. We climb through rocks and trees with constant jet traffic overhead. A week or so ago, someone told me that the Air Force performs training runs through this area. That would explain the constant air traffic. One jet after another flies over, but we don’t see a single one.
I have to stop for a rest halfway up the climb. I can’t seem to get enough oxygen. Is it the elevation? We’re climbing to 10,000+ feet for the second time today. Is it the weight on my back? My shoulders hurt. My body is working hard. I’ve been charging uphill at my normal climbing pace despite the elevation and the weight I’m carrying. No wonder I’m out of breath.
I slow way down. Most of the major discomfort goes away. I can breathe again. Cucumber gets reception at a spot with a cool view down to Owens Valley. We stop, get updates on the latest trail conditions, and send a few texts. Mount Whitney sounds doable. Forester Pass sounds passable. We may get out over Kearsarge Pass without any trouble.
Finally we reach the day’s high point at 10,700 feet. From there the trail mildly meanders up and down through high elevation pine forest. At last we reach the turn off for a stream. At the fork, we stop to eat dinner. As we finish, Smooches arrives. She asks about our Whitney plans, which we’d just been discussing. From here, it’s 28 miles to Crabtree Meadows and the turnoff to Whitney, then another 8 miles to the summit. The three of us decide to cover most of the those miles tomorrow and the next day, camp as close to the summit as possible, and go up early in the morning.
We hike down to the creek and swat mosquitoes while collecting a few liters each. Cucumber and I decide to hike another half mile up the trail to a flat open area where there are plenty of potential campsites. We find a nice spot and set up. Smooches finds us and pitches her tent. She and I practice putting on our crampons. Mine are easier than I remembered. Just Mike arrives and sets up his tent on the other side of the trail.
We’re camped at 10,100 feet. This will be great for acclimating to higher elevations; I hope it helps me get up Mount Whitney in a few days. I’m excited about the team we’re assembling. I like these people. I think we’re going to have fun.