May 28, 2018
The next morning Ghosthiker told us she’d been awake half the night with bad charlie horses in her calves, so we started slowly and took it easy. Not that hard to do, considering the beauty of the trail. What a difference from the desert! Tall trees, river crossings, woodland sounds galore, and every time the woods opened up we were treated to breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountain range we would soon be traversing. It felt surreal to me as we hiked ever closer. Was I really going up there? I’d always looked at photos of mountains like those and envied the people who had the nerve to climb them, to stand at the peaks or summits and just…stand there, taking in what so few get to see with their naked eyes. Soon I would be one of those people. It didn’t feel real to me then. It would soon.
We forded our first few rivers that day. I’d started my hike unsure about how I’d handle river crossings, thinking I’d probably just cross in my shoes or else go barefoot. But back at Casa de Luna I’d seen a hiker lounging around in his “camp” shoes, a pair of fancy little water shoes called FitKicks. They had a stretchy, quick-dry outer with a fairly grippy and flexible outer sole, and they seemed like perfect river-crossing shoes to me, so I ordered some on Amazon and had them delivered to Lone Pine (along with ALL my other packages, haha!). So far they’re amazing, and once I change back into my Oboz all I have to do is secure them to my pack under the elastic bands on the back and they dry pretty quickly.
We’d planned to hike up to the last campsite before the climb up Mt. Whitney, but somewhere along the trail, we met a couple of really nice park rangers who advised us to camp at Crabtree Meadow near the ranger station. The reason for this recommendation, they said, was that there are thousands of people who come to hike Mt. Whitney every year and a lot of them make the same decision we’d made – to camp as close to the mountain as possible. Unfortunately, this meant that a lot of hikers were digging catholes spread around in the same general location, and it was becoming too much too fast for nature to handle. Because of this, the park had decided to dig a pit toilet at Crabtree Meadow and encourage, if not require, all hikers to use it rather than digging their own holes, which would have a smaller impact on the ecosystem.
Understanding and agreeing with this logic, we decided to camp at Crabtree Meadow, and we’re so glad we did! It’s a beautiful meadow bordered by a small river on one side and a wide, wooded expanse of nice, flat tent sites on the other, so even though there were a lot of hikers there already, there was ample space to be had and we felt like we had a modicum of privacy. While setting up our tents, we were greeted cheerfully by a ginger-haired Englishman who introduced himself as MGD – Mr. Girly Drinks. We hadn’t encountered such a cheerful, talkative thru-hiker since our early days on the trail back at places like Lake Morena and Warner Springs. He asked us questions about our hikes and shared details about his as though we’d all just started out, and I have to admit his friendliness and enthusiasm were kind of infectious. I found myself greeting other thru-hikers with the same cheerfulness on my way to and from the river to get water, asking how their hikes were going, when they’d started, things like that. Without intending to, I’m sure, MGD had buoyed my thoughts and feelings about the trail.
We also ran into Lucky Duck when we arrived, which was a treat. Lucky Duck is always so upbeat and ready to tackle the challenges, and she’s really hardcore. Every time I talk with her I walk away feeling inspired and capable. Why had I ever wanted to get off this trail? How silly of me!!
We realized, too, that camping near so many hikers gave us the opportunity to talk to those who’d just come down off Whitney that day, ascertaining conditions for tomorrow. A hiker named Dodo came into camp shortly after we set up and was happy to share his experience and advice about the climb. Because so many people had hiked it that day, he said, the fresh snow had been trampled down and the trail was very easy to follow, so no major mountaineering or navigational experience would be required. He did have to self-arrest with his ice ax a few times, but he said it was no big deal. None of us have ever had to do this but we were already planning to practice on the first snowy hillside we happened upon tomorrow.
Dodo was a really nice guy, very encouraging and happy to answer any questions we had. We all chatted while eating, and then I went down to the creek to get water and rinse my feet. I had noticed when we first arrived that there was a hiker camped near us with a lot of his clothes strung on a laundry line. I assumed then that he’d gone up Whitney today and was drying his wet hiking clothes, so when I saw him on my way back from the creek I stopped and inquired. His name was Oxygen Debt and he started hiking Whitney at 12am this morning!! He got to the summit at 4am, the first to arrive after the last snowfall, which meant that he had navigated his way up over fresh snow and everything, but he said he never had to self arrest once! I was in awe. I’m definitely practicing ASAP, just in case.
It was only 5:30pm when we all crawled into our tents. We were planning to hit the trail at 5am the next morning.