The transformation from the desert to the high Sierra’s could not have been more dramatic. As we crossed lush meadows, the pine trees grew taller, the boulders bigger and on the horizon the peaks soared skywards, only now increasingly their summits were decorated with a glistening, frosty icing.
We had been off-trail for a few days to give Lisa’s foot a chance to recover, the down-side to that being that we had lost much of the altitude adjustment that had been hard won over the previous weeks. We paid for it with slow, laboured breaths covering only 10-12 miles a day for the initial days back on trail. As we climbed higher we experienced our first significant mountain storm. We’d made it into the tent just as the first heavy raindrops pelted the fragile skin that kept us from the elements, later turning to hail. Lightening crashed down around us for several hours. The air was hot with electriciy and this seemed to intensify the sweet smell of pine resin. At around 10,500ft we were higher than we’d want to be in such a storm but lower than high points around us so sat out a restless night until it blew over. In the morning it was clear and sunny and we attempted to make some miles only to be caught in a snow storm at 11,000ft that afternoon. We pushed on to Chicken Spring Lake and retired to our tent at about 2pm to sit out the snow. We were hiking with a small group at this time and were grateful for the moral-boosting company through this tough section.
By the morning it was clear and sunny again. Although the world around us had turned white. It left some anxiety too about the conditions on Forester Pass ahead, the high point of the PCT at 13,200ft.
Before Forester however was Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. To make an attempt on Whitney we came off the PCT and camped at Crabtree Meadow. This was the a gorgeous part of the high Sierra.
Lisa chose to sit out the climb as her foot was still hurting significantly. I agreed a 2:30am alpine start with a couple of others and set off in the dark by headtorch. Ever conscious that we were sharing the mountains with those bears emerging from hibernation, it was disconcerting when we lost the trail for a few moments in the dark. We climbed around 4000ft to summit at 07:10. The last mile or two had required boot spikes for traction on hard snow and ice, and the wind added a significant challenge bringing the wind-chill temperature down to around -16C. The sun had beaten us by some way but the views were still spectacular.