I’ve never actually walked into a mountain range before. I’ve flown into them, driven into them—but never walked from a place that is definitely not the mountains up onto 10,000-foot passes and 14,000-foot peaks. It feels like an accomplishment: instead of merely driving for a few hours and then stepping out of a car into cooler, thinner air, I have literally walked through the desert and then up, up, up to reach the Sierra Nevada.
Being here feels like coming home. After photographing the initial views of snow-covered peaks (Is that Mount Whitney? still not sure…), I realized that I wasn’t taking many pictures. It’s because these mountains are so familiar—even though I’ve never walked these exact trails before, I know the Sierra. Three trips to Kings Canyon, at least a dozen to Yosemite. Granite boulders, twisty golden trees, views of far peaks—it’s like walking through San Francisco: I appreciate the beauty of the city and how lucky I am to live close to such amazing sights, but I no longer feel the need to photograph everything.
Though of course I can’t resist a dramatic panorama.
And the sights are definitely changing. Instead of lizards running from our footsteps, chipmunks and ground squirrels dash away (or, sometimes, come to see what food they can beg). We saw our first marmot of the trip. The uphills and downhills seem to be more dramatic and frequent—and tougher, due to the higher elevation.
We are slowly getting closer and closer to a peak that we have decided is Mount Whitney; thankfully, there is less and less snow on it with every passing day. That will hopefully mean an easier hike up it, but the big unknown is weather. Cell service has been nonexistent, so any southbound hikers we meet we ask about the forecast. On Day 57, right before entering Sequoia National Park, we met a section hiker who said a storm system was supposed to be coming through in the next few days. That threw a wrench into the plan to make a nice easy approach to Whitney, heading to the top the day after tomorrow—the storm would be coming in on the day we planned to climb it, and then we’d still have to get over 13,200-foot Forester Pass the next day.
So we decided to make a long push to Rock Creek Camp and get up early the next morning to do a few more PCT miles and then attempt a mid-day hike up Mount Whitney. Not ideal (most people head up from just a few miles out early, early in the morning), but probably our best chance at making it to the top and then also avoiding weather on Forester Pass.
Day 55: 17.6 miles, Mile 704.8 to 722.4
Day 56: 17.1 miles, Mile 722.4 to 739.5
Day 57: 21.1 miles, Mile 739.5 to 760.6, Rock Creek Camp