Day 59 & 60 – A shock to the system
Wednesday 26 June 2019
Location: Chicken Spring Lake via Trail Pass (mile 750.8)
Distance travelled: 5.5 miles (+1.5 miles off-trail to reach the PCT)
For what would be our last day in town for over a week, we had a fairly relaxed morning, heading to the local McDonalds in Lone Pine for a light breakfast, which ended up being surprisingly more expensive than at home (USD$20 for both of us).
The rest of the morning was spent putting the final touches on the packing of our bags and figuring out the best way to attach our bear canisters and ice axes to our packs. Both of our packs ended up being a touch under 20kgs each, including 8 days of food and 2L of water. This should be the heaviest our packs will be for the entire trail, so I picked a good place to start my journey! No such thing as an easy introduction to the trail 😁.
Once we were ready, we checked out of the hotel around 11am and headed up the road to find a spot to hitch from. We were still over 20 miles and 7,000ft of elevation gain away from the side trail that would take us back to the PCT and didn’t particularly want to walk all that way.
The road we had planned to hitch from looked very quiet, so we tried the highway instead. After the best part of an hour without any luck, we gave up on the highway and headed back to our original location. Within about 20 minutes we had a ride in the back of a ute, which was going to take us about halfway to our final destination.
We jumped into the back of the ute and held on to our hats as we wove our way up the hill towards the stunning mountains. We jumped out once we reached the drop off point and waited for another ride to take us all the way up to the campground at the top of the hill.
After waiting in the scorching sun for another half hour or so, we were picked up by a family on their way to the same campground we were headed. After stopping to reorganise their car just to fit us in the back, we were off. The views back down into the valley were amazing as we started to climb. Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos during the drive!
Before too long, we reached the campground and headed off along a connecting trail back to the PCT. We didn’t have far too walk today but the altitude really kicked my butt. We started at about 10,000ft and climbed up to 11,000ft over the course of the next few hours, and boy did I notice it after spending the last day in Lone Pine at about 3,000ft elevation.
The trail was absolutely stunning but I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it in the moment. To begin with, I was out of breath slightly during the climbs and was finding the intermittent snow walking quite hard going as you had to really concentrate on every step or risk slipping over.
I eventually ended up with a banging headache, and was unsure whether it was due to the altitude, dehydration or my heavy pack with the bear canister strapped to the top. We had a break at around 6pm and I forced myself to eat something light for dinner but my appetite had completely deserted me. I felt shot after only about 5 miles of walking in total.
We walked for another hour after dinner, reaching a nice camp site near a lake just as the sun was setting and the temperature dropping.
By the time I went to bed, I felt sick in the stomach and was unable to sleep for most of the night during to combination of nausea and a headache. It wasn’t a fun night for me. Leigh tells me I didn’t even manage to get into my sleeping quilt properly, I was so out of it. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day for me. Leigh’s been awesome looking after me, but I am a bit concerned that my struggles are going to negatively impact Leigh’s ability to finish the trail if I’m going to be really slow over these first few weeks of high altitude hiking through the Sierras.
Thursday 27 June 2019
Location: Rock Creek campground (mile 760.5)
Distance travelled: 9.7 miles
A long night turned into a late start as we set off for my first full day on the trail after 8:30am. After my shocker yesterday, we decided to scale back our ambitious plans for the next 8 days into Bishop – instead of doing a 16 mile day as originally planned, we would only do an 8 mile day to give me a better chance of acclimatising ahead of our summit attempt of Mt Whitney (4,421m), the highest mountain in mainland US, the following day.
Thankfully today the trail was mostly downhill, with a lot more snow-free sections than yesterday. After again struggling to eat anything in the morning, I took a short nap before lunch time on a rock during a drinks break and tried one of Leigh’s Gatorade satchels. I felt an immediate boost in my energy levels, which was a nice feeling.
After the break, we made decent time through the stunning alpine landscape, reaching Rock Creek by 3:30pm, which was supposed to be our first significant creek crossing.
It was definitely on the early side to set up camp, but I felt like I shouldn’t push myself too hard after my day yesterday. We decided to settle for an early finish and take advantage of the large metal bear vaults at this campsite for storing our food overnight. We’d tackle the freezing creek crossing in the morning. As an added bonus, we’re hoping that the river levels drop a bit overnight, as is normally the case when they are fed by snow melt as the river levels would generally be lowest first thing in the morning before the sunrises and highest late in the afternoon.