Day 63: Weather 2, Whitney Summit 0
Tuesday, May 22, 2018 9:47 pm
Location: Crabtree Meadows (767.0 miles)

Quoi, Dylan, Flowers, and I again attempted to summit Mount Whitney today, but we didn’t have any more success than we did yesterday.

We set out for the summit a little after 7 am, the weather appearing to be nicer than it was yesterday. The Whitney Creek crossing was just as sketchy as it was yesterday morning, so I opted to walk upstream to find an easier crossing, eventually finding one and crossing without getting my feet wet. Also setting out at the same time we did was Austin, who relatively quickly hiked past us (since he wasn’t drained from a summit attempt yesterday).

Mount Hitchcock
Mount Hitchcock

It was a lot warmer today than yesterday, which was nice, and we could relatively quickly take off our cold weather layers. However, the temperature and that it was later in the day meant that all the snow that fell yesterday was considerably squishier, which made it much more difficult to hike over.

Austin, it turned out, was on his second attempt summiting Whitney of the day; he had first started out at 1 am, but turned back after a couple of miles, at Timberline Lake, realizing that his phone had a very low charge; he needed the gps and maps on his phone in order to find the trail, since it was still mostly obscured by yesterday’s snow.

We retraced our steps from yesterday (with a bit more success staying on the trail, since we could see more signs of the trail in the daylight), though it was much slower going, and much more tiring, due to the softer snow.

Guitar Lake
Guitar LakeGuitar Lake below Mount Hitchcock.

As we proceeded up the mountain, we passed several hikers who started before us and had turned back due to “sketchy” conditions, which we assumed were some of the traverses on the switchbacks we encountered yesterday, made more difficult by the new, slippery snow that covered the trail. We also noted that our footprints from yesterday were gone, hidden by the new snow.

I say we assumed, because we never got to the point that the others had turned back at. We wanted to get there, of course, just to see for ourselves what had worried everyone. The whole time, though, we were racing stormclouds that appeared to be forming in the valley and moving towards the summit. We eventually turned back, just shy of the start of the switchbacks, after Quoi saw ligntning. Another couple of hikers we passed on the way down were going to push on anyway, and wound up turning back at the same place Austin had turned back. Both yesterday and today turned out to be terrible days for those attempting to summit Whitney.

On our way back, we saw our first marmot, sitting on a rock next to Guitar Lake.

By the time we got back to Crabtree Meadows, as a result of the warmer temperature, much of the snow at the lower elevations had melted, including nearly all of it at Crabtree Meadows.

Melted Snow
Melted SnowThe bulk of yesterday’s snow melted by the time we finished today’s hike.

After we got back, we got word from other hikers that quite a few people, including Sassy K’s group have turned back from Forester Pass, the high point on the PCT, about a day’s hike ahead, hiking back to Cottonwood Pass to exit the trail and go to Lone Pine.

At camp, Quoi, Dylan, and I moved our tents next to Flowers’ tarp, creating a miniature tent city, and using the bulk of our tents to create more of a windbreak for each other, helping us to stay warmer.

Tent City
Tent CityQuoi, Dylan, and I put our tents around Flowers’ tarp for warmth.

In the early evening, it hailed for a little bit, but fortunately, it stopped after not too long, transitioning to a light rain a little after, and then stopping. None of the hail stayed on the ground for very long.

Also, yesterday, I forgot to note, I discovered that there appears to be a bit of a leak at the top of my tent. I don’t know if the snow that accumulated on the tent created a hole, or the weight of the snow on the tent exacerbated a tiny hole that existed before, but I’m going to need to patch it eventually; having a tent that leaks right in the middle would be pretty bad.

While the several of us were eating dinner under Flowers’ tarp, I saw across Whitney Creek a white rabbit that appeared to be the size of a medium-sized dog. (No word on where the Cheshire Cat is.)

If the weather tomorrow is clear, given today’s melting, we could probably be successful with a third attempt at summiting Whitney. However, Quoi, Dylan, and Flowers don’t have sufficient food to stay for a third day, and I was running low on snacks as well, so tomorrow, we’ll leave around 6:30 for Forester Pass, the high point on the PCT. With melting, hopefully it won’t be as bad as the reports say. Ideally, we should have left for Forester Pass today, camping at a creek about five miles from Crabtree Meadows, but after two Whitney summit attempts, we were too exhausted to hike more. (At least, our attempt on Whitney yesterday got us to a higher altitude than Forester Pass.)

My plan now is to return to Lone Pine after completing my PCT thru-hike and summiting Whitney as a grand finale.