Day 42: Saturday, June 15

Tenting at Wallace Creek (PCT mi 770.2), walked 19.3 miles today including MT. GODDAMN WHITNEY

Woke up pretty unenthused about climbing Whitney, although later I realized it was just low enthusiasm for getting out of my sleeping bag. Serious freeze last night, water bottle a solid block of ice, so it couldn't have been above freezing at 6:30 when I woke up. Got up after some moaning, did the morning chores, for breakfast tore into my new jar of Skippy which was somehow not a frozen brick, then put a few warm layers, some snacks, my phone and sunglasses and two water bottles in my pack. Stashed all the other stuff either in the bear can or in Bow's tent, then set off for Whitney.

Won't dwell on descriptions of the scenery, that's what all the pictures are for. Suffice it to say it was spectacular beyond belief. Got to Guitar Lake easy, failed to gather water there when I should have, which made for a thirsty descent a few hours later. After Guitar Lake the climbing was brutal for a few miles, switchbacking straight up an almost vertical rock wall, it only eased up a bit about 1.5 miles below the summit. Everywhere on the way up the trail itself was an incomprehensible feat of engineering ... I have no idea how one goes about building rock steps and retaining walls on near-vertical slopes at 13,000 feet. Bow and I could not figure out how most of the stuff we were looking at was ever constructed. It wasn't a cop-out like the AMC does in the Whites in New Hampshire, where they build some cairns and say, "Here, scramble straight over these boulders to the next one"; there was actually a well-hewn trail all the way to the top.

Traffic picked up dramatically when we got to the junction with the trail that comes up from the east side at Whitney Portal. Nothing boosts the ego like striding breezily by day-hikers who are struggling with literally every step. The last mile-ish was pretty easy, got to the summit at 11:45 or so. Felt better than I ever have on top of a high-elevation peak ... had none of the headaches, sleepiness, or impaired cognitive function that I've had on top of Shasta or Steens or South Sister. Bow, the 3 Israelis, a few other PCTers I didn't recognize, and then about 20 day-hikers were all at the summit. The PCTers were having way more fun than the others, most of whom were in some attitude of exhaustion. I would've been too if I'd tried that without a 750-mile warmup. Got a lot of good pictures and spent over an hour up there just enjoying the scene. Found a spot to sit in that was sheltered from the breeze but had enough sun that I could stay warm in just my shorts, hiking shirt and windbreaker.

The descent is all a blur because I was mostly out of water and didn't stop for any breaks except to snap pictures. Was in disbelief the whole way down that I'd ever managed to get up all that a few hours earlier. Met some PCT people who were on the way up for the sunset and then camping on the summit, which seemed questionable to me given the temperatures. Got back to Crabtree Meadow around 5 not actually feeling that great, with a headache coming on. Made a decision with the others to get a few more PCT miles done to this spot, Wallace Creek, to try to set ourselves up to get out over Kearsarge Pass and into Independence tomorrow evening. Walked the last bit with The Messenger, the third Israeli guy ... He talked about graduating from high school in Israel last year and then immediately coming to the States and hitchhiking literally all over the country for a year, fascinating stuff. Finally got to this campsite a little before dark and found it already populated by mosquitos, so I put up my tent and retired early without much socializing. A great day overall, even by the haughty standards of the PCT, but I'm exhausted and tomorrow, with Forester Pass in the morning, will probably finish me off and there will be some zeroing on Monday. I've averaged 21 miles a day, including breaks, since the Saufleys' and that's a bit high. Time to chill out in the one part of the trail that practically mandates it.