59. June 8: Mile 750.80 Chicken Spring Lake to Mile 766.30 Junction to Mt. Whitney
Last night was super windy. I didn’t catch much sleep; maybe a couple hours at the most on top of waking up with a little bit of congestion in my chest. We got up at 4:00 to try to get as much time on hard, grippy snow as possible.
The morning was absolutely stunning. We hiked up the sun-cupped snow to right at treeline and saw the most spectacular sunrise. It started out as blood red and morphed into beautiful rays of orange and purple.
The rest of the morning we descended down to Rock Creek, our first river ford. After some time deliberating potential crossing points we settled on a section that was moving fairly well, but was knee deep and avoided some of the rapids. It actually went pretty well. I was able to cross by myself with no help. The water was swift, but by facing up stream and using my trekking poles it was a cinch.
The rest of the day did not, however, go that well. We began climbing up from 9500 feet at Rock Creek on this really steep section of trail. Glowworm was absolutely crushing it like a beast. After a while I just could not keep up any more and had to stop to take a break to let my heart rate go down. It was then that I was reminded of my chest congestion from earlier this morning. It started off as a crackling sound, but by the time we got to Guyot Creek about a third of the way up, I was really struggling to keep pace.
After fording Guyot Creek and taking a break to clean out socks Cougar informed Glowworm and I that she and Dr. McDirty were not going to attempt to summit Mt. Whitney tomorrow. This was a blow. We’ve basically been hiking together since day one and now we weren’t even going to summit the highest mountain in the lower 48 as a family. They encouraged us to hike on to the spur trail and still go for the summit. They were going to camp at Guitar Lake and wait for our return from the peak.
So Glowworm and I resumed the 1500 foot climb dejected and disappointed, although I had no idea what was about to happen to myself in the following hours. As we began to climb higher my body began falling apart. The congestion increased as did my coughing and breathing. It was like my lungs just ceased to function. Only a week ago we were all hiking at similar elevation and I was fine; totally able to keep pace. But now I was not fit to be hiking and slowly realized that summiting Whitney was going to be impossible. Upon realizing this I sat on a rock, fighting back tears, at too of this climb realizing that my worst fears had manifested: an injury or illness preventing me from continuing my hike. Glowworm and I decided to instead take a zero at the junction for Whitney and wait for Dr. McDirty and Cougar.
The decent down into Whitney Creek didn’t improve the situation. The patchy snow and winding trail put us off course regularly and added a significant amount of time to the end of the day. On top of that I managed to bend my other trekking pole in half after it post holed into a soft snow bank.
By the time we made it to camp I was completely exhausted. This has been our longest day: 14 hours and each step into camp forced me to desperately suck in air through my impeded lunges. It took everything I had to focus enough to navigate the snow to make it safely down the slopes.