Day 46 – May 19, 2022
Mile 756.5 to 766.3 (Whitney Creek/Mt. Whitney Crabtree Ranger Station)
9.8 trail miles | 9.7 tracked miles | 1,437 ft elevation gain | 60.8 F / 16 °C
Today’s 10-mile stretch to the Mt. Whitney “base camp” (officially known as the Crabtree Ranger Station campsite) was short but demanding.
In the morning, the trail descended gently towards Rock Creek, steadily losing elevation over four miles. The conditions were perfect: we were blessed with comfortable temperatures and a cloudless sky. Shortly before Rock Creek, the trail traversed a serene meadow.
During high snow years, crossing Rock Creek can be challenging, but we were able to easily rock hop across.
The trail then rapidly regained elevation, ascending back up to 11,000 feet and across Guyot Pass in just over 1.5 miles. While the climb was challenging, I didn’t have to carry more than 700ml of water thanks to the presence of several streams.
The last four miles were easier. The scenery matched my expectations of the Sierras: rugged, majestic, and vibrant. We got our first glimpse of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.
At Whitney Creek, I departed from the PCT and turned right onto the Crabtree Meadows Trail, then hiked an easy mile to the Crabtree Ranger Station campsite.
The Crabtree Ranger Station campsite is spacious, shaded, flat, and it features an open-air privy, courtesy of the National Park Service. I overheard overnight hikers commenting on the lack of privacy and chuckled—they don’t realize that any kind of sit-down facility screams luxury after a few weeks in the wilderness.
After setting up camp, I had lunch and dinner back-to-back, a thru-hiker’s dream!
I am about to take a nap. I will wake up shortly after midnight to ascend Mt. Whitney, with the goal of reaching the summit before sunrise and witnessing the first light from the highest point in the contiguous United States.
I will leave all my heavy gear at camp, taking only water, snacks, and other essentials. Mt. Whitney is already free of snow, which should make the experience all the more enjoyable.
Mount Whitney is not on the Pacific Crest Trail, but it marks the beginning of the John Muir Trail (JMT), which the PCT follows for over 170 miles in the Sierra Nevada. By climbing Mt. Whitney, I will essentially be able to claim that I’ve thru-hiked both the JMT and the PCT!
From a logistical perspective, the detour through Mt. Whitney is an excellent opportunity: not only does the PCTA permit cover Mt. Whitney, but the ascent from Crabtree Meadow to the summit is approximately 7 miles with a gain of roughly 3,000 feet in elevation, compared to the much longer routes from the west or east portals, which cover 11-14 miles and over 6,000 feet of elevation.
The sunrise hike is a cherished tradition among PCT thru-hikers. However, the ever-hurried Michael is a nonconformist. He has decided to climb in the afternoon, so I will make the trek with Joe & co.