It’s A Winter Wonderland
Rise and shine sleeping beauty! It’s a winter wonderland! As I peek outside my bivy and under the tarp, I can see that the entire forest floor is covered in a thin powdery blanket of snow, including the top of my tarp. Despite the new chilly layer freezing the flowers, grasses, and trees in time, I am warm and cozy nestled deep in my fluffy cocoon of nylon and down feathers. Yes, this quilt was well worth the investment, I think, as I snuggle even deeper into the warm pocket of air. I lay there for a good while, drifting in and out of sleep, as I contemplate my next move. I have a big decision to make; Should I make a run for it or wait out the storm here?
Powering up my Garmin, I request another weather update. Waiting… waiting… the receiver icon spins and spins. Several minutes later I’m still waiting. Maybe I need to go outside. I cringe at the thought, but eventually crawl out of my bed and raise my Garmin to the sky. Speak to the satellites little Garmin! No luck. Then, through the trees I see someone. I can’t tell if she’s trying to find a place to go to the restroom or if she’s heading towards the creek to filter water. Out of respect for privacy, I wait, and once I’m sure she’s in fact filtering water, I make my way in her direction.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
“Good morning!” I say. “I didn’t know anyone else was camped near here.” She says that she and her hiking partner just got into camp around midnight after hiking over Whitney in a bad storm and getting lost in the process. “That sounds horrible!” I say. I ask if she has a weather update from today, but unfortunately, she doesn’t. As we continue to talk, I see a man in the woods across the creek. It turns out to be her friend that they couldn’t find the night before and she screams in excitement. He’s hiking South on the PCT and they’re heading north, but the two groups wanted to meet up. We all talk of the weather a bit more and I decide that I’m going to make a run for it. Hopefully, I can make it to the Crabtree Ranger Station and set up camp there.
The weather is calm as I pack everything up and get dressed. I filter water from the creek and am in awe of the beauty that surrounds me. I love the freshly painted white after a sprinkling of snow. There are no footprints to be seen (except my own behind me), and it looks like a piece of art you would see hanging on a gallery wall. Absolutely perfect! I head back to gather my things, and just as I put my pack on to leave, it starts snowing. Of course! Oh well, there’s no turning back now. Crabtree is only a 4.5-mile hike. I can do it!
Hiking in a Snowstorm
What started as tiny snowflakes wisping throughout the forest, soon became a full-blown snow flurry. Hmmmm… maybe this wasn’t the best idea. Luckily, I have on my fleece hat, fleece jacket, mittens, and my raincoat. Everything is warm… except for my face. No problem. I just need to keep my head down, although that’s pretty tough when everything around you is so beautiful! It’s mesmerizing. Snow was not what I expected for this trip, but it was turning out to be the highlight.
In addition to the snow being beautiful, the cold also helped to keep my body from overheating. This was going to be an uphill day and my body was going to need to work hard. As I hiked the snow covered the forest floor and the trail more and more. Luckily the two hikers I had met, hiked in last night, so I could easily follow their tracks. The trail is also pretty well defined by the large border rocks. You can always pick up a hidden trail by following what looks unnatural in nature. It’s too perfect, and only humans could have placed it that way.
When the Storm Passes
After a while, the snow flurries begin to lessen and then finally stop. Up ahead I see a man heading my way. He’s coming from Crabtree where I’m headed and he’s headed towards Forester Pass. We talked about the weather and how thankful we are to be gifted snow instead of rain. Rain is miserable. Snow is magical… and less wet. We wish each other luck and then I’m on my way again. I only see one other person for the entire day. It’s like I have the forest to myself. What a treat this is. Normally this trail is a highway of hikers, but with it being the end of the season and the storm rolling in, most have either completed their journey or bailed. I think back to the beginning of my hike back in June when I didn’t see another hiker for two days. Maybe I’m turning into a snow hiker. I do love the solitude that it gives.
The Goal Post Keeps Moving
Once I reach the campsites near the Crabtree Ranger Station, I’m surprised to see that there’s not a single tent in site. Am I really the only hiker out here? The area doesn’t look ideal, but it is near the ranger station in case I need help. Should I just continue hiking to the next campsite, or should I stay here? I try to get another weather update while I eat my pop tart on a log soaking up the sun, but alas, it still is not working. Thinking… thinking… the Garmin is always thinking.
Should I Stay At Crabtree Meadow?
Decisions, decisions… I want to do this. I’ll be sad if I don’t. But, is it smart? The ranger did say he thought it was going to be fine and worst case scenario, you hunker down in your shelter until the storm passes. Yep! I’m going to make a run for it! Just as the day before I kept setting a goal, then a new one, and a new one; I decided to do the same today. While at one campsite I decide to message David and Shannon. I need a weather update. Should I stay or should I go? And now I have The Clash song stuck in my head.
Should I Stay Off Of Whitney Creek?
Both David and Shannon reply back with the same report. The storm hits at 2 p.m. Perfect! I can hike to Guitar Lake at the very least. Better yet, I get to the last campsite about a mile further. I hike on, but not quickly. It’s all uphill and everything is beautiful. I can’t help but take a million photos and videos. I especially love Timberline Lake. It’s what dreams are made of! I stop to filter water and take a pee break, but no camping is allowed, so regretfully, I move on. Next up, Guitar Lake.
Should I Stay At Guitar Lake?
As I come over the hill overlooking Guitar Lake, I’m in awe. The jagged mountain backdrop is striking and there isn’t another human in sight. It’s undisturbed, quiet, and all mine for this moment. Such a rare treat at this popular location. Again, I take way too many photos to count and then continue down the trail. I don’t plan to stop here because I want the shortest hike possible to the summit of Mt Whitney, but then I see a campsite; the perfect campsite. It’s blocked on two sides with a large rock wall and the rest is ringed in with a man-made stone barricade. This is it! If this ends up being a big storm, this is where I want to be.
The Perfect Campsite
I message everyone to let them know that I’m setting up camp. First up, I need to get my shelter set up. Just as I get started it begins to snow, so I pick up the pace. First my tarp and then my bivy. Lastly, I set everything up inside. It’s perfect! I’ll have so much room in my little house as I ride the storm out. But the storm never comes. It actually gets sunny and although it’s still cold, I relax on a rock overlooking the lake. I could do this for hours, thinking of nothing. Just listening, watching, feeling… Feeling, yes. I’m cold. So I head back to my bivy, cozy up inside, and fall asleep for two hours off and on.
When I wake up I sit outside and watch nature do its thing for a while longer as I eat a snack of cheese and dried apricots. Cold again, so I curl up and journal for a long while. I brave the outside one more time and then opt to cook dinner. Tonight I’m having chicken noodle pasta. It smells heavenly as I open the packet. I think I’ll make some tea too. A warm cup of tea is just what I need to warm up. I keep trying to look out for an amazing sunset, but it never comes. Too many clouds I suppose. Or I might have missed it while hiding in my bed. Oh well. Dinner was just what I needed and I topped it off with my usual Snickers bar of course.
While eating I see a light out of the corner of my eye. Another hiker! I guess I won’t be alone after all. It’s pitch black outside, so I don’t head out to say hello, but I assume they set up camp around the corner. I guess I will find out in the morning. With that, I say good night. I’m going to slip into my pajamas, curl up in bed, write in my journal, and go to sleep. Tomorrow I summit Whitney!