PCT Day 49: Nero to Crabtree

June 6, 2022

Rock Creek at mile 760.5 to Crabtree Meadows, ~PCT mile 767

6.5 miles

We’re only doing six and a half miles today, so we sleep in. And I mean sleep in: I don’t wake up until almost 8. I was really cold last night, and I didn’t sleep well. Is this how the Sierras are going to be? Tonight I’ll try cinching down the straps on my quilt a little tighter and making sure that my pad is all the way inflated. If that doesn’t work, I’ll need to get a liner, because that was miserable last night.

After a very chill breakfast by the creek, we start working on the 1.5-mile switchbacked uphill. At first I feel okay, but then I have to put music in and do the 100-step trick. At the top, I start feeling amazing again. I fly down the trail and across a creek. I thought maybe Jumbo would be here waiting, but I don’t see him, so I keep going.

It turns uphill again, and I struggle. I remember this pass from the JMT, and I remember thinking that the hill was hard. It’s still hard, but once the switchbacks start, I get into a rhythm and cruise up. Jumbo still isn’t at the top, but Burrita (Kelly) is there, and I talk with her for a while. I ask if she’s seen Jumbo or Catless, and she says no. I wait a little while longer and both of them come up the hill. “How did I pass you?” I ask. Turns out, J had been sitting on a log just after the first uphill and I totally didn’t see him. I was in the zone, I guess.

I have to pop a very weird blister on my toe before I go down the hill. This is unusual; blisters aren’t typically an issue I struggle with. I’ve noticed that my camp shoes are too small for me now, and I’m wondering if I might need to size up again. Fun fact: When I started the AT in 2019, I wore an 8. By the end, I was in a 9. This time it seems like I might be going up to 9.5. Yikes.

We walk together for a few miles, down the hill, around a flat sandy plateau, and through an arid-feeling valley where we pull over because Jumbo is flagging in the sun and ready for lunch. After that it’s a short climb over a hill, from the top of which we can see Tumanguya clearly. The scale of the mountain smacks me in the face. I’d forgotten how towering and imposing and beautiful it is. We’ll be climbing so soon for sunrise.

We switchback down into a beautiful meadow. None of us has the energy to frolic today, but this, too, is a very frolic-able meadow. We continue across Whitney Creek, where I can see so many little fish swimming around. Once we cross, Ishay appears. He’s like a magical forest sprite who pops out of nowhere! He walks with us for another half mile to the junction to Crabtree Meadow. It is a ridiculously steep uphill that none of us was expecting. I actually feel pretty good, but it seems like it wrecks Jumbo and Catless a little bit. I wait for them at the junction with Ishay, and then we continue to a campsite along the trail that will take us to the summit of Whitney.

On the way down, we run into members of the Step Tramily, including Mash. He’d made it the day before and then gotten up at 1 to summit Whitney. That must have been exhausting, but he says it was so worth it. Down at the camp, we’re reunited with Beetle, Pants (that feels weird), Spice, Stinger, and Mouse. Catless, Jumbo, and I are still pretty annoyed that they weren’t at the camp where they said they would be the first night in the Sierras, and when Beetle tells us to “hike fast” to catch them, I’m even more annoyed. I do miss hiking with them, but I hate the mentality of hiking fast to make miles. The Sierras are arguably the most beautiful part of the trail, and I want to take my time.

It is nice to see them again, though, and to catch up on how their Sierra experience has been. Spice tells me happy early birthday, which reminds me to give them all crowns to wear. Andy gives me a hug and says he’s sorry he won’t be with me on my birthday, explaining that they just didn’t have enough food to take the extra day to Bishop, which is why they went ahead. I do miss being with him, even if I don’t miss the pace. Hopefully we’ll all be able to get together in town, since they’ll be there the night of the 9th.

After that group leaves, Ishay, Catless, Jumbo, and I set up our tents in a row and eat lunch. I go down to the creek in the meadow, remembering the last time I was at Crabtree. From the moment I set foot on the trail, I knew I’d go back one day to complete the entire PCT. I filter water in my fresh new CNOC, accidentally splash one foot into the creek and curse myself for it, then go back up to the tent site.

Our sleep and eating schedules are messed up because we’re doing Whitney at sunrise, which means I’ll have to get up around 11 PM tonight. I cook what would normally be my dinner—polenta with cream and parmesan—around 4:30 and sit there eating with the boys.

Ishay doesn’t want to get up as early as us, but he wants to see the sunrise. So out of nowhere, he decides to keep going to “the chad spot,” a tiny campsite on the approach to Whitney that is described as such on FarOut. He leaves his tent and just takes his sleep system, dinner, and breakfast. Before he leaves, he gives Jumbo and me some amazing back massages. I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were, and it turns me into a relaxed puddle of goo. Then he bounds off into the distance like the magical being he is.

I’m in my tent around 6:15. It’s still light, but I think I’ll be tired enough to sleep. I’m honestly not that excited about getting up for this. I think if it were up to me, I’d just go up at a normal time. But I’ve done that before, and I know the sunrise from the highest peak in the lower 48 will be worth it, even if I have to hike for five bourse in the dark and suffer in the cold at the top for a while. I’m excited to see how I handle this hike compared to the last time—in 2017, the altitude really hit me and I crawled up the last mile. I think I’m stronger now, but we’ll see.

Tumanguya awaits.

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