Day: Thursday, June 30th 3016
Miles: 750.9 – 766.3
Remote Camp Bird Spring Lake – Crabtree Meadows Camp
The blissful and serene details of last nights views and sounds as I camped are difficult to translate into words. The lapping of the waters. The croaking of the toads. The distant caw of an animal I cannot even identify. The great challenge of human language is in our general inability to use it properly in describing scenes like this. Forming words around meaningful experiences that can truly represent all the details is truly difficult. I can however, very easily represent the details of the next morning, on day 32, when I was introduced to the Sierra Nevadas equivalent of a hotel fire drill at 6AM.
EEEEEEP EEEEEEP EEEEEEP EEEEEEP EEEEEEP EEEEEEP EEEEEEP EEEEEEP. This wasn’t just the annoyance of someone else’s morning alarm clock. Or the annoyance or a car intruder alarm on a street in the early morning. This was a blood curdling screach, echoing across the lake and it really did feel like it was emanating from where my tent was situated. I sat up in a daze, somewhere between the dream-world and the real world, and tried to decipher what I was hearing. It was obviously natural. But what, I had no clue. I ventured my head out the door of my tent to a truly superlative view of morning sunlight cresting the walls of Bird Spring Lake, the stillness of the lake perfectly reflecting the views to the north. The clarity of the morning light almost overwhelming as I dealt with the confusion of where the noise was coming from. And then it all made sense. For a few days now the critters we have seen on the trail have changed. Marmots and chipmunks now populate the area heavily, along with pikas and ground squirrels as well as a myriad of other small fellows of whom I have yet to be formally introduced. This morning however, one of the ground squirrels had clearly taken it upon himself to raise an all-points-bulletin, full-scale-alarm across all levels of the sound spectrum based on my presence by the lake. He sat on a rocks about 10ft from my position, raised on his two feet, his whole body gyrating due to the sheer intensity that he was putting into every call of EEEEEEP! Who he was telling of this intruder, I have no idea. But this guy sure wasn’t happy.
As I moved about, preparing breakfast under the watchful and persistent unhappy cries of my new neighbor, I guessed I really was intruding on something, what exactly I likely would never find out, but he eventually did stop his alarm cry, and even ventured around my tent site to check for any crumbs I may have left. Some form of final walk-through to ensure the scene was safe for normal operations to continue. The mall cop of Bird Spring Lake had beaten me. As I wandered out of the camp at around 6:30AM I realized that I had been beaten by a 5inch long protagonist. Not only beaten but he had forced my quickest decamp yet. I think that’s a pretty admirable ending for his efforts, given I still have no idea what he was complaining about.
As I left the lake I realized that Nelson and David had actually camped just a little ways behind me, in the rocky area just south of the lake, where at some point in history a giant glacier decided to shed its load of rocks in a giant rock garden of immense proportions. All of the features are becoming bigger and more immense I realized. The Bird Spring Lake moniker as the first true alpine Sierra lake in design really is very apt. Almost as soon as we circled the lake and rose one of its shoulders for the traverse to Crabtree Meadows, we could now see the main event coming into view.
The terrain this morning, was surprisingly mostly downhill, the large climb to Bird Spring Lake yesterday assisting our daily goal today by the fact that it was actually on the flanks of a rather large ridge, quite a bit higher than much of the surrounding terrain to the south. So with only intermittent views of beautiful meadows and peaks to the west we engaged in conversation all morning and the first few hours passed quickly. Stories of Alaskan wilderness adventures from Nelson. A basic 101 on apes and anthropology from David. I think I threw in some basic backchat around Europe and the effects of today’s Brexit referendum in the UK. As we traded stories, the subtle ridges that previously were manifested as distant lines on the horizon were now becoming clearly defined as incredible peaks. Lines of snow remaining on their higher flanks, rock strewn slopes with less and less vegetated spaces became the main character of the area and the aggressive elevation gain in all directions began to close us into an intimate valley with seemingly impenetrable sides. At one point we crossed into the giant region encompassed by the Sequioa National Park wilderness zone. Much to my delight, another park marked off the list!
One of the interesting characters we met along the way was Kevin, at 81 he simply replied “I haven’t been going anywhere since I retired at 65!” When we asked where he was headed, quite a character and thoroughly in love with life.
We eventually arrived to Rock Creek, one of our first River fords on the trail. The refreshing cold waters and oasis-like vegetation around the crossing were a welcome relief to the bolder strewn monotony of the late morning, where trees all but obscured our views. Beyond Rock Creek, a grueling series of switchbacks were required in order to complete the final push over the ridge to Crabtree Meadows.
At this point, most cares seemed to evaporate and the switchbacks paled in comparison to the destination, as immense views of the high peaks to the northeast fed our progress. The target of Mt.Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US was just to the east at this point, and certainly would be summited tomorrow subject to any physical or weather impediments. On that exact line, as if by some form of divine eavesdropping, the daily thunderstorm began to assemble to the north over the main Whitney range.
We arrived to the beautiful undulating area of grasses and meandering alpine streams just before Crabtree (earlier than planned), to a grumbling sky. Ominous sounds of thunder and rains to the east were obviously active on top of the higher ridges so I finished the final push to the Crabtree Meadows camp and set-up my homestead by the ranger station. This is approximately a mile up the Whitney Trail, and with many other tents in the area, it was a hive of activity. Like Everest base camp, but for Mt.Whitney! At this point I realized that we had now officially joined with the John Muir Trail, an iconic and immensely popular permit-required trail that runs from Yosemite National Park through to Mt.Whitney summit. The Pacific Crest Trail and the JMT would share the right of way for all but a short section between here and Yosemite. Both trails sharing one of the greatest expanses of unspoiled and inaccessible trail accessed terrain in the entire USA. As an enormous hail storm descended on the camp, with people arriving back from the ascent and some setting camp for the first time after arriving from the south, we all hunkered down – filtered water, cooked dinner and prepared for the Whitney ascent. An early morning was in order, with a 3AM departure time and expectation of arriving at the summit just after sunrise. All was set for the main event, although given the views it may just be the first act I suspect. This feels like my first day in the real high Sierra. And I’m excited beyond words at what lies ahead.