Today will be a day with a distinct beginning, middle and end. The beginning is another early morning and being among the first on the trail. The trail winds along the side of the mountain range and as I look across, the vista opens and mountains upon mountains come into view. They seem like waves following the trail and become more and more compelling. Some day I would like to hike among those mountains as well, other trails will lead me there.
As the landscape becomes more barren, I enter Bighorn Plateau. I have entered a Dali painting. I look around for melting watches and long legged beings on stilts. Boulders are dropped everywhere with different shapes and sizes, a few trees without any leaves are placed in the middle of dusty, rocky plains and not a speck of green in sight. There is a round tarn lake and a hill in the middle of the Plateau and the Mt Whitney Massif is visible for the first time. My explorer vibes are on full alert. If this were later in the day, I would spend lots of time here just walking around. But I have quite a bit of milage to cover still. Instead, I stop often, take off my pack, investigate a bit and am intrigued by the shapes that are so artsy - a half decomposed tree trunk in various shades of brown, a deep blue sky, green trees way in the distance, red and transparent pebbles along the trail.
The middle of the day is a long, hot, tough slog along the dusty trail with little shade and at least 5 steep ups and downs. I cross two Creeks and keep drinking water like crazy. I calculate later and I covered about 3000 feet up and 3000 feet down, no wonder the hike felt like a never ending section designed to tire me out. I had various camp sites in mind but they are all either without water or shade. I think about going to the other extreme and hike all the way to Guitar Lake and hike out a day early. Some mule trains pass me and I share my state of mind with them when they ask me how I am doing: "Too many ups and downs today, I didn't expect this" - and in my mind I keep complaining and being quite annoyed with the trail. Nothing to do but rest often, remember to enjoy the pauses and the quiet and then keep going. It actually feels good not to talk myself out of complaining but to just go with it, do it fully and then be done with it. It's ok to feel differently on different days; it doesn't diminsh the hike or my decision to do it or me. I often feel that I have to be the stalwart one to make sure we maintain optimism, realism, positive energy, positive memories. Well, I can acknowledge what I feel, what is hard and - EVEN CHANGE MY MIND LATER when I feel differently and admit and say so. What a relief to finally discover this.
The end is peaceful, beautiful Crab Tree Meadow. Despite it being a large Meadow with many campsites and even an outdoor toilet, it feels intimate and calm. Most hikers stopped here for lunch and then continued on. I decide to stop for the day. No point in shortening my hike. I am out here in nature and every day is another day to enjoy it here. I will give anything to be in a place like this again once I am in DC and it is gorgeous. The stream meandering through the meadow is cool and I find a private spot where I can wash myself, dip into the stream, cook a great lunch and take plenty of short naps on rocks and under trees as has become my wild cat nature:) Later in the evening I meet up with the Japanese solo woman hiker and we chat and across the stream have a lovely chat with two hikers who enjoy the evening and later afternoon pauses as much as I do. The ranger confirms that the weather will hold for the next two days! Yeah! Whitney with sunshine, I can't believe my luck.
A magic moment occurs when I do my evening meander and stop in the meadow. I sit there so still for so long that a mother deer with two young ones gets used to me and comes very very close. The young ones nurse and play and entice mum to play. When I get up and gingerly leave, they don't even notice. I sleep so well this night.
Day 28 - I take my sweet slow time this morning. I eat and walk and repack and leave a few items behind for other hikers in the ranger's hiker box. Within a mile I see more of the meadow and walk up to Timberline Lake. Camping is prohibited here, otherwise I would have very much regreted not have walked on to this lake. It is amazing and so beautiful. I keep my fingers crossed that nobody comes along and nobody does. I get to enjoy this lake for a long time by myself. I could imagine settling here if I were one of the early settlers, there is deer, fish, berries, water, trees and gorgeous nature. Of course, in the winter with the passes sealed off I would likely feel differently.
Within a very short time I make it to Guitar Lake. I fill up my water and continue on, having been told that there are more lakes closer to the ascent to Mt. Whitney. As I head up that last cliff and come over the ledge, two old friends are camping there. The hikers I spoke with last night at Crabtree Meadow and the trio from Evolution Lake. Hellos and information exchange all around. I wonder if there are lakes higher up and nobody is sure about that and about water and tent sites. I feel left with so much energy but without clear information I rather stay here and go to bed early. It is very hot and no shade but at least it's not too windy and no cloud in the sky. For the first time I set up my tent without a tree to cover me and need to use rocks to tie down my tent instead of stakes. As I take along walk around the valley, I discover a stream that runs almost totally submerged through rocks and past a little bush. I am hidden from view and so I dip into the stream and wash myself and some clothes. I then find a few smooth rock chairs and sit, writing my diary, overlooking guitar lake and the hikers who start coming up and setting up tents. Very few make it up to our perch and I like it that way. Only two other hikers continue on and only two hikers come back from Mt Whitney, having done a day trip from Crabtree Meadow. I ask them in terms of camp sites further up and they confirm my decision to stay here. Apparently the water is not clear and the tarns are quite far from the actual trail. Good to know.
I have very soulful conversations with the other hikers - being almost done with the hike seems to add a depth to our sharing and revisiting the hike. I find often that close to any ending, there is a sense of softness, openness, to share and do rather than regret not having shared or done, to celebrate and comemorate together. I deliberately take moments to create little rituals for myself and find quiet alone time. The last dinner, the last setting up of my tent, the last evening meander, the last diary writing out here, the last rehearsal in my mind of how to pack in the morning. It is all so bitter sweet. I am very glad to have plenty of time planned to transition back home and to have my community welcoming me back and having been with me on this hike in my heart and virtually through my satellite device.