It has been an absolutely incredible few weeks since leaving Kennedy Meadows. One thing that you soon recognise is that people are crazy, but the crazier the better! The landscapes have and continue to be magnificent. Was the desert just to weedle out those who didn’t earn this?
With safety for the next section in mind, we left Kennedy Meadows with a group of about twenty other hikers. Yes, that was a whoppingly large number. Smaller sub-groups formed as we worked out who hiked at a similar pace and also enjoyed getting out of bed later (like me). Each evening the whole group would decide on a potential camp location for the following day too.
Acclimatising to the heftely increased elevation was our main focus, with a climb up Mt Whitney (14,505 ft) coming up in just a couple of days. It would mean devoting almost an entire day hiking OFF trail in order to summit it and return to camp. This we achieved after our first few days of hitting significant snow, with crampons/microspikes and ice axes having become a necessity in some areas for safety purposes and ease of travel. Much had been said about the conditions in the High Sierra, but we didn’t encounter anything too troublesome whilst I was there. The worst thing about it was more or less postholing (similar to walking in deep snow) through the slushy suncups as the day wore on. You just sink into the holes and gain more soaked feet than you do distance.
I may be guilty of being naive about how quickly conditions can change in the mountains. On our second night, another evening of cowboy camping under the stars seemed a great plan. It was a clear day and the night sky was fully available for our viewing pleasure. Nature’s alarm clock then gave me one of its most brutal awakenings…
It can’t have been far beyond midnight, when fully submerged in my sleeping bag, that things all of a sudden became a wee bit chilly. ‘Submerged’ is suitable, as I might as well have been underwater (it would have been warmer). It was more covenient and appealing to use my hand to feel the outside of my sleeping bag. It was very wet! Fearing the worst (rain) I then unzipped to discover a Winter Wonderland had developed within our camp, including all over me and my gear.
My old hiking partner, ‘GoPro’ was nearest with his tent set up and I didn’t want to wake up the rest of camp, so I woke him and explained the situation. Sympathetic to my predicament, he encouraged me to throw my wet and snow-covered gear into his tent. The snow storm was ongoing, so by this point my clothes were soaked through. Another hiker then became aware of the commotion and encouraged me to ditch my gear with GoPro and share their tent for warmth. Only once I’d stopped moving, sat in the tent and realised quite how cold and wet it truly was did the thoughts of hypothermia kick in. It took about an hour of intense shivering and multiple layers to rediscover warmth. It was arguably the worst night of sleep possible – for my tent partner too, who was in and out of the tent all night with symptoms of altitude sickness or potential noro-virus. Take that how you will!
Over the next couple of days we had much of the same terrain, just an increased snow level and frequency, which meant having to form your own trail in parts. Eventually we reached a couple of incredible camping spots, the first was where five other campers and myself had climbed a rock to share an epic sunset view.
The second night we camped just before our first significant river crossing. The night before it we assessed which of two unexpected log crossings would be best. Frustratingly my preferred option was half deminished by morning, so we were left with this.
A shock after the beautiful but slow day which preceeded it…
We made it over the river! There’s a video of me out there somewhere, in the hands of Steve or Diane, a couple who were part of my little group now. We were to be joined by Steele (not a trail name) and his dog Korra!
The next day involved reaching the base of our Mt Whitney climb. This was our first big test on trail. The rest of our large group left at 1.30AM in order to reach the peak by sunrise. From memory they made it two thirds of the way up as it came earlier than anticipated. Thankfully my group were lazy buggers and we left just after 6AM. The advantage of leaving earlier is that the suncups are less developed and the snow’s icy, allowing for grip when you combine it with crampons. It had already become somewhat softer at the modestly early time we left. Cracks in the snow had developed where streams began to break through too. However, we pursevered and reached the rock element of our climb after a short stretch wielding our ice axes for safety. We soon made it to the top and in good time!
To put into context what we had just done…
Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak sits at 4,413 ft.
Mt Whitney sits at 14,505 ft. A full 10,100 ft higher!
We had a few more miles left in us for the day and the terrain had transformed into a much more dangerous landscape. It was all managable though, that’s for sure. The only significant mistake I made was on the way down to two river crossings we expected to reach before camp. The snow gave way and the log beneath it then began to slide inbetween two standing trees. I had a reasonable cut on my shin and a badly grazed arm.
The two rivers we reached were absolutely fine, after one being deemed impassable by many others. It might have just been luck of our timing. We came into camp late, just before dark in fact. We were wet and cold. For whatever daft reason I had felt the need to get immediately into my sleeping bag only after getting the bleeding to stop. Woke up all crispy because of the frost, along with my shoes.
That wasn’t all we woke up to. A girl called Heather was in another group who camped back on the other side. Unfortunately, the river caused her to slip and it soaked her and all of her stuff, along with another hiker who went in to rescue her. So an emergency fire was pitched in our camp to help dry Heather and her gear out.
Our lot left camp shortly after and made our way to the next river, which didn’t pose our little group any problems from memory. We spent a few minutes finding a sensible place to cross.
Somehow we ended up with that! When looking back we had no idea it was a snow ledge. The group who had the tumble first time round also had issues here though I heard.
There were other unexpected crossings we had too. The next notable one was another five miles on, but we were fine again. Today was a signifcant day. We were going to reach the highest point of the PCT, Forester Pass at 13153 ft.
Forester was a trickier climb than Whitney, so snow gear was a necessity this time round. As there was no visible trail, we found a way to bypass a significant amount of suncups after being on them all day.
The other side was thankfully flat! We needed to be as quick as possible to get down below tree level before night came. Can you see any trees?!
We finally made it in and the next morning we set off to get over Kearsage Pass. You might assume that this was part of the trail. Nope. It’s our only way off the trail to get to our resupply point. We were all heading for Bishop. Seven extra miles were on the cards just to get off of the mountain range, including a significant climb, more tiring than either Whitney or Forester. Who came up with this route?!
All of that and more happened in just the first 89 miles (plus extra for Whitney and Kearsage) of the trail after leaving Whitney. Bonkers.
A lot has happened since, which is why I’m separating these blog posts to give your mind time to absorb all of this. Will update you all on the next 400 miles very soon.
Can’t reiterate enough how much if means to the charities, the Craggs and myself, when people donate in Matt’s memory. The best bit of news I have for everyone is that we reached my initial fundraising target for Cardiac Risk in the Young of £6000!
As I’m not even half way through at this stage it made perfect sense to raise even more funds, but this time for another charity in Refugee Action (UK). They’ve spent 35 years helping refugees from the most disadvantaged backgrounds settle into the UK.
This is a cause really close to my heart. It’s beyond me as to how, in the 21st century, we are still born into societies unequal to others. Purely through luck of where we’re born in the first place! Having the opportunity to help others settle into a life they could never have dreamed of is what will keep me motivated to complete this. We can keep our luxuries in life, but when we break things down what do we actually need beyond the basics? Safety, food and water is life. There are loads of luxuries that are free. So please help my drive to improve the circumstance of others!
Here’s the link – www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ryan-goggin1
I’ll leave you all with my attempted yoga move.
I can’t do yoga.
Again thank you to the companies supporting this challenge!