[to Crabtree Meadow campground, ~10.5 miles hiked]
Starting the second day five miles ahead of our anticipated schedule, we had some decisions to make. Toby had given us three days to hike the 21 miles or so that would get us to the actual JMT near Crabtree Meadow. From there he was planning on day hiking Mt. Whitney, an out and back trail, while I most likely took a zero day at Crabtree Meadow (unless I was feeling amazing and really motivated to climb a mountain. I did feel better than I expected but it was not looking good on the motivation front). [Actually I’d originally and ideally planned for us to go a bit further on our third day, to be a few miles closer to Whitney, but Crabtree was my back-up plan in case we were struggling with altitude. –Toby] [Crabtree Meadow is a much nicer place to take a zero, so I wasn’t complaining. –Cyn] So the question was, do we take two easy days from here, or do we just hike our butts to Crabtree Meadow and get there a day early. The second option was appealing because I was a bit stressed about the harder days we had leading up to our first resupply — this would give us more time to play with later in the week. We decided to head out with Crabtree Meadow as a goal for the day, but both agreed that we would make it a short day if it started feeling too hard.
We set out from our first campsite, which I had really loved and found hard to leave. But the trail started out nice and flat and then turned into a gentle downhill. This part of the trail was so interesting to look at, all sandy dirt but with these gorgeous trees all around. We started out in fabulous moods, enjoying the trail and cool air, and feeling good that we had done so well the day before. Until my shoulder started killing. I have an old injury – the one gift I took away from my two-month-long collegiate rugby career – that can get aggravated when I do certain things, but backpacking has never been a problem. But as I hiked downhill pain started radiating down my arm. I thought it was something about my posture on the descent; I tried many times to correct it and lengthened my trekking poles to help me stay more upright. But eventually my hand started going numb and I couldn’t hold my pole anymore. I put it away in my pack and found that the only position that was tolerable was to put my hand in my pocket, which either looked cool and devil-may-care or really, really stupid. I started to wonder if I’d have to hike 230 more miles like this. I didn’t need a shoulder to hike, I told myself, just my legs. I’d power through. And then out of nowhere I thought to check my load lifters, the straps that keep my pack tight against my back. They needed to be tightened only less than an inch, but the relief was almost immediate. After 10 minutes my shoulder and arm felt fine and I abandoned my musings about whether I could fashion a sling out of my bandana that would help me hike with less pain. Oh, the first few days of a backpacking trip. There are always these weird little quirks to work out.
We got down to Rock Creek, about 4 miles from our camp, before 10 a.m. We paused for a nice long break, making coffee and cocoa (sans hummingbirds [Whew. –Toby]), filtered water, and washed up a bit. Since we’d (unintentionally) dry camped the night before, it felt good to have cold water to wash off dirt and soak our feet a bit. We forded in our sandals; the water was freezing but I would soon learn to relish that on this trip. Starting now. Directly after the creek we started to climb. It was much steeper than the climb up to the pass we did the day before, and it was starting to get hot. I made it for a few switchbacks without stopping, but then I just couldn’t breathe. Oh hey there, altitude, I thought. We were stopping to catch our breath at the end of each switchback, and sometimes in the middle of the switchback too. Many people passed us. I tried not to let it get to me. Hike your own damn hike, I told myself. But I was feeling discouraged nonetheless. Finally we came to a flat section and I was able to breathe normally again. Toby turned to me and said “Snailed it!” which is a hashtag attached to Hannibal (because Hannibal has snails feed on human flesh before he eats them, duh), one of our favorite TV shows. It quickly became our motto for the trip. It helped me remember that we were getting it done, no matter how slowly, and that was still something to be proud of.
After a short flat stretch, the trail started to climb again to the top of Guyot Pass. And I started to get cranky. And then Toby reminded me that I’d brought some things to deal with the crank – Jolly Ranchers and my shuffle loaded with 20 hours of my favorite songs. I popped the candy in my mouth and the earbuds in my ears and started on another set of switchbacks. They helped immensely (except when Low’s “California” was playing, in which the main lyric of the chorus is “back to California where it’s warm.” Yeah, it’s freaking warm in California, Low. I get it! I thought as the sweat poured down my face), but it also didn’t hurt that these switchbacks were much more nicely graded. In no time we were at the top of the pass, our second of the trip! We high-fived and exclaimed “Snailed it!” while other hikers looked on confused but amused. [One of the guys up here had hiked in the area many times before, and told us that Cottonwood and Guyot were “easy, baby passes” compared to the ones coming up in the next few days. Gulp! Cyn didn’t hear him, and I opted not to tell her this little tidbit for another week or so. –Toby]
Then we headed back down through the rocky forest for 3.5 miles. The heat got a little better, but we were pretty tired by the time we got to Lower Crabtree Meadow, a gorgeous, flat meadow with a quiet creek rolling gently through the middle. We took a longish break here and floated the idea of staying. But it was only 1.5 miles to Crabtree Meadow, so we were determined to hike on. [Also, as I recall, we encountered our first few mosquitos at Lower Crabtree, and I naively thought we might escape them if we hiked on. Haha. –Toby] The trail rewarded us with a shady walk on a gentle uphill along a rushing creek. It was my favorite stretch of the trail so far (that I somehow did not get pictures of). Before we knew it, we were almost at the JMT! And Toby would be climbing Mt. Whitney on the third day of our trip. We found a nice, shady campsite and settled in early, since Toby planned to be up and out before dawn the next day.