Approaching Mulkey Pass (elevation 10,380 ft), I recognized a familiar figure heading down the trail toward us. Jeff had hiked in over Trail Pass, bringing all sorts of treats with him: fresh cut fruit, crunchy Gala apples, and an assortment of trail snacks.
After loading up our resupply we said goodbye and headed up the trail. We hiked past several grassy, tree-lined meadows set against bare granite ridges with tall peaks visible in the distance.
Mount Langley was frequently in view, but Mount Whitney was the mountain on everyone's minds. At 14,505 ft, Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Although Mount Whitney is not on the official PCT, most thru-hikers hike the extra 17.5 mile sidetrip to climb it. We had entered the mountains planning to skip the 17.5 mile sidetrip to Mount Whitney because we had both climbed it before. But as we approached, Sierra decided she really wanted to climb Mount Whitney to "see it again with new eyes." So we planned to pick up the pace for a few days so that we could climb Mount Whitney...without running out of food.
We reached Chicken Spring Lake for lunch. It was breathtaking, both for its gorgeous views and for the feel of its icy water against our skin. Granite cliffs rose steeply behind the lake, which was ringed with thick, lush grass and scattered foxtail pines.
We climbed out of the lake and spent the next few miles walking in loose sand, reminiscent of climbing a sand dune at the beach. With every step grains of sand found their way into the tiny holes in the mesh of our shoes until each step felt like walking barefoot at the beach. Firm sand pressed into our arches and gritty grains of sand rubbed between our toes like sandpaper.
After topping out at 11,139 feet, we reached better trail and dropped into Rock Creek, past a beautiful meadow with a pair of deer grazing got their evening supper. Farther down the trail a wide swath of purple shooting stars brightened the meadow, each one a tiny purple firework of a flower bursting with energy. Continuing down the trail we reached the Rock Creek camp (elevation 9,550 ft), our home for the night.