The sun had not reached our camp by the time we started hiking, but we warmed up as soon as we started climbing out of Rock Creek. Stopping to remove our warm layers, we saw two familiar faces hiking up the trail: Warner Springs Monty and Lake to Lake, out visiting and providing backcountry trail magic to hikers. They updated us on trail conditions and gave us both Twinkees to help fuel us up the trail.
Hiking out of the forest into the sunlight brought on a moment of panic. Sierra's sunglasses were missing. Hiking on without sunglasses was not an option because her eyes would become badly sun damaged before we would have a chance to replace them. Just as I was about to start back down the trail in search of the missing sunglasses, Tony hiked up holding something black in his hands. Sierra's sunglasses! "Are either of you missing a pair of sunglasses?" he asked.
Crabtree Meadows was incredible: a thick, green carpet of short cropped grass surrounded by tall granite peaks, a foxtail pine forest, and smooth granite boulders. A creek meanders through the meadow. The water is icy cold and delicious.
I set up camp and packed up what we would need for the day while Sierra inspected the various aquatic invertebrates and other creatures she found in the creek. We both struggled to leave Crabtree Meadows, but eventually left camp, heading up the Mount Whitney trail.
The trail followed the creek through the forest and past several grassy meadows. We climbed steadily up to Timberline Lake, a beautiful lake surrounded by swampy grass and foxtail pines, the last trees on the long hike to Mount Whitney.
From Timberline Lake we climbed to Guitar Lake, named for its guitar like shape when viewed from the Mount Whitney switchbacks above. I was surprised to see that many of the seasonal streams that usually feed into Guitar Lake and the nearby tarns were already dry, further evidence of the low snow levels this season. Although the sandy areas surrounding rocky Guitar Lake are usually covered with a small city of colorful tents, today the area around the lake was bare.
We climbed past Guitar Lake and on to the endless switchbacks up to the Trail Crest junction on the ridge. The trail then followed the knife edge of the ridge, dropping steeply on either side. Reaching the back side of Mount Whitney, we crossed a single snow field, then climbed the final switchbacks to the top, feeling like we were on top of the world. We could see down to the Owens Valley and seemingly endless mountains in every direction.
Tony and Cookie sat huddled in front of the hut (which was filled with snow) cooking dinner. The mountain was otherwise deserted. We enjoyed the views for awhile, then the four of us headed down the mountain together beneath the golden rays of the setting sun.
We hiked by alpenglow, then turned on our headlamps. But after so many days on the trail my battery was dying, leaving my headlamp so dim it was almost useless. Tony's headlamp was bright though, and he offered to stay together on the descent back to Crabtree Meadows. Between the four of us we managed to stay on the trail ... most of the time. It was slow going trying to find our way on the dark. We finally reached camp at midnight, and fell in our tent, exhausted.