About the Author: Deborah Peel is a writer, blogger, marketer, mother, lover of big trees and isolated mountain tops. Her passion is writing to build a better world and sharing her backpacking and hiking adventures, one step at a time.
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I was sure I was strong enough to make it down the mountain to Crabtree Meadows to camp. It was only a few miles and downhill! It had to get easier! I stepped carefully, using my poles liberally to navigate the rocks and steps with my tired knees and aching hip joint. Finally, I came to flatter terrain and more…sand. I saw a meadow down below and thought I was almost there! But I felt hotspots on my toes and the balls of my feet. The creek crossing in my boots was taking its toll. I had to take some time do a foot inspection (nothing major, yay!) and put on a couple of preventive bandaids.
I quickly found I was not hovering over the meadow, this was some other meadow and my trail continued and the sun was getting low. I came to another surprising rocky descent with big steps and twists. I was becoming so tired and unsettled. It wouldn’t be safe to hike in the dark with such little energy. But I didn’t want to camp again in complete isolation. All I could do was move forward as rapidly as I could safely navigate. It was with huge relief that I rounded a final bend, heard a creek and got a friendly wave from a man in camp next to a bear box. It wasn’t my intended destination of Upper Crabtree Meadows, but I grabbed one of the few tent sites nearest Whitney Creek and made my home for the night as dusk enveloped Lower Crabtree (elev. 10,330’). I’d made a descent of 550’ in a little over 3 miles.
My body was stumbling, but I forced it through camp set-up and a dinner of chipotle instant potatoes that tasted divine. I took an Aleve for my hip as it was seriously talking to me as was the center of my back. I wrote in my journal, my logical brain acknowledging that going up Mt. Whitney in the morning was not in the cards for me, or at all. I needed to slow down and, possibly, go back out. This trip wasn’t boding well for my body.
I met my camp neighbor Jason and he shared my experience of the incoming trail being more grueling than anticipated. He also decided to scuttle his plans for Whitney and preserve his energy to hike on the JMT. I admitted to feeling the same and having some concerns about symptoms that might be altitude sickness and a hip that hated my pack weight. He reminded me that “it’s never good to quit on the hardest day.” I agreed to sleep on it.
Just as I dozed off after an 11-mile day, a hiker rolled into the dark camp. Despite his best efforts to quiet his movement, his flashing headlamp zigged and zagged over my tent and I heard every sound as he set up close by. I didn’t recall another tent site being available. To my delight, I came out the next morning to find it was John from Horseshoe! He’d stumbled in about 8:30 pm, also going slow on a trail that was harder than expected. We’d all just reached the JMT, already different people than we’d started.
Trail Tip: Check elevation gain as well as miles when using a map to plot your daily hike; more uphill makes for slower hiking.