tip top

Mt. Whitney as viewed from Lone Pine, CA

28. The natural top of the U.S. (when you ignore Alaska)

Mineral King road is a 25 mile winding mining road built in the late 1800s when silver was found in the area. Today its a partly paved, partly dirt, rugged rise up to about 7500 feet. People claim MKR has 698 curves over the 25 mile run. There are a handful of summer homes and a tiny store&restuarant as well as a ranger station. The road is open 4 months of the year.

I made my way up in the evening, cooked a meal, and slept in the truckbed.

In the a.m., I bought a terrain map, oatmeal packs, and energy bars at the store. The ranger pointed out a 100 mile route to and from Whitney."The most adventurous hike yet this season," he said, "report back when your finished, I'd like to know the state of the passes."

I parked my truck near the station, carried unpackable, canned food and toiletrees into a bear proof building, paid the backcountry fees. I loaded the little gear that I had and what I imagined to be seven days food.

I made Franklin lakes in the afternoon, a thunderous snow began, I tented at around 11,000 feet in the thick falling storm. I cooked pasta noodles hot with salami, hung my food in one of the sparse trees, and crawled in my bag. The storm passed, the sun came back, the birds chirped, darkness settled. I weathered the 20degree night in my 30degree sack.

Franklin lakes
a borrowed internet image, my camera was a little large for the hike, all was white in my experieince

The morn was clear, I walked up and over the snow capped 11,600' Franklin pass. The altitude and my lack of endurance grabbed at my breath and sped my heart. I break'd and walked, break'd and walked. From the pass, I spotted a little snow-less walking trail several hundred yards below. I made my way through deep melting white to the gravely path and the rattlesnake river canyon. The rattlesnake creek trail carried me comfortably down to the Kern river.

The creek performed a roaring fall and the temps rose into the 90s.

I followed the high sierra trail along the riverbank to camp at Kern hotsprings. The spring had a manbuilt bathtub basin at the edge of the river. I uncorked a wooden plug at the far end of the tub, the water flowed in hot like a spigot. I plugged the drain on the other end with another wooden peg. The pool filled, I de-clothed and soaked in the hot watching the Spring-swollen Kern romp past among the monstrous red crack-barked ponderosa pines.

A campspot near the spring had a bear proof bin, a fire pit and some salted dried meats in ziplocks. I began a fire, dried my boots and watched the narrow slit of blue sky at the top of the deep canyon. After a meal, darkness and stars, I walked back down pulled out one plug, plugged in another, and soaked in the hot with my head in the stars.

again, internet borrowed photos

The trail continued north along the Kern with gravelly hot patches of ponderosa pine forests. Waterfalls plopped from the canyon walls. The path skipped over swollen streams and fallen trunks.

On the 3rd day, I climbed slowly up toward the Pacific Crest Trail and Mount Whitney. I slipped while fumbling barefooted across slimy rocks below the white foams of a violent creek ford. I lost my pocketed map in the white current.

Again, the high rising elevation attacked and I struggled along through 12,000 foot fox-tail pine forests, patches of snow, and rugged mountain views. I headed south on the PCT to Crab tree ranger station. I began seeing humans again.

I checked in with ranger Rob. He had arrived for the season, hiked in with a pack, and was expecting a copter drop of food the following day. Rob passed on some pasta and Jerkey left from the previous dweller.

Quite beaten and altitude softened I laid my ground pad. My head ached, my heart beat unnaturally as in a panic, it took a few hours and some dinner to settle back to myself.

I made the top in the early morning, the sky was clear and neat, the wind ripped. The climb up was snow most of the way, 35 yard expanses of steep sloped snow slides. It became a bit brutal toward the end, nausea and that rapid heartbeat.

Two other guys sat the summit eating lunch, One of them took a photo of me at the top. I ate some dried beef from ranger rob and my last energy bar dipped in peanut butter and honey. Another few hikers made it up the mountaineering route, they came into the little shelter on top as I was leaving. They said the stone hut was built in the early 1900s, built for astronomical research. They said about 18 folks had died in the little hut around 16 years ago, that they had gathered inside during a storm when lightning nailed and bore it's burden on that little stone hut. Now the hut has several lightning rods, wooden floors, and the space inside had been cut in half with a new interior wall. I signed in the book, hung around 30 minutes, then from cold fingertips, I went on down.

photo emailed over from John Stevenson

The walk down was jovial and quick until my knee gave up, the right one, no twist, no crazy leap, it just gave out. A shooting pain came, I hit the ground and that was that. I could barely wobble a step.

After 30 minutes of painful stumbling I managed to walk reasonably with my leg kept straight. It was a 4 mile misery back to Crabtree meadow. I rested the day away and camped with some dope smoking PCT thru-hikers. One was a retired school teacher, the other, a scientist that had been working in Bermuda.

In the morning, Ranger Rob gifted me some hippy healing salve, some cheap trekking poles, and I went limping down back into the Kern canyon. I walked past the hot springs, up the rattle snake canyon climb and settled alongside rattlesnake creek. I cooked the whole mess of rice, mixed with salami and shrimp. The skeeters poked flesh so violently that I dined in my tent while the skeetos glued to the screen-mesh door.

On day 6 I walked up the rattlesnake, limped thought the trail-less and white Franklin pass, then back down towards Mineral King. The downhill to the King got my knee back to its worst. The final twelve miles had misery until I noticed some wobbling brown bear walking slowly below my path. It heard my sound, glanced up, then walked slowly down to a creek below. I sat the steep trail ridge and watched. It reached the water, sat its butt on the bank, and on two front legs it ducked its head and drank. It crawled on into the stream, lay wallering in the water for 5 minutes, then walked up the opposite slope into the pines. The bear sight fueled fueled my spirit. I made it out weather-beaten and semi-shattered, sun burnt and knee aching only to find I'd been had, sabotaged.