I can’t emphasize enough how badly I needed this adventure. I needed it to prove to myself that I am a capable hiker and to gain back some self-confidence I had lost on the PCT. This is my trip report for the Lowest to Highest backcountry route.
Before the L2H, the only long trail I’d hiked was the PCT. I have logged over 10,000 miles of PCT! So why doesn’t that make me a capable hiker? One reason is that the PCT is easy to follow; for example, in 2009 I managed to get through with just the Data Book by “Benedict Go.” Because it’s easy to follow, you can zone out. You can put your head down and think about past lovers and future plans and “Oh shit I’ve just walked two miles passed the signed junction.” PCT 2000 this way—–> This zoning out makes one less connected with the environment. And now there are apps that tell you exactly where you are and even have pictures of the water sources and tent sites. You don’t need to know how to use a map and compass to complete the PCT. But I think knowing these things is important in being a capable hiker.
Over the past five years, I’ve been all about logging miles. Miles miles miles. 10 miles by 10 am. 30 here, 30 there. Miles not smiles. I got lost in the numbers. But what I had was endurance, and I could bring that to cross Death Valley on foot.
On August 21, 2014 I completed the PCT again, then moved back to Bellingham, returned to my former mind numbing restaurant job, and fell back into old bad habits. I felt disenchanted. On top of that, my heart held onto a lot of sadness and anger toward my former trailmance; a torrid whirlwind of unrequited love. It ate me up inside and devoured every last bit of my self-confidence. For more than half the trail I forgot who I was, and when I got to the Canadian monument I felt nothing. I knew then that it was time to move on from the PCT.
In a half comatose state, I received a text from Carrot Quinn (PCT ’13, ’14) and Orbit (AT ’10, PCT ’13) inviting me to hike the Lowest to Highest Route: a 135 mile cross country route starting from one of the hottest places on Earth, the Badwater Basin in Death Valley at -282 ft below sea level, and ending on the top of Mt. Whitney at 14,505 ft. The route is challenging because it shoots you up and spits you out over three mountain ranges: The Panamints, The Inyos, and the Eastern Sierras. The first two ranges are located in Death Valley, so water is scarce. Are the sources running? Cross country travel through desert valleys will be hot. Cross country travel through canyons and washes will strain our joints. Cross country mountain climbing will test our endurance; there are no switchbacks. At some point we’ll have to carry 45 miles worth of water. I don’t think I’ve ever had to carry that much water. EEEeek.
We aren’t world class adventurers, but I know we have the mental and physical toughness to get through it.