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    Mt. Whitney Day Hike
    (Sunday, August 11, 2002 in the Inyo National Wilderness, CA)

    See also my photo gallery from this trip.

    Previous Day | Next Day

    Starting the hike at 1:20am The alarm went off at 12:01am (bleargh!), and I slowly got up and packed up my sleeping bag, ground pad, and tent. It was extremely smoky outside from the nearby Sequoia fires, enough so that my eyes and throat were dry and itchy. I mixed up a bottle of Spiz and packed the car, while Barry made some oatmeal and readied himself. We picked up Suzie from across the road, and headed up to Whitney Portal. The three of us met Jamie, Iulien, and two other people whose names escape me at the moment and we hit the trail at 1:20.

    Trailhead to Lone Pine Lake:
    I'd never hiked at night before, and was enjoying the tunnel vision afforded by my halogen bulbed headlight (much brighter than the standard bulb at the expense of battery life, but I had 2 spares). We soon separated into sub-grups, with Jamie and I taking up the rear. It didn't take us too long to get to Lone Pine Lake, 1hr 40min, and the time went by quickly as we talked. Other than Barry and Piero, I didn't know any of the 19 people on this trip, so there were ample opportunites for getting-to-know-you chatter. It was a teensy bit tricky walking on the rocks over Lone Pine Creek, and the logs lined up over a marshy patch, but we had ample light, so it was no biggie. We didn't stop at Lone Pine Lake, since the lake is a little ways off of the main trail, and none of us needed water, so we just had a quick snack and continued on our merry way.

    Lone Pine Lake to Outpost Camp:
    Shortly past Lone Pine Lake, we entered the Whitney Zone, where permits are required for all hikers. We were half-expecting to see a ranger here checking permits, but I guess at 3am, they had better things to be doing (like sleeping!). The hike from Lone Pine Lake to Outpost Camp is largely unremarkable, a steady upward trend on a moderately-smooth trail. We arrived at Outpost Camp at about 3:30, and filtered some water and had more snacks.

    Outpost Camp to Trail Camp:
    Sunrise over the Sierras Sunrise glowing on the Whitney group We followed what we thought was the trail from Outpost Camp, until it became apparent that it was just a use trail leading to a dead-end at a lively water cascade. We retraced our steps for about 15min to the camp, where a kind backpacker set us straight. This was the only part of the hike where the trail was anything other than blindingly obvious. It was a long'ish, but pleasant, hike from Outpost Camp to Trail Camp. Iulian wasn't feeling well about halfway to Trail Camp, and he and his friend turned around. Bummer! A mile or so from Outpost Camp, the sternum strap on my new pack broke - argh! This was rather irritating, as I tend to put a fair bit of load on that strap, and it certainly shouldn't have broken, being brand-new! The sun started to rise as we neared Trail Camp, and it was gorgeous, thanks to all of the smoke in the air. We passed a lovely lake (Consultation Lake?) as we climbed, finally arriving at Trail Camp at around 6. The sunrise and Whitney Group were relfected nicely in a little lake, and a number of folks stopped to take pics, myself included. I used the odd, no-peeing-allowed solar toilet and filtered water for Barry, while Matthieu (who caught up to us at Trail Camp) and Jamie were kind enough to fix my pack's sternum strap with safety pins - thanks!

    Trail Camp to Trail Crest:
    Yes, there are a lot of switchbacks... Cable section After a little while at Trail Camp, we started to make our way up the dreaded 99 switchbacks. I don't know how many there actually were, as I wasn't counting, but there were plenty, that's for sure! They weren't as much drudgery as I was expecting, thankfully, and Jamie and I kept a steady, if not fast, pace. There was a little bit of life in the cracks along the trail, but otherwise, it was quite desolate. I head over the talkabout radio that Antonio was on the switchbacks and wasn't feeling very well, and soon passed Shizuka, who also wasn't feeling very well. This wasn't too surprising, as by now we were at over 12,000' and the air was thinning noticably. We passed the infamous cable section (quite tame this time, as there was no ice), and after a number of stops to catch our breath and snack, we finally arrived at Trail Crest at around 8:30. Several folks, including Barry, had arrived before us, and several arrived hot on our heels. We had someone take a group picture. The views from Trail Crest were stunning, overlooking the Sequoia/King's Canyon region far, far below. There was an inviting-looking point, so I gave Barry my camera so he could take a picture of me, climbed over to it and enjoyed a rather sheer dropoff to Hitchcock Lake below. We spent a little while here, enjoying the wonderful views, and nourishing ourselves.

    Trail Crest to Summit:
    Hitchcock Lake Keeler's Needle and Day Needle (now Crooks Peak) To our dismay, the trail descended from Trail Crest to the junction with the John Muir Trail (this was bad because what goes down must come up!). Along the way, we had great views of the lakes (Hitchcock and Guitar) and valley below, and some nice sheer walls. We met a couple of nice folks on the trail and traded taking pictures of each other, and traded websites as well, as they apparently post their adventures online too. We met another couple who were just finishing their 211mi hike of the John Muir Trail - wow! We passed by the 4 "windows" (drop-offs on both sides of the trail) that I'd heard about. I didn't see what the big deal was - while it was a long ways down either way, there was basically zero chance of falling unless you wanted to. I took pictures of the first, second, and fourth of them (note all of the smoke accumulating on the east side of the crest!). Unless you're really, really afraid of heights, I don't see how these would be bothersome. A few hundred feet below the summit, I had to stop and take some aspirin as I got a splitting headache. Forutnately, after that and a couple of minutes sitting down, I felt pretty much fine, and we continued on our way. Our conversation had now been reduced to mono-syllables, the only thing on our minds the attainment of the summit above. Finally, 2 miles and 3 hours after leaving trail crest, we arrived at the summit!

    Adam and Barry on the summit 1923 USGS survey marker Barry and Suzy were at the summit when we got there, the other folks having already been there and started their descent via the Mountaineer's Route (maybe next year!). We signed the summit register (which had some funny comments in the "suggestions" area: "vending machine," "flushing toilets," etc :), took the obligatory summit pics and relaxed for a bit. There were a few marmots and chipmunks looking hopefully, but vainly, at our food stash. Someone actually packed up a large plush inflatable chair! To my surprise, there were a number of USGS survey markers at the summit. I guess they just keep adding new ones as they get more accurate measuring equipment. I peered off of the sheer east face of Whitney. As I lay on my stomach looking over the edge, someone asked me i f I could see anyone climbing up - apparently this guy's friends were rock climbing on the eastern face. No thanks! After about 40min at the summit, I put on my spare pair of socks (aahhhhhhh! Well worth the weight!), and we headed back down. I'd have stayed much longer, but there was so much smoke the views weren't as good as they might have been (but were great nonetheless).

    Return hike:
    Adam on Day Needle Looking down the extremely exposed east face of Day Needle A few hundred feet below the summit, we saw Antonio sitting on the side of the trail. He was definitely not feeling well, but refused to turn back. He was suffering from both the altitude and summit fever, and refused even to leave his pack where it was, go to the summit, and come back. We grudgingly let him continue upwards while we descended. I had it in my head to climb Keeler's Needle and/or Day Needle if I had the energy on the way back. I was feeling good, so I decided to do Day Needle (Keeler's Needle looked much steeper and taller - I wasn't feeling that energetic! :). It was a fun 15 minute class 2 scramble to the top of Day Needle, which afforded great views of Keeler's Needle and the valley several thousand feet below. Here, I determined once and for all that I'm not in the least bit afraid of heights ;-). It only took 10 minutes to get back down to the trail, where Barry and Jamie were waiting. We were concerned about Antonio, since we hadn't seen him, and it had been a while, so Barry started back up the trail to find him. Fortunately before he got too far, we saw Antonio coming down, so Barry's backtracking was minimized. The return to Trail Crest was slow and extremely smoky, making our eyes burn a little bit. We didn't particularly enjoy paying back the earlier descent from Trail Crest, but about an hour and 50min after we left the summit, we got back to Trail Crest.

    Barry continued down the switchbacks, while Jamie, Antonio, and I rested a few, and evened out our water supply (Jamie had lots, Antonio and I had little). In retrospect, I should have filled up my camelbak at Trail Camp on the way up. It was slow going down the switchbacks, but not too bad. It took us about 90min to get to Trail Camp, where I filtered more water for everyone who needed it, and took off my hiking boots and put on my Tevas. I was a little leery of hiking in Tevas with a moderately loaded daypack, but was willing to try anything to give my feet a break!

    Mirror Lake The hike from Trail Camp to Outpost Camp was a slog-fest, the broken rocks hurting our already-annoyed feet, and the numerous steps irking our aching knees and ankles. Fortunately the Tevas worked pretty well for the return hike - I just had to watch my step a little bit more carefully since they're not very supportive or stiff. We saw Mirror Lake, which we had missed on the way up since it was still dark. It took us 2 hours to get from Tail Camp to Outpost Camp.

    We filtered water again at Outpost Camp, snacked a bit, then continued on our less-than-merry way. My feet, ankles, and knees were all screaming bloody murder at me, but too bad for them, there was still about 3.5mi to go. 35min to Lone Pine Lake, where we didn't stop, and our death march continued on the last 2.5mi segment. This seemed to take an eternity, unlike the previous segments, which, while long, took about as long as I expected. After the slowest 75min ever, we finally arrived back at the trailhead at 8:15pm - wahooo!

    We met up with the folks who were still at the Portal Store, bought our victory T-shirts, said our goodbyes, and headed to our hotel in Lone Pine. Nobody ever did check our Whitney Zone permits, which surprised me... 16 of our 19 hikers summited - much higher than the 33% average I've heard! I don't think I'll do this hike again anytime soon - its just too long. For 2003, perhaps a day-hike of the Mountaineer's Route, or a multi-day trip from Horseshoe Meadows is in order. My griping notwithstanding, this was a totally cool hike - stunning views, great company, and the highest point in the lower 48! Definitely something that should be done at least once (but perhaps not more than once :) by any avid hiker!

    Hike Stats:
    Distance: 22mi (plus a little for Crook's Peak side-trip)
    Total Time: 18hr 46m, including rather a lot of stopped time :)
    Total Climbing: ~6300 ft
    Difficulty: 5
    Scenery: 4.5
    Trail condition/markings/etc: 3.5

    Other useful Mt. Whitney links:

    Last modified 08 February, 2011 MST
    Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul
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