|Hiking||22.38 Miles|| 13 Hrs 9 Mns ||2.23 mph|
|7,492 ft AEG|| 3 Hrs 8 Mns Break|
||no linked trail guides|
A one-day Mt. Whitney summit was the culminating event of the one-on-one, "coming of age" trip with my son, Kent, who turns 12 next week. Although we had initially wanted to make this a multi-day backpack trip, the Whitney permit gods saw fit to only issue us a day permit, so ... Whitney-in-a-day became the plan. Months in the making, our trip was preceded by nearly a dozen lead-up, training hikes that were, in themselves, fun and memory-building experiences.
Our adventure began the prior Saturday, when we left Phoenix, overnighted in Bakersfield, and then spent Sunday-Tuesday exploring the beauties of Yosemite, including hikes to Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, Tuolumne Grove, and Lembert Dome (more triplogs on these adventures to follow). We hit the Tuolomne Grove and Lembert Dome hikes as "pit stops" on Tuesday as we wound our way over Tioga Pass (9,945 elev.) to highway 395 and then down to Lone Pine.
Just to make things interesting, on Monday night in Yosemite, my car gave some hints that the battery was on the fritz, and for awhile, I was afraid we were going to get stranded in some remote part of the park --or worse--that our Whitney attempt might be in jeopardy due to car troubles. Every time we turned off the engine, we followed that with a prayer that it would fire up again when we next turned the key. Thankfully, our prayers were answered throughout the rest of our Yosemite tour. As we finished off Tioga Road and headed down highway 395, the only significant civilization was Bishop, CA. I hoped there was an Autozone or O'Reilly's in town where we could get the battery checked. Wouldn't you know it, just as we were coming into Bishop, there was an O'Reilley's just on the edge of town! They checked the battery and confirmed that it needed to be replaced. The best news was that we had purchased the current battery at O'Reilley's in Phoenix--and it was still (barely) within the 3 year warranty. So, they replaced it for free!
With our car fears now quelled, but daylight waning, we stopped at the Pizza Factory in Bishop to throw down some carbs in the form of lasagna and spaghetti & meatballs. By the time we hit Lone Pine, it was 9:30 pm. We stopped by the Eastern Sierra InterAgency Visitor Center and picked up our permits and WAG bags, which we had arranged to be put in the Night Box. Then headed back up the road a 1/2 mile or so to the Frontier Lodge, Best Western.
By the time we checked in and got our day packs stocked and ready for the following morning's hike, it was 10:45 pm. Not an ideal night's sleep, as we planned to make an early start the next morning and obviously had some hard work ahead of us.
The alarm went off at 3:30 am--the day had finally arrived.
The gal at the front desk was kind enough the night before to invite us to drop by the breakfast area and pick up bagels, muffin, juice, and whatever else we wanted to fuel up for the hike. With a full stomach and the adrenaline starting to flow, we headed up to Whitney Portal.
Along the way, we saw runners jogging/walking up the road, in reflective vests and headlamps, with support vehicles. I figured out quickly that our trip happened to coincide with the Badwater Ultramarathon. Known as the toughest ultramarathon in the US, Badwater traditionally starts in Death Valley and finishes at Whitney Portal. That explained why there was no vacancy in any of the motels in the area. After parking at the portal and making our way over to the trailhead/finish line. We saw one of the 100-mile finishers cross the finish line. Pretty epic.
After snapping a photo or two at the darkened TH structure, we hit the trail at 4:59 a.m. We hiked by headlamp and a sliver moon for about 30 minutes until the dawn overtook us. Watching the sunrise over the eastern mountains was the first of many inspirational sight along the trail.
We saw not a soul for the first three miles up to Lone Pine Lake (10,000 elev.), where we finally encountered a couple of small groups camping on its shores. After that, we began to run into a trickle of hikers descending, as well as hot-dog trail runner who cruised right by us on his way up. We asked each of the descending parties if they had summitted, but the responses were not positive--most were heading down due to altitude sickness. So, I stopped asking ....
Bighorn Park was a beautiful sight, as was Outpost Camp (3.8 mi.; 10,500 elev.), Mirror Lake, and Trailside Meadow. If I ever do an overnight trip on Whitney, I would definitely camp at Outpost Camp--which is next to a beautiful waterfall, babbling stream, gorgeous alpine meadow (Bighorn Park), and surrounded by plenty of trees. In contrast, Trail Camp is above the tree line (6.0 mi.; 12,000 elev.), barren, and exposed. Other than being another 2.2 miles closer to the top, I can't see why anyone would choose Trail Camp over Outpost Camp.
As we reached Trail Camp, the wind picked up, but that was fine with me--as it helped keep the core body temps down. We watched the backpackers at their overnight camping spots in various stages of preparation for their apparent summit attempts. We also enjoyed the views of Consultation Lake, which was a beautiful, deep blue color.
At the far end of Trail Camp, we approached the bottom of the 97 switchbacks. In 2+ miles, we ascended another 1,600 ft. to Trail Crest. Although we were 1,000 ft above our previous altitude record (Humphreys--12,633 elev.), we both were still feeling relatively good and pleased that our altitude strategy seemed to be working (i.e., hydrate well, eat most of our calories at lower altitude, and pop some Excedrin [me] or Aspirin/Ibuprofen [Kent]).
The views on the other side of Trail Crest were fabulous. The wind picked up at that point and it was finally time to pull out the windbreakers for the last 2 miles or so across the back side of the "needles" and up to the summit (which you can see from Trail Crest). As others have mentioned, those last 2+ miles are taxing both physically and mentally. For me, the mentally taxing part was that there is a good mile or so where the elevation changes little (you stay right around 13,800). Although you are moving forward, you are not moving upward, so progress seems extra slow.
Somewhere along this stretch, my son lost one of his gloves. When he realized it, he started backtracking down the trail to look for it. I stopped him after about .1 mi, and went back another 1/4 mile or so before deciding that it wasn't worth the effort/energy expenditure to continue looking for it. Hopefully, we would find it on the way down (we didn't), but for now, the focus would be solely on getting to the summit.
As we got closer to the summit, we both began to feel the fatigue/altitude effects a bit more, but had not reached "zombie hiker" stage (which we saw a lot of in the hikers we passed on our way down).
With about 200 ft of elevation to climb and the summit hut still out of sight, we stopped for a breather and wondered if the summit would ever come. At that point, my son stood up, looked me in the eye and said: "Let's finish this!" I couldn't have been prouder, as he led the rest of the way to the summit, which we reached at 12:15pm, to beautiful, clear blue skies and panoramic vistas all around.
A group of hikers/ultramarathoners that we had tag-teamed with on the way up and who had semi-adopted us gave us a rousing cheer/applause as we reached the highest point in the lower 48.
We spent a 1/2 hour or so on the summit and took some victory photos before starting our descent.
That short climb from the John Muir trail junction to Trail Crest was one of the most difficult parts of the trail. Interestingly, it was at that point (after descending 900 ft. from the summit) that I began feeling the worst effects of the altitude (splitting headache/nausea). Kent wasn't feeling great either, but seemed to be doing better than me at that point. In any event, we knew that the only way to get feeling better was to descend quickly, so we were happy to tackle those 97 switchbacks and the welcome elevation loss that came with them.
Once below 11,000 elev., we both began to feel better and were able to stomach a few calories.
The rest of the descent was uneventful, though the afternoon light on the mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and alpine meadows provided another fresh perspective on the beauty of this trail.
As we neared the trailhead, Kent (who led most of the way) kicked it into high gear, with at 17 minute-mile pace for a our 22nd mile. I hung onto his coat-tails and we reached the TH shortly after 6 pm. After some souvenir shopping at the portal store, we headed back to Lone Pine for dinner and a well-earned good night sleep at the Frontier Motel.
A very satisfying experience!
Some lessons learned/shared on the trail:
-You can do hard things
-Any worthy goal is worth working hard to achieve
-Achievements that are attained through an investment of time and effort are more valuable than those achieved with little effort
-People who never test their limits never reach their full potential
-Success is most likely to be achieved through careful planning and preparation
-Taking time to encourage, help, and cheer on fellow travelers in life is important
-Getting out in nature is valuable way to find inspiration and put the daily challenges of life in perspective
-[Still working on other good analogies .... ]
-I found the following trail guide very helpful in preparing for this hike, with photos, maps, diagrams, and descriptions: http://timberlinetrails.net/WhitneyTrail.html
-Another great resource for tips/info, triplogs, current conditions, etc. was: http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/