Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Mount Whitney 07/10/10
Inyo National Forest
Lone Pine, California
The climb to the summit of Mount Whitney certainly was one of the most remarkable and memorable experiences of my life. With all the challenges we faced along the way, I looked for every opportunity to take in the beauty and majesty of this iconic mountain.
Dana, Chris, Wally and I rolled into Lone Pine, CA late Friday afternoon and met with the other half of our group in town to get the permits required for hiking. We drove up to the Whitney Portal and set up camp at 8,373ft, with the sun setting behind the mountain we had enough light to get everything situated before our early morning trek. The weather forecast only showed a 20 percent chance of rain, so everyone was optimistic until raindrops fell around midnight on the top of our tents. At daybreak the weather did not look promising, as light drops steadily turned into a heavy downpour. We waited out the passing storm in the cab of Chris's truck and hit the trail at 5:00am. The first few miles were slow-going as we battled rain up until we reached Lone Pine Lake. As the sun rose over the mountains, the clouds gave way and we packed away the rain gear. It wasn't long before we were above the treeline at 11,000ft and the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating the massive granite rock faces in front of us. Every view of this mountain range seemed worthy of a postcard, yet pictures will never do it justice. We hiked along glacier fed streams and lakes, crossed snow fields, climbed several switchbacks, and traversed across boulder fields on our way to the summit. The altitude is a major concern for any hiker, although I didn't seem to be affected by it until reaching the summit when I began to experience a slight headache. I paced myself on the way up, kept hydrated, and took the time to eat enough to combat the major symptoms.
Heading up towards the Crest, the trail seemed to disappear into the rocks, and the mountain looked impossible to climb. At 13,600ft, Wally and I reached the saddle at the Crest where the Muir trail intersects the Whitney trail at the edge of Sequoia National Park. The view of the Eastern Sierras was breathtaking, and the excitement began to build with less than two miles left to climb. I finally reached the summit at 14,505ft after 5 hours of rather strenuous hiking, the feeling of accomplishment erased any feeling of fatigue or altitude sickness. We signed the register, had a bite to eat, and took a quick photo before heading out. A storm was building over the next mountain range in Sequoia NP, when I caught a glimpse of lightning, I pointed and yelled "It's time to go!"
Descending from the summit took far less time than the climb up, we hurried down because of the looming storm behind us. I was surprised by the amount of hikers proceeding given the conditions, and by the time we reached the Crest, a Ranger was forcing people to turn back due to the lightning. Rain and hail fell on our back while winding down the switchbacks past Consolation lake. I still made an effort to take a few pictures, how could I not? Finally, I made it back to the portal around 3:00pm, when everyone reached the trail head we gathered for a post-hike party in the campground and shared our stories of this truly unforgettable journey to the summit. Congrats to everyone in the group on such a great accomplishment.