Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mt. Whitney, Main Trail

On July 14, 2014, I made my 20th anniversary ascent of Mt. Whitney. The drive to the Sierras the day before was full of uncertainty, because all the sites in the Whitney Portal campground were reserved, as were all of the Whitney Zone day-use permits. But when I arrived at the evocatively named Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center for the daily 2PM permit lottery, I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of available day-use permits. Even better, when I pulled into the Whitney Portal campground, there were several open sites. 

Whitney Portal Campground

At 2:40AM the next morning, after an extremely fitful sleep, I stepped onto the trail under a bright full moon. I hiked for about three hours by moonlight, only turning on my headlamp in a few spots. However, all of the other hikers I encountered had headlamps on full blaze, which was very annoying, in part because it undermined my night vision.  

Sunrise above Trailside Meadow

Mt. Muir (not Mt. Whitney) dominates the scenery above Trail Camp. 

On the 99 switchbacks, looking back down to Trail Camp Lake

 Hitchcock Lakes from Trail Crest

There were a lot of people on the trail, which actually turned it into an enjoyable social experience. I hummed along at a decent pace until Trail Crest (~13,800 feet), but the final 2.5 miles to the summit were a real grind. It rained intermittently for the last mile or so, which also added a wearying element of uncertainty. It rained hard enough at one point, that I had to stop and don my rain jacket. Not setting any speed records, I arrived on the summit around 10AM. Though the summit was crowded initially, I stayed long enough to savor a little alone time. 


Looking north from the summit to Mt. Russell and Mt. Williamson

 Looking west from the summit past the summit house

Taking a slight detour from the summit, I located the exit to the Mountaineers' Route, which I had ascended twenty years ago. I hollered down a few times for a friend who was supposed to be coming up, but heard no response. Then I began plodding back down. Unfortunately, the 2.5 mile return trip to Trail Crest also involves a fair amount of upward plodding, which seemed to take a lot out of me. 

Since I was spending another night at the campground, I was in no hurry to get down. So I took a nice long break at the 23rd switchback to purify water and another long break at Lone Pine Lake to soak my feet. Finally, by 6PM, I was enjoying a burger and possibly more than one beer at the Whitney Portal Store.

Heading back down the switchbacks

Mirror Lake and the southeast face of Thor Peak

Waterfall at Outpost Camp

Lone Pine Lake

The Whitney Portal Store

For whatever reason, I had another really crummy sleep that night. I just couldn't find a comfortable arrangement of sleeping pads and smoke seemed to be pouring into my tent from a nearby campfire. How ironic: we go to the mountains for fresh air, but then make camp fires and breath smoke instead. 

The following morning, I awoke to the surprising sound of raindrops on the tent fabric. Within minutes it was raining steadily, which meant that everything got a little wet before making its way into the car. Although my stiff and sore body protested all the frantic rushing around first thing in the morning, it was nice to be eating a breakfast burrito with coffee in Lone Pine at 7AM and to be back in Orange County by noon.

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