Mt Whitney, July 7, 8, 9 2002
Return of the Backpacking Home
*** View the full gallery here! ***
Whitney 2002 July 7, 8, 9.
Distance: 22 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 15,000 feet +, Attendees: Ramon Ebert, Mike King, Rich Paragas, Dave Cataldo, Kurt Meyer, Matt Otero and Ben Ebert.
This trip was nearly a copy of our trip of two years ago so I'll try to touch on the highlights and differences.
It is still a challenge to get a permit to do Whitney. We tried last year and didn't get one. This year we sent in two applications with 12 dates each. We got the 8th option on the second application. We were happy though cuz we were headed back to Whitney!
We left San Diego late on the afternoon of July 7th and arrived in Lone Pine about five hours later. We met up with my brother Ben who'd driven down from Humboldt for 12 hours and had dinner at the Whitney restaurant. Food and beer were excellent.
We camped at the Lone Pine campground then got up early for a great breakfast of gimoungus pancakes and a pile of scrambled eggs at the portal.
By 9AM we were ready to hit the trail. We quickly settled into an ascending order by age and relative fitness. Jackrabbits up front and Clydesdales in the rear. I enjoyed walking with my long time hiking buddies Mike and Rich.
This trail is still a no-nonsense all business trail. It starts going up at the trailhead and doesn't stop for 11 miles, at the summit. Having been on this trail before I decided to take my time and really enjoy the company, the trail, the environment and another beautiful day in the Sierra. Weather was perfect if a little on the hot side. After an hour we all stopped next to the river that the trail follows. We had a quick bite, drank some fluids and headed out again. After another hour or so we were slogging past Outpost camp and the two Solar Toilets there. A short time later we pulled up to Mirror Lake, our planned lunch stop.
Mirror Lake although small is a pretty little lake with several flat shady spots around it perfect for eating and relaxing before the strenuous climb that is still ahead. We ate, watered up, told lies, and relaxed for about an hour. Those of us who'd been on this trail before weren't in any hurry to get back on it…
Eventually it was time to go and after a very short flat section the trail gets belligerent! We were very quickly above tree line and absorbing the full dosage of UV the Sun delivers at this altitude. Now above 10,000 feet you really begin to feel the effects of the altitude. The temperature is not nearly as cool as you might hope it will be. This trail is very rocky and if not steep then full of sizable steps. All in all a very challenging section! However, if you can get up the energy to look around it really is a pretty area. The flowers were all blooming. I don't know their names, and it doesn't make them any less pretty, but purple, blue, yellow and orange blossoms were everywhere.
Arriving at trail camp two hours later is a very welcome event! I assumed we were camping at the same site as two years ago. When we got to that site there was no one around. We were quite tired and rather perturbed to have to continue on until we found the leaders. A few minutes later we did find them and thankfully the site they'd chosen was even nicer than the one we'd passed.
I quickly dropped my pack and designated a nice spot as the new temporary capitol of Ray-Land. I grabbed the bota bag and crawled up on the rock ledge where the rest of my mates were and passed the wine around. Unfortunately due to the altitude some of the boys were outgassing in a fierce manner. Although probably quite disturbing to the uninitiated it makes for some rather spirited and humorous conversation. It was difficult to eat or drink anything really. At 12,000 feet most are beginning to really feel the effects of the altitude. All of us had headaches of various severities; personally I was suffering but was trying to put on my game face.
We lounged for quite some time before any of us decided to put up tents and start cooking dinner.
After a scrumptious meal of Mac-n-Cheese with little smokies and red onion we cleaned up and prepared for the evenings games. Before the event we decided to place a wager on the result of the games and each of us was supposed to kick in $10 to be given to the high scorer over all. I'll insert below a transcript of the event as written by the eventual winner Little Rich Paragas:
You can see why I love these guys… No empathy for my cranial splitting headache. None!
After going to bed at 8PM I proceeded to toss and turn in pain and not sleep. I kept my water bag near by and sipped every fifteen minutes or so and by 4:30 actually began to feel a little better. I was able to dose off for a couple of hours finally. 6:30 came around all too quickly and we were all up and breaking camp early. The plan being to pack up fairly completely then hit the trail hard and early for our epic 16-mile day.
As soon as you leave trail camp you hit the 99 switchbacks. I again didn't count them but without a full pack on I was certainly feeling better than the day before! I made pretty good time up this section and was quite surprised at how few people were on the trail. The trail quota is supposedly full each day but there were far fewer people on the trail then there were two years ago.
In a surprisingly short hour and a half we were at Trail Crest and resting in the chilly shade of this 13,500' rest stop. We rested here for a bit while our group re-grouped… Then headed out again on the eastern side of the Sierra spine. In and out of shadows it can get chilly in spots here so it helps to keep moving.
The trail also gets quite rocky here and one should take care to place feet on rocks that hopefully don't move… This isn't always possible and a few spills were taken. You hear that all too familiar sound of sand scraping rock and then "Ah Crap!" You just hope no one twisted an ankle or worse. Past the windows, and some nice photo-ops, then you're back in the sun and gaining altitude fast again. The trail gradually gets steeper as you approach Mt. Whitney proper. This year there was a good-sized snowdrift covering the trail. The path through the trail was about four feet deep and only allowed one hiker to pass at a time.
After the snowdrift it's pretty much a straight shot to the summit, the hut, the summit log, the plaque, and people talking on their cell phones… I'd brought my cell phone but swore it was only for emergencies. However during the day we'd talked about how funny it would be to call Rich Voss, our long time hiking buddy who wasn't able to make this trip and happened to be at work at the moment. Unfortunately Rich was at lunch and we all took turns leaving phone mail for him.
We spent about an hour on the summit and this time I made sure to take pictures of everyone and in most directions around the summit. We lounged for a bit then headed over to the hut to sign the summit log.
After this we began the 11-mile hike to the trailhead. I started out moving pretty fast and was quickly feeling the effects of a too fast descent. Kicking rocks I wasn't lifting my feet over, sore knees, and shaky legs. So I slowed down and kept pace with the guys at the back of the line. We all eventually made our way back to trail camp and to our stowed gear. I was already in a bit of pain and discomfort so I wrapped my knees in the hopes of stemming their abuse just a bit. The sun was high and pounding on us and we had two miles before we'd get into the cover of trees. That was a long two miles but no mile of the descent was easy. In fact the last two miles are really long. This is the 15th and 16th mile of the day and with every step you NEED to see the trailhead soon. It just becomes walking by autopilot… I'm quite certain I exceeded the daily recommended allowance of hiking miles on my boots. My feet were sore! But eventually we made it and I made a beeline for the Portal Store for a couple of beers. It's amazing how good that first beer tastes after being on the trail for 12 hours…
Ben had gotten down with the leaders and he quickly changed then hit the road for his 12-hour drive home. The rest of us took our time getting to Lone Pine, gassing up, getting some eats and starting the drive home. After another five hours I was pulling into my driveway. Another great trip!
Most of us have since talked about this trip and it will be a few years before any of us want to do it again. I've done it twice now and there are still a lot of areas of the Sierras that I need to explore. Besides that this is one damn hard trip!