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My Climb To the Top of Mt. Whitney

So... Truth be told; The majority of my recent hikes have all been in preparation for my Mt. Whitney hike. Last weekend, I set my course for Lone Pine, and headed off with a group of friends to summit Mt. Whitney. This week's post is about our adventure, and my trip to the summit of Mt Whitney.

In terms of overall plan, we planned the most common route that would take us from Whitney Portal to the summit, with a single night stay at Trail Camp prior to reaching the Mt Whitney peak. I arrived in Lone Pine a day early so I could scout the trail head, relax at elevation for some time, and acclimate a bit before the hike. On my way from the trail head, I spotted a beautiful roadside creek, and hung out for a bit, enjoyed a quick sandwich, and did a quick mental check prior to heading out the next day.

For those interested, I stayed at the Whitney Portal store in Lone Pine. This is by no means the Bellagio of Lone Pine, but it was clean, air conditioned (Which was important considering it was 102 degrees in the middle of day) and cheap. The service was friendly and polite, and the room was fine. If I went back to hike Whitney again, I would definitely stay here based on price alone.

We had a total of 10 people in our group, all of varying hiking skills. After reading other posts, I was slightly concerned about our entire group reaching the summit... Hell... I was concerned I wasn't going to be able to summit with the elevation gain. Before I ever stepped foot on the trail I started worrying about coming down with AMS and having to put the whole thing on hold. Matter of fact, one post I read stated 70% of people actually summit. I didn't want to be one of the 3 who didn't make it, so I took a few extra steps to help me out, but I do think my roadside rest helped in easing into the elevation.

Hike Day - (Warning... lot's of pictures on this one!)

We ended up heading up to the trail head at around 5:45am. Keep in mind you have a 13 mile drive up the hill prior to starting the hike, so plan on leaving early if you are going to make it to camp at a decent hour.

(The crew! Hiking to the start of the trail)

(Final backpack weigh in! Mine was heaviest at 45 lbs :/ It's probably that whiskey I brought with me ;)

Our party of ten was geared up and ready to hike, so we started on the trail like a bunch of greyhounds chasing a rabbit. I started off in the back of the pack thinking I would help pick up the rear if anyone needed extra encouragement. After about the first half mile one of my buddies said, "I feel like we are hiking really fast!" to which I responded, "We are!" We came out of the gates hot! And since I was the only one in our group with a GPS watch, I tried to keep us all in check.

(Another shot of the sun poking through the portal)

Our plan for the hike was to hike 1 mile, take a little rest. Every 2 miles we would take a more substantial rest, and get a bit more hydration and nutrition going on. In terms of hydration I have been digging the Clif Cranberry Razz mix lately. Seems to do a great job for me and I love the flavor! In terms of nutrition, I really like the Honey Stinger and GU waffles. I powered down a few GU Salted Carmel waffles on this hike, and partnered that with this other well known nutritional aid called "White Cheddar Cheez-it" I love those damn things! Other notable mentions for nutrition on this hike go to Spam singles on King's Hawaiian bread, and Backpacker's Pantry Breakfast Skillet. Damn you're good!

Off we went! The climb for Whitney really isn't that bad. If you have trained on Mt San Jacinto you will be fine. The part that really gets you is the elevation! None of my practice climbs were at any elevation over 10,500 feet, so once I crossed that mark I had my fingers crossed that I wouldn't feel like someone smacked me in the head with a ball ping hammer. I took a couple Asprin before we hit the trail, and planned to take a couple every 6 hours (Trick I read about online) which seemed to help tremendously!

About 2 miles into the hike we came upon the log water crossing. Now, important thing to note here... I NEVER have to deal with water on the trail since I hike mostly in San Diego, so I was woefully unprepared to handle any water crossings. Though I love my Altra Lone Peak 3.0's, they are not meant to keep water out. At my first misstep on the rock hops , my shoes and socks were completely soaked! Which was great because I only had about 3.5 miles left to camp :/

After one the first water crossing we decided to hike down to Lone Pine lake, which was beautiful, this added a little over a half mile to our hike, but was well worth it. Our rowdy group of 10 stumbled down to the lake to find only 2 campers hanging out by the water. I am almost 100% positive we disrupted their quiet morning, and would have apologize for this had they been awake.

After our quick stop we pressed on! As you climb Whitney, you are met with dramatic rock faces the entire climb. I would be lying if I didn't at some point in time look up and think , "How the hell am I going to get up all of that!?" But we stayed the course and kept our climb going.

(Dramatic right? RIGHT!?)

(This is about 2.5 miles into the hike)

As you start to gain in elevation you end up passing some spectacular mountain meadows. One of the first camps you come across is Outpost Camp. Had I known how exposed trail camp was, I would have probably opted for Outpost Camp instead. There is a creek that runs right next to camp, and there is plenty of tree coverage to keep you protected from the midday mountain sun.

(Mountain Meadow)

(Waterfall on the side of the trail)

(Mountain Meadow from higher vantage point)

One thing that I am not used to is an abundance of water on the trail. In Socal we barely have any water, and when there is a lone water spigot, they seem to be completely covered in bees or some other less than savory critter. Which is why I took every opportunity to take pictures of natural running water whenever and where ever I could.

(Water on the trail)

(Water everywhere!)

After about 7.5 miles on the trail, we were at Trail Camp. Camp wasn't too bad, but there is absolutely no shade! The lake was clean and cold, but made for our very own infinity pool that no one was eager to hop into. I quickly soaked my feet in the water, while filtering out a couple litters for water bottles.

We called it quits early our first night as hiking was to continue at 4:30am the following day. I wish I could say I had a great night of sleep, but the elevation was messing with me and didn't let me get much shut eye. After my first 2 hours of sleep, I kept waking up and looking at the clock. Once 3:00am rolled around, I realized I wasn't going to get much more sleep, so I sat up in the tent and prepped my day pack for the hike.

(My tent... all setup and ready for me!)

Just before 4:00am, the camp started to come to life. Hiker's gearing up with their day packs and headlamps for an accomplishment reached by few. The temperature overnight had dropped into the high 20's which meant for really cold conditions on the trail. As you start off on the trail you are immediately met by the "99 switchbacks". In all honestly, I didn't think this part was all that bad! I have read a bunch of reviews of folks complaining about the switchbacks, but with the cold and elevation, I welcomed the easier climb up the mountain. The switchbacks stretch for about 2.5 miles before you reach the top of Trail Crest. From here you are about 2 miles from the summit, and are at around 13,600 feet in elevation.

By this point the sun was up, but since you are still hiking in the shadow of the mountain, the temperature drops for about an hour long so the wind can start picking up (really pleasant!). One thing I forgot for this hike was gloves so at this point in the trail my hands were just about permanently frozen in a hiking pole grip. My picture taking slowed down a bit due to the fact that I could not feel my fingers, which meant getting my phone out was a real chore.


(View from one of the windows)

(Another view from another window)

We had finally come to our final stretch and I could see the hut at the top of the mountain in the distance. Part of me could not believe we had made it, but seeing the summit and the hut gave me another wave of energy that got me up some boulders to the summit.

I summitted with some recently made friends (Paul and Steve) who were both friends of a friend, from the UK, and had an affinity for Marlboro Lights. What's first thing they did once we reached the summit? Pulled out a pack of cigs and lit up a butt. I laughed my ass off! Most people up there are dying from AMS and these guys felt the need to smoke! Hilarious!

(Me, Paul, and Steve)

After about an hour of waiting, our whole crew reached the summit! Yes, everyone made it!! At one point one of the guys in our group said, "I don't think I am going to summit tomorrow..." To which we replied, "Like hell you aren't! You are going to at least try to get your ass up that mountain tomorrow!" He didn't say it, but i am certain he is happy we gave him the extra push. Now it was time to start out 11 mile hike back down the mountain.

(Little rest before we head back down. And "Yes" You get service at the summit)

While hiking back to camp, I felt the sudden need to use my wag bag. This was an experience in and of itself. Can't say I particularly loved it, but can't say I hated it either! Something about having your twig and berries hanging out in the own while you do you business is a bit freeing, but having to carry your own waste down the hill is.. well.. gross. Word of advice here... If you use your wag bag, make sure you close it tight. I passed a few hikers on the way down, and all I could smell was their wag bag oozing the scent of old poo.

Here are the distances I measured on the hike.

From the parking lot to Lone Pine Lake - About 2.25 miles

From the parking lot to trail camp (With a stop at Lone Pine Lake) 7.5 miles.

From Trail Camp to Summit - 4.5 Miles

From Trail Camp back to the Parking Lot - 7 Miles

I am sure someone will complain about these numbers, so here's my Garmin connect as detailed backup.

Have any questions? Drop me a line! Otherwise, get out there and hike!

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San Diego, San Diego County 92108