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Climbing Mt Whitney

Looking down into Sequoia National Park

In July of 2008, I and four of my teaching buddies flew into Las Vegas, rented an RV and drove to Lone Pine, CA.  Staying there we were situated just east of the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt Whitney.  It tops out at 14,494 ft.  We could see it from our camping site and it looked beautiful.  Our plan was to hike to the summit and back in a single day.  That would be almost 22 miles in one day, accompanied by an ascent of 4,418 feet.

Backcountry Permits

In order to climb Whitney, you must petition for a permit 3-4 months ahead of time to increase your chance of getting the backcountry permits needed to climb. There are a couple of different paths to the top.  We chose the most direct root.

Sunrise on the way to Whitney

We entered into the John Muir Wilderness and from there traveled into the western side of the Sequoia National Park.  We left the Trail Head about 2am in the morning.  On the way up, while still in the dark, we ran into a couple of woman hikers who had spent the night in a small cave.  They had been caught on the trials in the dark while coming down.  They kept losing the trial and decided to wait it out till morning.  Wise move, as the trail has several spots that would not be fun to negotiate in total darkness.

Sunrise for us was beautiful.  But, also disappointing.  One of our gang of five, Jamie, had actually climbed Mt Whitney with his brother-in-law a few days before and was doing it again with us! About half way up this hill we began to question his sanity.  He had reported his experience as sunny and warm (relatively) at the summit.  We weren’t going to be so lucky.  Already, the path ahead of us was foggy (in the clouds).  But we didn’t have time to worry about that at this point.  What we had directly in front of us what is known as the ‘100 switchbacks’.  It was nearly a back breaker.  By the time my old body reached the top of these switchbacks I was moving quite slowly.  But the visual reward would soon be worth it all.  It’s at this point you pass into Sequoia National Park.

Trail Crest. Near the entrance into Sequoia N.P.

From this point, you cross over to the other side of the mountain.  The picture at the top of the post is the sight from here.  Looking off into the distance at the chain of alpine lakes is breath taking.  The path ahead of us had a bit of a double edged sword.  It would go down hill for a while.  As a hiker, you hate to give up altitude that you’ve earned with hard work.  But, after working ones way up through the ‘100 switchbacks’ the ease of this section was welcomed.  It didn’t last long though.  The summit is not far from here and we soon were headed back up toward it.  A problem was soon realized.  Since it had started getting foggy, the temperature had been dropping quickly.  Some of us were dressed for this better than others, but none of us was truly dressed appropriately for it.  We had dressed with visions of sunshine and temperatures in the 50s at the top.  Not wise preparation!  It was windy and in the 30s!

View near the summit

As you get to the summit, there’s a stone shelter there with a wood floor inside.  There’s no heat, though.  It’s just protection from the elements.

Stone house at the summit of Mt Whitney

Once we realized that we weren’t going to warm up, we decided to go out and find the summit marker and take the obligatory picture and start back down to our warmth.

Bluejays huddled at the summit.

If you look under the flag, you can see a part of the summit marker.  As we worked our way back down we were amazed at the beautiful scenery we had missed (while in the dark) on the way up.  Even with the altitude headaches, it brought smiles to our faces.  Being much older then my hiking buds (about a quarter of century), I did my duty and brought up the rear for most of the hike.  Near the end of the hike, my hiking buddy (Jay Gross) feigned a sore foot and dropped back to keep me company.  If you would like to see more pictures from this hike, you can find them on my Flickr account.

At the trail head following a successful summit

Once down, we gathered around the ‘Sign’, and pasted a smile on our face for a picture.  Now that more than a year has past and we have forgotten the pain, we are talking about climbing Half Dome next summer.  Dreamers, eh?

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