Mt Whitney attempt from Whitney Portal
August, 6 2007
Inyo and Sequoia Forests
6200 feet elevation gain
Mt Whitney Summit Attempt
Update - See the 2008 entry for information about a successful summit along with training and tips about how to train and prepare to for summiting Mt Whitney in a one day.
This past weekend I went with two friends and made an attempt on Mt Whitney. We didn't summit, but it was an experience none the less. Here are the details, with some tips if you're planning on making the trip. First of all, if you are taking the main Mt Whitney trail that starts at Whitney Portal, you need to plan this trip well in advance. During the summer months (which I would recommend since the trails are hardcore enough without having to deal with ice and snow), you will need a permit. They will obviously be easier to obtain for mid-week. Ours was for a Monday. You will need one regardless of if you are overnight backpacking or day hiking, we were day hiking. For details see the trail permit lottery page. Having our permit for Monday was perfect, since we were able to arrive on Saturday and acclimate at 8000 feet at a campsite at the Whitney Portal Campground. I highly recommend doing the same and acclimating for a few days.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Arrived at the Whitney Portal Campground as mentioned above to acclimate. We were site 39, and as we drove through the campground, we saw that there were only 38 sites. We didn't know 39-44 were a few hundred yards down the hill at a separate entrance. Anyway, the sites are great, they are immaculately kept, and have ample room. Also, there are bear boxes at each site which are bigger than they say online, they were more than big enough to hold two full size coolers and a few bags of food. Don't mess around with leaving stuff in your car, put it all in the bear boxes as the bears have been seen regularly around the camps. In fact I talked to someone on the day of our hike who woke up to a bear sniffing at his feet. Bear box items also include non food items if they are scented, ie chapstick, sunscreen, etc. We spent the rest of t he day napping and roaming around Whitney Portal talking to people who were coming down. FYI, the Portal is a half mile uphill from the campground. There is a trail that connects the campground to the Portal if you don't want to drive. If you want to stay at the campground, make reserverations well in advance. If you don't get a site, there is a small camping area at the trail head, but you won't have your own site, it's just a group area, though I'm not sure of the details (this is also where the guy woke up to the bear). The Portal Store is right next to the trailhead, and has supplies and beverages and food, but I'd bring your own since the selection isn't great and the prices are a bit high. They also have a shower. As in only one, and it costs $3. You might have to wait. If you want a shower, just go into the store and pay and the person working in the store will give you the details.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
We drove the 13 miles down to Lone Pine to do a few errands. Then back up to the campsite where we packed a lunch and then went on a pre hike. During our recon on Saturday, we found out that you can go about three miles on the Whitney trail before you enter the permit area. So this is what we did. At that point, which is right around Lone Pine lake, you will enter the Mt Whitney Wilderness and a permit is necessary. I would recommend this little jaunt as a pre hike since it won't wear you out, but it will get you used to the terrain and will get you up to almost 10,000 elevation. We got up to the lake, hung out, took pictures, and had lunch. Then back to the campground for dinner and morning preparations.
Monday, August 6, 2007
This was the big day. We got most of our non bear box items packed the night before, and were shooting for a 3AM start. We woke up at two, but by the time we got the car packed, packed up our day packs, and got onto the trail it was 3:45. Make sure when you drive up to the trail head to park that you store your stuff in the bear boxes provided. The space isn't as ample as at the sites, but you shouldn't have a problem. Just don't be expecting to stick multiple coolers in there. 3:45 sounds like an early start, but I would recommend earlier if you can. If you are backpacking it's not a big deal to leave early, but day hikers need to LEAVE EARLY. You will be thankful at the end of the day.
So anyway, it was a little chilly getting started, probably in the 50s, but turned out great because we got about 4 miles in before the sun fully up. It also is a great way to lessen your water needs since you won't be sweating. We each carried about 4 liters and it turned out we didn't need to filter any, but I would make sure you have a filter in case it is warmer or you take longer than you think. We went slow and steady, probably almost too slow, and it was about 10AM or so when we reached Trail Camp at 12,000 feet. One thing I can say is don't assume the hard work will be in the 99 switchbacks you hear about. When you start getting near the tree line around 11000 feet or so (I think), the trail is pretty steep even there. The highlights of that first 7 miles were seeing the sunrise, seeing the waterfall at Outpost Camp, Mirror Lake, and of course finally reaching Trail Camp. FYI, the Solar toilets you read about are no longer there. All waste must be packed out now in the WAG Bags they provide when you pick up your permit. We stayed at the Trail Camp for a bit, had some snacks, and prepared for the switchbacks. In case you need to filter water, Trail Camp has the last consistently available source.
At first we thought the switchbacks weren't bad. They didn't seem to tough ... that changed quickly. You gain 1600 feet in a little over a mile if that means anything. I'm not sure of the exact distance, it seems like every map we read or person we talked to had a different total, and my GPS had its own opinion. But it's less than 2 miles to Trail Crest (the end of the switchbacks), and it took us about 2 hours to do it. I think we moved in slow motion. This is where we started noticing the elevation for sure. Some of the trail is even scary, if you slip or lose your balance you can go tumbling. When we finally reached Trail Crest, we made a group decision to not go further. Trail Crest is where you finally hit the ridge and can see west, and where you join the John Muir Trail and the Sequoia National Forest. We weren't sure how much further we had, we thought it was closer, but the estimates we got were 1-2 hours each way, and two of the three of us already had headaches, so we rested, took pictures, and headed back down. Disappointed of course, but we made the right decision. We got back to the Portal at 6PM, making it a 15 hour day, and had we continued on it would have been 18-20 hours.
Needless to say, I will be going back at some point to summit. I learned a lot from the trip. If I can say anything to a first timer, it's this ... This is NOT EASY, in fact it is that hardest thing I've ever done. One of the people I was with said it was harder by far than running a marathon. It seems simple, that it's just a matter of pacing yourself and taking your time. It's not that easy. After you've been walking for 8 hours and you're at 13,000 feet trying to climb up it's brutal. It's certainly doable, but don't be like us and assume that slow and steady will make it happen. To put it in perspective we didn't even summit, and our total numbers were 5000+ feet elevation gain, 18 miles, 15 hours.
My Essential packing list for a summer Whitney day hike attempt: (this is just my list, you still want to pack the traditional top 10 essentials)
Camelbak or Platypus (saves the time of having to pull a bottle out)
Fleece or long sleeve shirt
Gloves (I was thankful for them)
Electrolyte supplements or Gatorade
Good shoes with sturdy soles (my were worn and I paid the price, my feet were hurtin')
GPS to stay aware of the elevation
Toilet Paper in case the WAG Bag doesn't have any in it
|Mount Whitney from Lone Pine Visitor Center
||Mount Whitney from Whitney Portal Road
||From Whitney Portal Campground looking east to Lone Pine
||Whitney Portal Campground and Bear Box - Site 39
|One of the first streams on Mt Whitney Trail
||Entering John Muir Wilderness - No permit required
||Pack out your poop!
||Whitney Trail looking down to Lone Pine
|Pine Tree - Lone Pine Lake
||Lone Pine Lake
||Another near from Lone Pine Lake
||Lone Pine Lake
|One more near Lone Pine Lake
||Sunrise on Mt Whitney Trail
||After the sunrise - Mt Whitney Trail
||Waterfall at Outpost Camp
|Mount Whitney in the distance, our enemy at this point
||Lake on the way to Trail Camp, yes snow still in August
||Mt Whitney Trail Camp - Marmot - Protect your food they will steal it!
|Mt Whitney Tail Camp - Looking up towards switchbacks, they're there somewhere
||Heading up the switchbacks, the black dots there are people!
||Cables going up the switchbacks
||The cables still
|Don't look down!
||Trail Crest looking west, 13600 feet
||Trail Crest looking east to where we started, 13600 feet
||Trail camp on the way back down
|Our nemesis from the hotel afterwards