Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day

Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. 
- John Muir

I felt like I was doing just that. I had arrived in the Whitney Portal area a couple days before and managed to get in a few wonderful, mind-cleansing hikes up to Kearsarge Pass and even up the Mt. Whitney trail a little to Lone Pine Lake before I was going to do 'the big one'. But the time had finally arrived, tomorrow was the day and the feeling in the stomach I'm sure is familiar to you; the day before visiting Disneyland, the day before starting a new job, the day before moving to a new city, etc… Whether it's from nervousness, excitement, fear, adrenaline, anticipation, energy, or a big ball of all of the above, the butterflies are there and they are having a party in my belly. I was going to hike to the highest point in the Continental United States (14,505ft.) tomorrow, and return all in one day, and it was kind of a big deal. Thirty thousand people attempt to get to the top of Mt. Whitney every year. Only 10,000 make it. I was determined to be one of the 10,000.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Pancakes -
Carbing up with the obligatory pancakes from the Whitney Portal Store
I had decided a year before that I wanted to hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney and I 
worked extremely hard on that goal, doing infinite amounts of research, attending several presentations at Adventure 16, not to mention hiking hundreds of miles. The date had come that I had worked so diligently for and I was elated and nervous at the same time. I had no idea what delights my eyes were going to feast on tomorrow, but with a 4am wake up call I didn't have to wait much longer.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Whitney Zone Sign
Entering the "Whitney Zone"
Earlier the day before, Laura, my hiking partner, and I had decided that she would take a little shortcut on the Mountaineer's route on the first section of the trail and I would catch up with her. So there I was, alone, at 4:30 am starting out on a trail in the High Sierra area that just so happens to have a lot of bear activity around it. This is when talking/singing to yourself becomes a survival technique, and one that I used vigorously and unashamedly. I was relieved of my technique that we shall call "Beware of Bear Power Ballad" when I finally caught up to Laura and we started to hike together. 
Just then the sun was starting to peek its head up on the horizon to say good morning and it was absolutely marvelous. I have to admit that I had heard of people waking up crazy early to go hike peaks or mountaineer in the past and I always thought they were a little bit crazy. And then I became one of those people. Here I was, at the butt-crack of dawn hiking up the Mt. Whitney trail, entering the John Muir Wilderness, and was just ecstatic to be up this early to see the sun elevate as my friend and I rose higher in our own ascent. While the sun rose it performed a curtain-raising play, a play only it knows how to perform on the soaring granite walls, instructing us in which way to hike. I was enamored and couldn't wait to see more.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day
Hiking with the sunrise
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Alpenglow -
The alpenglow that I love
At that moment, when the sun was gleaming upon us and waking everything up with its good tidings, we entered a new chapter on our hike. Hiking up the Mt. Whitney Trail is truly like a storybook adventure and with each elevation change a new chapter is revealed. There were so many doors to be opened, so many sights to see, each one incomparable to the last. This next chapter was Outpost Camp, one of the spots where people can camp along the trail, a charming little nook at 10,400 feet in elevation with a tantalizing 50' waterfall to the side.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Outpost Camp Waterfall -
The waterfall at Outpost Camp
Once past Outpost Camp you enter the Mirror Lake area at 10,640ft. Just past Mirror Lake is when you start to head above timberline and things start getting rocky. After ascending for a bit you encounter another beautiful chapter called Trailside Meadow. At 11,400ft. it's a small, lush spot that is great to stop for a snack or a refill of water and will be the last batch of green that you see until you are on your way back down so savor it while you saunter along in your journey.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Trailside Meadow -
Trailside Meadow
Passing the verdant Trailside Meadow you soon stumble upon Consultation Lake. This lake comes into view just before you get to Trail Camp, another popular area that backpackers stay along the Whitney Trail to reach the summit. It is at a literally breath-taking 12,000 feet and 6 miles up from the start of the trail so it gives you the chance to get an early start for the summit or even the opportunity to sleep in a little, if the wind and the weather permit of course.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Consultation Lake -
Gorgeous Consultation Lake
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Consultation Lake & Trail Camp -
Consultation Lake and Trail Camp from above
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Trail Camp -
Water at Trail Camp
After Trail Camp begins the infamous 99 switchbacks. My friend and I decided to turn on our tunes at this point and zone out to our music to make it up this arduous section of the trail. This part of the trail is also where I got my trail name 'Girl Who Runs Back for Water'. I remember passing one of the switchbacks with a small amount of mountain run-off water and thinking about how I heard that this was one of the last places to get water on the trail. I didn't check my own water since I thought that I had enough..until about 10 or 15 (who's counting anyways?) switchbacks later. I went to take a sip…and nada! I was just about to approach the most difficult part of the hike and just passed the last possible point to refill on water. I had to turn back. I started jogging down the switchbacks to make it to where that sweet, glorious, thirst-quenching liquid was. I finally made it to the small cascade, refilled, and charged onward.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day
Couldn't ask for better weather to summit!
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - switchback time -
Negotiating the 99 switchbacks!
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - cables section -
The cables section of the hike
Once you approach the end of the lovely switchbacks that you have now gotten to know so well you can have a respite at Trail Crest and pat yourself on the back a little. You have arrived at a marvelous 13,600 feet in elevation, crossed over into Sequoia National Park, and have already completed 8.2 miles of the hike. Your reward for getting this far? Just look below….
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Trail Crest Sign -
Trail Crest Inyo National Forest - 13,650 Feet
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Trail Crest View -
Look to the left
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Trail Crest View Right Side -
And to the right
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Trail Crest View -
The view stretches for days
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Guitar Lake -
Guitar Lake
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day -
Where is the trail again?
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day -
One of the numerous lakes you see along the trail
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day
It's giving me the 'rock-on' symbol!
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day
One of the only flat parts of the trail
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - pinnacles -
The awe-inspiring pinnacles along the trail
The air gets thinner and thinner as you climb higher and higher. You start to think about when you're finally going to reach the top and then you reach the junction with the John Muir Trail.  Only 1.9 miles to go, seems like nothing, right?  I think the last stretch to the top was probably one of the longest of the trail. People that you pass keep saying "You're almost there!" and you want to believe that is true, but your feet aren't moving quite as quickly as they were at the pneumatic 8,360ft. that you started out at earlier that day.
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day
Only 1.9 miles to go!
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Whitney Junction -
Backpackers from the John Muir Trail ditch their packs at the Whitney Junction
And then, finally, after 7 hours of hiking, I see the famous Mt. Whitney hut. Sigh. I have made it!
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Whitney Hut -
The famous Whitney Hut
Mt. Whitney In One Long, Glorious Day - Marmot -
This fat marmot is a total peak-bagger!
The ambiance at the top of Mt. Whitney is nothing short of spectacular. Everyone is exhilarated from hiking, absorbing all the glorious views along the way, experiencing a shared and yet so very personal exultant high. It is not only the endeavors of one heart-pumping day(or days) being celebrated, but months of effort and dreams being realized and rewarded with a view so marvelous that Muir referred to it as a paradise of rock and light. Relax, take a deep, chest-heaving breath of that cool, crisp mountain air and bask in the moment, you've truly earned this.

If you want to tackle the same hike to Mt. Whitney here are some important details:
Trail Name: Mt. Whitney Trail
Location: Sierra Nevada Range, CA
Elevation Gain: 6,132 ft.
Elevation at the top: 14,505 ft.
Length: 11 miles (one way)
Type: Out and back
Best Season: July to September. The weather can change at any point so always check ahead of time, be aware and plan to summit early. You can check the weather for Lone Pine here.
Trail Condition: Well maintained
To get there: Take the US-395 to Lone Pine, CA and turn west on the Whitney Portal Road. Drive 13 miles until you reach Whitney Portal.
Permits Required: Yes! Plan far in advance, for more information on the permit system click here.

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