I finally made my way out to California and the first thing I wanted to do was get as high as possible. That’s right, I set out to summit Mount Whitney!
Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states with an elevation of 14,505 ft. My trail to the top was an 11 mile ordeal with a gain of over 6000 feet! I did this in two days (as is typical for this route).
I got a mid morning start from the trail-head at an elevation of 8,360. I weighed my pack and it came out to 43 pounds. This is certainly heavier than most who set out to tackle Whitney. The reason for this is that I was traveling solo and couldn’t split the weight of shared items such as a tent and bear canister. I also had a gallon of water on board. I could have easily gotten by with much less given the amount of water available on the trail.
Saw a couple of these birds at the lower elevations
As I started, the trail switched back and forth up the canyon valley. I’d take a look back at every switchback and see everything getting smaller and smaller. The trees along this section of the trail were massive. If I were a tree hugger, I’d need much larger arms to give these trees a proper hug.
I crossed a few streams and entered into the John Muir Wilderness, a part of the Inyo National Forest and Sierra National Forest.
At 2.8 miles, I reached Lone Pine Lake at an elevation of 9,900′. This lake was super neat. Standing from the edge it almost looked like one of those infinity pools. Although my distance covered at this point was less than 3 miles, I was moving slow (but steady!).
Lone Pine Lake
Right after Lone Pine Lake, I entered the Whitney Zone. This is a permitted area. I had my permit with me, but was never asked for it while on the trail. FYI, if you want to climb, you need to plan months ahead and get this permit. There are a limited number issued during the season.
At 3.8 miles I reached the first of two campsites on the Whitney Trail. Outpost Camp is at an elevation of 10,400. This camp is less popular for those looking to summit, but for those who have trouble with altitude sickness, it may be a better choice than staying at the second camp at 12,000 ft. I took my pack off here for a few minutes and chowed down. There’s a really cool waterfall right next to the campsite!
My snack time view from Outpost Camp.
I suited up and carried on. A short distance up a few switchbacks and I reached Mirror Lake, at 4.0 miles and 10,640′.
As I carried on, I said goodbye to the trees.
No more trees up here!
The next check point was Trailside Meadow at mile 5 and 11,400 ft. Between Mirror Lake and the meadow, the trail was steep and rocky. Definitely not the kind of trail you’d expect to connect a lake and meadow. You won’t see the meadow at all on the approach. Eventually you’ll climb to a flat spot along that rocky trail and there will be this beautiful meadow to your left.
The next point of interest was Trail Camp. Located at 6.3 miles and 12,000′, this is where I made making camp for the night. Making my way from the meadow to the camp took a long time. The 3000+ ft gained and thinning air was taking it’s toll on my body.
Once at the camp, I scouted out a good patch of ground for my tent. From descenders I met along the way, I was warned that the winds at Trail Camp were intense and to find a sheltered area to make camp. I threw down my pack on a sandy patch behind a rock wall that previous climbers had made. After relaxing for a while and chatting with fellow climbers, I assembled my tent and prepared my gear for the summit attempt the next day.
Lots of these guys around looking to steal your food
As soon as the sun went behind Mt. Whitney for the night, I climbed into bed and tried to get some rest. The whole night the wind was howling. Between the noise and the shaking of my tent the entire night, I think I only got two or three hours of sleep.
I set an alarm for 4:30am to get a nice early start at the summit. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! (that’s the alarm clock, not that Selena Gomez song…)
To be continued…