Mt. Whitney day hike

I’ve run out of stuff to blog about, since my traveling is pretty limited these days.

So I’ll give some details about my late summer day hike of Mt. Whitney back in September 2015. It’s a commonly climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada, since it’s the highest point in the contiguous 48 states, at an elevation of 14505′ (4421 m), and there’s a trail all the way to the top. The trail and Whitney Zone is subject to restrictions on use, and given the fragile state of the ecosystem and plenty of unprepared hikers, it’s probably a good thing. I think that there would be lots of people being peeled off the trail and the summit by rescue squads.

Now about the permit. I had no trouble getting one at the Interagency Visitor Center, at the junction of CA 190 and US 395, for the following day. But I also spent a good 15-20 minutes thinking about whether to punish myself like this. The weather was reminiscent of my first (two-day) hike of Whitney in 2003, hot and dry in Lone Pine, almost excessively hot. And since I’m getting older, I’m not sure how many more times I’ll be able to do this.

To put it in a few words: it kicked my ass. None of the trail is steep, but the length, a hefty 22 mile round trip with 6500 feet of elevation gain, including a brief uphill back up to Trail Crest on the way back, makes this a pretty serious undertaking. I started at 4:30 AM, and was back at the car by 6 PM, as the temperature was dropping and the daylight fading. Still, the weather was very stable and warm, with a temperature nearing 50 F at the summit, and nearly no wind. Having hiked a number of 14ers in Colorado, this one still took in excess of 13 hours. I thought I was prepared? Get an early start, and I mean early, like 3-4 AM, and don’t forget the headlamp.

Dawn above Lone Pine Lake

Dawn above Lone Pine Lake

The trail is more like a freeway, and really gets going after you arrive at the last lake (and water source). This is where the switchbacks start, and honestly, it’s too many. I didn’t bother counting how many, but it’s more than the 99 advertised. After all that, the trail levels off and traverses across a slope to Trail Crest (13600′, 4145 m) and the entrance into Sequoia National Park. Yay, you’re there! Not really, you head downhill to a junction with the John Muir Trail, and it’s still another 2 miles to the summit.

Looking towards Owens Valley

Looking towards Owens Valley

Home stretch, just past Trail Crest, also really tiring!

Home stretch, just past Trail Crest, also really tiring!

Summit view, looking south towards Mt. Langley

Summit view, looking south towards Mt. Langley

September is a pretty good time to hike. I’ve done this twice now, and both times were in mid-to-late September. While the days are shorter, the temps stay warm, there’s less competition for permits, fewer bugs, and generally stable weather. There are brief sections on the “99 switchbacks” that stay icy, so watch out. A good rule of thumb is that the summit temps are 40-50 F cooler than in Lone Pine.

I slept in Lone Pine, since this was an unplanned hike. By all means, get a decent place to sleep after your hike, I chose the Dow Villa historic property in Lone Pine. Before your hike, I suggest trying to sleep a bit higher up, like near the Portal. As for the other stuff. . .

Another hint: do this as a 2-3 day hike, it’s way more fun, and you’ll have more time to soak in the scenery. I was too busy being tired to really digest it all. What I should have brought: more food. A banana, orange, and beef jerky is not nearly enough. I essentially went with a light breakfast and nearly nothing else. Not the best idea. More drinks: the two bottles of energy drinks and 1.5 L of water are not quite enough either. The energy drinks did have the electrolytes that kept me from completely malfunctioning. Not surprisingly, I conked out on the way down and fell asleep at for 15 minutes, at 14000 feet.

It’s a beautiful hike, and the minimalist landscape above treeline is special. Up there, it’s just the blinding granite and the deep blue of the many lakes dotting the High Sierra. Have fun hiking, but by all means, be prepared, I wasn’t quite ready and was fortunate to summit.




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