Five people, two days, twenty two miles and over 6000 feet of climbing, Mt Whitney Conquered!
After the visitor center we made our way up to the Portal to check it out and to meet up with my brother and his family. We got up there and walked around. You could feel the excitement beginning. When we got up there we could see people coming off the trail. You knew they just did it because they smelled and they were grinning from ear to ear going over their stores with beers in hand. That was going to be us in a couple days. We messed around the waterfall for a little bit then headed back into Lone Pine to check into our camp spot. We ended up staying a little out of town at Boulder Creek RV. They had a couple cabins that they rented out and we were able to get one of those. It was a nice one bedroom cabin that was fully finished with a full kitchen. That made it easy to cook our dinners and breakfast. The place has a pool and the staff is nice. The only problem we had was that our unit was infested with those little black ants once we put any food out. It was an inconvenience to put everything in the frig but other than that the unit was clean and comfortable.
Thursday night we finalized our backpacks and made sure we had everything. We topped off our waters and turned in early. Friday was almost among us and we were as ready as we would ever be to hike Mt Whitney.
The alarm went off at 5am! Time to get up make the coffee and get the breakfast going. My husband and my stepson started to roll out of bed about the time I got out of the shower. We were finally all ready at 6 when my brother and my sister in law pulled up. We were all nervous and excited at the same time. None of us has ever backpacked into something like this before. All the what if’s were our conversation as we headed up the hill to the portal. What if it rained, What if there is lightning, What if someone gets hurt, What if someone gets sick, What if someone can’t make it, What if what if what if all the way up. We really didn’t have answers for them just some thoughts if any of those did happen.
For the first couple miles anyone is able to hike up there, but once you pass Lone Pine Lake and walk through the sandy wash you enter into the Mt Whitney permit zone and you must have a government issued permit to keep going. We had made it to this spot by 9:45am it we were about mile 3 in and the elevation was about 10,000 feet. As soon as you pass that sign you start up some quick switchbacks. You could feel the altitude now. This was the highest we had gone with our training hikes, everything else was going to be a first for us.
We came up to an opening between two large boulders and as you walked through the view was a jaw dropping moment. My brother had said it was like the movie Madagascar when they first walked onto the island and saw the view. We had reached the Meadow. The land was this perfect green with copper color streams running through the grass, the shear rocks that bordered the meadow were bleached white reaching high into the sky. The sky was clear from any smog or haze and the blue was something you only see in a box of crayons. It was a hidden paradise and we were the only ones there at that moment. It was a perfect time to take a break and have some food. When we started to grub down on some granola we got a little visitor from a blue bird. He was so friendly he was eating from our hands. I know you are not supposed to feed the animals but we were in such awe that this little guy would take food right from our hand we had to give him a couple little gifts.
After we got some food in our bellies we headed off down the path through the meadow. We came to Outpost camp and followed several streams. The trail was flat and easy even though we were over 10,300 feet. After we passed over the streams and saw some pretty decent sized fish we hit another set of switchbacks. We were now at the end of the meadow. Once up on the switchbacks we got a better view of the meadow with the valley in the background. My brother and his wife raced ahead of us pushing towards Mirror Lake while we rested with my husband added some moleskin to his feet. We caught up to my brother and his wife and took another food break. My brothers wife took a foot dip in the cold crystal clear lake. I was too afraid to take my boots off. They were feeling good and I didn’t want to get my feet in a different spot and ruin my good luck with the shoes. Ok so GUYS if you see a girl with tissue in hand walking around out of the way from the trail and she is trying to make it look like she is taking in the views what she is really trying to do it is to find a spot to go potty. DO NOT FOLLOW HER. At mirror lake my brothers wife tried to find a spot off the trail but was looking around saying things like you could see the rainbow trout swimming around just to make it seem like she was just taking in the sites. Girls usually don’t want people knowing that they are trying to find a secret spot. She had one guy that was following her around checking out the sites with her and he wasn’t in our group. Every rock she found he was right there behind her taking in the sites. It was somewhat funny because this guy had no clue that she was trying to find a pee spot. He finally left the spot and she was able to do her business but we were all laughing at her little follower. After a long break and some food in our bellies we went on our way.
We started up another set of switchbacks that were etched into the boulders and at times you had to really look to see the trail. We were getting to the edge of the tree line and the only things that were growing were some small bushes with tiny flowers. The rocks seemed like they would never end and the packs were getting heavy. The trail was no longer flat like earlier now there were steps like stairs in a house. You would take two steps on flat ground and then there would be a stair, another couple of flat steps and then another stair. It went on like this for 2 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain. We got to the trailside meadow where Consultation Lake empties out and my stepson had run out of water. It was a great rest point for us. The altitude was really starting to wear us down and with every couple of feet our packs seemed like they gained a pound. My brother and his wife had taken off ahead of us trying to get to camp. my brothers wife’s back was hurting and she wanted the pack off and my brother wanted to get a decent spot for us to camp at.
We set up camp and started to get comfortable with our surroundings. The day before we were all talking about what we would do once we got there trying to think of ways to keep us from getting bored, but once you were there we really didn’t get that bored. My stepson went and took a nap to try to fight the Altitude sickness, my husband was feeling a little dizzy so he went to lay down after we got the tent and sleeping bags set up. My brother and I went to find the stream that feed the Trail Camp Pond. We found the source and got as close as we could to the stream coming from the rocks. The water was cold and fresh. Once again I drank right from the stream. Watching Naked and Afraid AFTER the trip I have now decided never to do that again. We were lucky not to get sick. I couldn’t image having stomach problems up there. Once you get out of camp there is no where to go the bathroom that will give you privacy. But let me tell you the water tasted so good. It was cold, fresh and plenty of it. I watched people getting water from the pond where the water looked like it was just sitting there when all they had to do was walk a few feet to the source to get the flowing water. I guess that few feet was a little too much at 12k feet.
We got back to camp and started to cook our food. We had a tiny stove and a few pots to cook in. While we were cooking we could feel eyes on us, watching us from every angle. Marmots. They were everywhere. If you don’t know what a marmot is they look like a porcupine but their fur isn’t needles and their tail is long. At first we thought they were cute but after awhile we noticed that they were stalking us. Casing our campground from all angles. They were waiting for that moment we turned our back so they could grab our food. They were bold and relentless. The bear canisters weren’t really for the bears they were for the damn Marmots. Any food we had went into the canister, locked! The other item beside a Bear Canister that you are required to bring up is a wag bag. This bag is for your poo. You must carry out your poo with you because there is no place for you to bury it up there. The first one of us to use this was my step son. Ok he is a teenager and knows it all so he doesn’t follow instructions very well, what you tell him he only retains about 25% of it. I told him before he went that you poo in the big bag with the powder. You wrap that bag up and then you put it in the little bag that Ziplocs for you. After he was gone for a good 30 minutes he came back to tell us that the bag you poo in wasn’t big at all and he was having a hard time trying to figure out how to get the poo in there. He held up the bag and showed us that they gave you extra bags too. We all started to laugh. The extra bag was the large one with the powder to hide the smell and one he poo’d in was the small zip lock one. The poor kid was trying for 30 mins squatting with weak legs to aim his poo into this small zip lock bag. Ok yes this was the discussing of our camp. We had no beer no tv no cell phones no Facebook so we talked about poo. This was our entertainment for the evening. At one point once we had all eaten and rested my brothers wife did try to recreate the “Ring Game” out of rocks but she was the only one with energy to get up and actually play.
We had all decided for an early morning the next day. Up at 3 and hiking by 4am. So around 8pm we decided to turn in. It was still daylight and getting to sleep was the hardest part. My husband decided he couldn’t sleep so he started to play Angry Birds. My brother and his wife were telling jokes in their tent and couldn’t stop giggling. I had Madagascar 3 “Afro Circus Afro Circus Polka Dot Polka Dot Afro Circus” Song stuck in my head from earlier. By 9 we had all finally settled down and were almost asleep when we heard what we thought was thunder. My brother was almost jumping out of his tent and My husband was just unzipping it when we realized it was a large rock slide in the neighboring canyon. We were in no danger but the noise was loud and it echoed through the canyon. We all finally fell asleep after that. Now they say that Altitude Sickness causes you not to be able to sleep. If you are camping and your tent is right on top of a rock and you don’t have an air mattress then I would have to say that being uncomfortable is the reason why you have a restless night. I would lay on my side and would wake up with a dead arm, I would turn around and another dead arm, I would lay on my back and I would wake up with a dead butt. I think I was waking up every 30 mins. I was hoping for that 3am alarm to go off every time I woke up.
Finally the alarm went off and up we were all up. No one had any luck sleeping. The full moon was gone and the only thing you could see were the stars. Oh how beautiful they were. It seemed like you could reach up and touch them. We all started to get ready for our early morning summit hike. Breakfast was yuck but the coffee was yummy. The temperature was chilly but not as bad as expected. As we were finishing up we could see people already heading up the 99 switchbacks. All you could see were their headlights zig zagging up the mountain. 4am hits and we are ready. We put on our light day packs that only had water and a little bit of food and started up. I think that if I had to do the switchbacks during the day I would be hating life. At night all you are doing is looking at the ground. You have no idea how far you have to go or what you have already done. You just keep walking.
From the day before we knew that there was an area about half way up that has a railing on the mountain and it goes a little to the side that can’t be seen from camp then it goes up to Trail Crest at 13K feet. From camp getting to the rails looked like it was going to take forever, but hiking in the dark it took us no time at all to reach that. Once passed the rails the switchbacks were short and fast until you got to the last one which seemed like it wouldn’t end. We watched the sun rise from the switchbacks. We finally made it to the Trail crest at 6:30am and we got to see the back side of the mountain. The view was breathtaking! You could see every mountain range for miles and miles. There is no words to describe the beauty. We rested here and took lots of pictures.
We then started on the last stretch to the summit, but we started to descend. Yes it felt good not having to go uphill at that moment but now we will have to go up again to gain that elevation back as well as come back that way on our way out. None of us were about any of that, but we soon forgot about that once we started to up back up again and this time the trail got thinner, rockier and a lot scarier. The left of the trail was a drop off down the mountain for miles and miles and the right side was rocks going straight up. If you weren’t careful you could get hurt pretty bad or even fall to your death. We took our time and made sure we hugged the wall to our right. My brother and his wife went ahead of us as we kept our slow pace to make sure we were all safe. I lead showing which rocks were safe to walk on and where to hold onto. My stepson followed behind and my husband made sure my stepson was following my route. With our pace and caution we had no problems going through that tough trail. We finally reached the back country John Muir trail letting us know we only had 1.9 miles before the summit. The trial was dirt again and the incline steady. We made it up about half way when my stepson got sick again. He was getting dizzy, had headaches and wanted to throw up. AMS set in for him. We rested and let others pass us. He was so close but wasn’t sure he could make it. I told him we would take it slow but he was not giving up. We could see the hut at the Summit. It was right there!!! He worked so hard to get to this point and to not make it being so close was not an option. He hadn’t thrown up yet which was good. I think if he had we wouldn’t have let him go any further. He stood up slowly and said he was ready. We marched on. At this point my fingers and hands were so swollen. So much so I couldn’t close my hands and the once loose hair tie was now digging into my wrist. I have never experienced anything like that before and I was hoping it was just the altitude. It looked like I had sausages for fingers. That last mile seemed like it took days. We started up the last set of switch backs. You knew the Hut was up there but you still couldn’t see past the rocks. A few coming down told us we were there just a few more steps but we still couldn’t see the Hut.
Finally at 8:40 am we saw it. We were there!!!! We did it!!! We were on top of the world!!! And it was beautiful. You could see everything. It was a lot smaller space than I thought it would be. There were about 20 people up there. Not as many as you would think but it was still early. We took it all in and took a bunch of pictures. I was so proud of my family, we all made it!!! We had such a good time while doing this.
We started our way down about 9:30. It felt great going down. My stepson instantly started to feel better. All of our small headaches started to go away. All the people going up looked miserable, we were them about an hour ago. You could see it in their eyes they wanted it to end and that they were jealous of us that we were already on our way down. All of us were in the best mood. It didn’t take long to get to the small uphill by Trail Crest. I didn’t realize that it was as steep as it was or that there was about 5 steep switchbacks we went down that we now had to climb back up. It took everything to get up those. I had to rest a few times just to catch my breath. After the last switchback we turned the corner and you were right at the Trail Crest sign. We were done with the uphill. Everything was downhill from this point forward except for a small hill down by the meadow at 10K feet but that was in the tree line and too far away to even think about.
We almost ran down the 99 switchbacks, we only stopped a few times for some pictures that we couldn’t get going up because it was too dark and to have a small snowball fight.
We made it back to Trail Camp in record time. We broke down our camp and packed up our campsite. We filled up our water again and I had put my swollen fingers in the ice cold water which seemed to do the trick because by the time we finished they were back to normal. We finished packing our heavy packs and put them on. Holy Shit did they get heavier! It felt like mine gained 20 more pounds. But it didn’t, we were so used to the light comfortable day packs that our heavy packs seemed a lot heavier. I was about to make a donation to the mountain will all my gear. I’m sure some day hiker would need it if there was a storm and they needed to stay the night. Our shoulders were sun burnt and instantly my back started to hurt. I thought that changing my hiking boots to tennis shoes was smart idea so my feet would be lighter. BIG MISTAKE. The rocks were slippery and I had no ankle support plus I was carrying my heavy boots on my back. It was miserable going down. I already knew that was my weakness but with this heavy pack I was slowing everyone down. I had to rest every 10 minutes to get the pack off my back. I wanted to cry I was in so much pain. We finally made it back to the tree line and found shade right before Mirror Lake. I switched to my hiking boots and finally agreed to take some pain meds my husband had. He kept telling me to take it so my back would stop hurting but I didn’t want to be loopy going down the hill. A half of one did the trick though and switching back to my hiking boots. The pain in my back wasn’t a sharp pain just a dull aching pain that was manageable. The rest of the hike down seemed like it wouldn’t end. We made it to Outpost Camp and had to take a food break. It was HOT and we were feeling it. We ate the last of our food and took a face dip in the cold stream rushing through the valley and we were off again. The last hill came to us quick and it hurt going up. The beautiful meadow was left behind as we could see the last lake Lone Pipe lake in front of us. We headed down the switchbacks to the point where you no longer needed a permit and rested.
We were almost back. We only had 3 more miles left. We had done over 12 miles already and we could feel it. I’m sure we all smelt lovely as well. We were back on the trail in no time. We started to see signs of people again. Day hikers just cruising the area in flip flops and no packs. How I envied them. I wanted my flip flops on so bad and this heavy pack I wouldn’t care if someone took off with it at that moment. We got to the last set of switchbacks that took us to the Whitney Portal store. I could see the cars parked and I could hear the waterfall that was right by the store. We were almost there. We had lost my brother and his wife somewhere on the switchbacks when they got cell reception and they called the kids. We had a different carrier and didn’t have cell reception yet so we kept pushing on. The day hikers were finally getting on my nerves. Rule of hiking that you must give the right away to the hikers going up, but at this point I wanted off that mountain and the rules just went out the window. We hit the last stream East Fork creek and we were .6 miles from the finish. You could see the green roof to the store. It was right there. We passed the roof and I was expecting for the next switchback to take us down to the store but we kept going and going and going and going. It was taking us away from the store and parking lot. DAMN IT!!! We finally got to the turn and started to head back towards the store. Why didn’t they just take the trail straight down from where the store was at. All I could think about was getting to the finish. We passed by a couple more day hikers that probably smelt us a mile away. We crossed over a dry stream and turned a corner and saw the finish! Only a few more steps and we WERE FINISHED at 4:45 pm!! 2 days 22 miles 6100 feet of climbing and standing at the highest summit in the contiguous United States and I did it, we did it!!!
I threw my pack off and tried to stand up straight I couldn’t do it. My body kept pushing me down. I must have been a site to look at. We waited for my brother and his wife to come down which was only about 5 minutes. We got our packs loaded into the truck got our flip flops on and headed to the store for some BEER and fries!!! It was the best beer and fries you could ever have. After our beer we headed back to our camp in Lone Pine.
We showered and were fed a very yummy meal by my brothers wife’s parents. We sat there and talked all night about our adventures. As the night came on we could see a storm sitting onto of the mountain. We were one day from getting that, we were lucky with the weather.
This year I have pushed myself into doing some of the hardest things I have ever done. With bike riding and hiking I have found that I am capable of reaching goals I never thought were possible. I have seen so much and as the days and months go by I have found a happiness within myself that I never thought I could reach. My life as a whole is centered. My mind, body and soul are all in harmony. The small bumps that happen every day in life no longer seem to wear me down and my outlook on life is so much clearer.