Well, this is the long awaited Whitney Post regarding my long awaited climb of Whitney. I say long awaited because it had been in my mind for a long time, but I never had a good opportunity to do it. It takes someone who is willing to commit months in advance (permit lotteries happen in March for the summer)… I finally found that person in Andy Brownback, who dealt with all the permit hassles and then went to Colorado for 2 weeks in July and August to hike OTHER 14,000ft peaks to train… also, Andy is young, and I just turned 30 (read as- “OLD”).
All that to say, I have been trying my best to train all summer. Doing longer runs and lots of hill training… Overall, I think it worked out. We day hiked Whitney (which appeared to be a not very common thing given the looks we got on the trail, the campsites we passed, and all the large backpacks everyone else was carrying) using the Mountaineers’ Route on the way up – climbing the ~6,000ft from trailhead to summit in just about 6 miles – and took the main trail on the way down – taking ~12 miles to give up the same elevation. At the end of it I was limping pretty badly due to my knee (which didn’t hurt at all on the way up). The next day both my big toes were numb, and Andy’s hip was popping in and out.
All that to say, it was a hard hike, and I think we both ended up pushing ourselves.
Andy was in a bit better shape that I was, but I was a bit more comfortable scrambling up the scree and bar rock at the top (more on this later). In any case, here’s the story.
The trip began on Sunday morning with Andy and I scrambling to pull our gear together, and scrounge food from our pantries (we had planned to go to Trader Joe’s but found that we had enough random stuff to skip it!) We then drove the 6 hours up to Lone Pine only to find the whole valley smoked in (we found out later that it was from a fire in Kern Canyon, and not the Rim Fire which was ravaging Tuolumne County at the time) the and then turned off toward
Cottonwood Lakes trail head where there are two backpacker campgrounds at ~10,000ft… we wanted to acclimatize. Interestingly, this is the same location where Matt Griebel and I started our climb of Mt. Langley 2 years prior (see blog entry here).
We had forgot to get cash, so we paid for the campsite with all the change in Andy’s car. We had our separate random dinners, made a fire, and then I took a bunch of pictures of the stars… it was a gorgeous night and the smoke didn’t seem to have wafted as high as we were.
Below are some of the night shots I took. I’m still figuring out the shorter shutter speed (i.e.-not star trails) astrophotography. I’m looking forward to my trip to Utah next month with my Dad to try out some more! As always, click the image to see it bigger:
So, Day 2 was our prep day. We moved our campsite to the Whitney Trailhead backbackers’ campground (1 night stay limit). Got our permit (and some hot dogs for our spagehetti) in Lone Pine, and then stopped in the Alabama Hills to see Mobius Arch.
Generally the Alabama Hills are awesome. Just these jumbled piles of massive boulders that are super fun to climb on, and they go on for miles.
After our excursion we headed back to the trailhead, and then got bored. We decided to hike up the trail to see the turn off and some of the parts we’d have to hike the next day in the dark (we were aiming for a 4AM start). It was a great evening, and it was good that we scouted the trail, because the Mountaineers’ Route is a little bit more organic, and less well marked than the main trail. The picture shows Andy looking off into the valley. You can see that the smoke (thankfully) wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been the day prior.
Monday evening we carb loaded (read ate pasta with our hot dogs), then it was off to bed for our 3:15am alarm! But not really, because we were going to sleep under the stars until we were warned that bears had been through the campground almost nightly, so we both opted to set up our tents rather than be faced with an unwanted cuddle during our short night…. then it was off to bed for our 3:15am alarm!
After breaking down camp and stowing our gear in the car and bear boxes (depending on the level of scenty-ness), we ate some calories (I can hardly call it breakfast) and were on the trail by 4:15am! We were more-or-less on schedule, which meant it was dark… so I don’t have many
pictures from the first part of the hike except
one that I snapped right as Andy looked back at me. The flair is from his head lamp. We were at the Ebersbacher Ledges, which many people say is a big deal (route finding is needed and the “routes” are all pretty exposed). We were maker our way through them as the sun began to brighten the sky, and we were at Lower Boyscout Lake for the true sunrise and best alpenglow I’ve ever seen… and a beautiful sunrise as well.
We made it to Upper Boyscout Lake a bit after 7am, and filled up our hydration packs (meaning we’d each drank ~2liters of water already). In the picture below, you can already see the clouds rolling in around the mountains (to the left of the image).
The next photo was taken at Iceberg Lake (the one past Upper Boyscout and the last one we’d pass on our way up). The clouds were getting thicker and we started feeling sprinkles occasionally.
After getting to iceberg lake, we turned to head up The Gully , which is a scree filled slide area going up about 1000ft in elevation to a notch on Whitney’s shoulder. The climb up The Gully was quite challenging as it was very much one of those “two steps forward one step back” scenarios, with the additional worry of triggering a rockslide that would hit whichever of us was following. The photo at right shows Andy looking up The Gully which ended in the notch seen in the upper part of the picture. As you can see, the summit was clouded in by this point, and would remain so for the rest of the day.
Climbing The Gully was a blast, so I took a bunch of pictures. It definitely felt like we were fighting the mountain. The biggest uncertainty was that we heard thunder about half way up The Gully . As thunder often means lightning, it is not advisable to go to the tops of mountains thunder is heard.
We debated for awhile, but not wanting to slide down 600ft of scree and hearing no more thunder, we continued upward.
Below are a series of images of Andy making his way up The Gully … like I said, it was intense(ly fun)!
Once at the Notch (at the top of The Gully ) we still had to get to the top of the summit cone of Whitney which required another 600 vertical feet from the notch up one of a series of rocky chutes to the top. Luckily we passed a guided group coming down from which we got some good beta on which chute to take, and how to about it (go up the very first chute you can, the first move is really hard, then stay left until the very top when you traverse right and finish). The next photo is Andy starting up the chute as taken from the notch.
The next to photos are of Andy making his way up the Chute. We were thankful that we knew we were on the right route, because it wasn’t particularly easy going. Andy had a bit of a scary slip near the top which was probably attributable as much to the fact that it was snowing heavily and wetting all the rock as to the steepness of the rock itself.
The precipitation and clouds/fog continued to the top, so all the rocks where slippery and our hands were cold and wet. Nevertheless, we made it. Here we see Andy exiting the shoot to the large flat top of Whitney, followed by me… celebrating.
As the summit was clouded in, we didn’t stay on top too long. As it was still snowing, and the Chute and the Gully were now soaking wet in addition to be steep and loose, we opted to walk down the main trail. This mean that we had ~12 miles of hiking in front of us and only 6 behind us.
The hike down was uneventful except that it snowed on us for the first few hours, then rained on and off in 30 minute intervals for the remainder of the day. Also, the main trail is REALLY long. There are something like 97 switch backs, and there were at least 4 times when we dropped into a valley that we both thought would be the end of the hike but proved to be only one in a series of step valleys to be traversed. I have never been so wrong, so many times about how close we were to the end of a hike.
We finished the hike at 5pm, meaning we were on the trail for ~13hrs to do ~17miles with >12,000 ft of elevation change. It was clear at the end why most people do Whitney as a multi-day affair, but after passing all the backpackers heading up the trail in the rain (as we came down) we were thankful to be off the mountain.
Given the rain, we opted not to camp out another night. We drove to Lone Pine, got some burgers and then returned to San Diego. We saw some cool double rainbows on our way back (see pics below). Andy dropped me off at home about 11pm making for one of the longest and most memorable days I’ve had in awhile.
[lg_folder folder=”whitney_gallery/” paging=”false”]