October 8, 2002
The Mt. Whitney adventure first began by flying into Las Vegas to pick up my brother Ryan who would be joining me for the climb. It was a quick 300 miles over to Lone Pine, CA from Vegas and we arrived around 6 p.m. The ranger station was already closed so we checked into our motel and headed downtown to get some dinner and some last minute supplies. The photo below shows the Sierra Nevadas from Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney is actually the peak in the center of the photo appearing smaller than the peak on the left.
October 9, 2002
It was up fairly early to pick up our backcountry permit and bear caninster from the ranger station located in Lone Pine. We rented the bear canister for only $5, packed our food, and was off to the trailhead. We arrived at the trailhead around 10:30 a.m. with the view in the photo below in front of us.
The Whitney Portal sits at 8,365 feet and marks the beginning of the Mt. Whitney Trail. The trail starts out gradually climbing up some switchbacks through the forest. There are several small stream crossing before the trail reaches Lone Pine Lake after 2.5 miles. Lone Pine Lake sits at about 9,500 feet and we decided to take a break once we reached the lake shown in the photo below.
After some lunch we refilled our water bottles and headed onward and upward. It wasn't long before we reached the next milestone, Outpost Camp at 10,365 feet about 3.5 miles into the hike. The photo below shows the meadow beside the Outpost Camp location. This is also 1 of 2 locations that have solar bathrooms.
From Outpost Camp it was a very short hike up a small hill to Mirror Lake. Then the trail begins to traverse up the southern slopes as it climbs higher into the basin. The photo is looking back down on Mirror Lake.
The trail keeps climbing up into the basin and by this point our packs were getting really heavy. The mountain had received some recent snowfall and we weren't taking chances, bringing gear for a full-on winter ascent. After passing Consulation Lake at 11,680 feet we knew we were getting close to Trail Camp. We were suprised that most of the parties heading back down were unsuccessful in their summit attempts. We finally arrived at Trail Camp around 3:30 p.m. taking almost 5 hours to go the 6 miles to camp. We were pretty tired when we arrived and didn't waste time setting up camp so we could eat and hit the sack.
We were a little discouraged to see how close the campsites were to each other, but also, we were too tired to look for a more isolated campsite. After getting the tent set up we fired up the Pocket Rocket for some dinner of dehydrated spaghetti that tasted awesome. It was off to the lake near Trail Camp, more a pond really, to chug some gatorade to make sure we were rehydrated from the long hike. The needles and Mt. Whitney's summit was towering above trail camp shown in the photo below.
We could see the some parties still descending the 97 switchbacks and the route up them shown in the photo below. We decided to retire for the evening around 6 p.m. fairly wore out from the approach to camp.
It wasn't long after we decided to retire for the evening that a party of about 8 people arrived in Trail Camp and decided to set their tents up all around us. They were very noisy as they set up camp and made dinner but finally quieted down around 9 p.m. We would have our revenge at 3:30 a.m. when we would be departing for the summit.
October 10, 2002
We both only slept off and on a little bit throughout the night and by 3 a.m. we were both wide awake. I braved the cold to go retreive the bear canister so we can have some breakfast before heading off for the summit. Normally I would feel bad crunching on the snow near other people's tent but I didn't have too much sympathy for the folks that kept us up all evening. We ate, got dressed in almost all the warm clothes we had brought, and hit the trail a little before 4 a.m.
The stars were big and bright as we began traversing up the 97 switchbacks under light of our headlamps. The switchbacks became covered in snow and some slight ice about 1/3 of the way up to Trail Crest. We both had trekking poles and these helped tremendously on the snow and ice. We continued onward deciding the conditions weren't bad enough to put on our crampons. We came to the cable section where the forest service installed cables to help hikers through a section that can be icy. The cables are shown in the photo below, this picture was taken on the descent since it was still dark at this point. The poles provided us enough traction and stability that we didn't have to use the cables for help.
The photo below was taken on the descent but shows what the 97 switchbacks are like. Trail Camp is located by the smaller body of water on the left.
Traversing onward and upward we began guessing how many switchbacks we had came up, 50, then 60, and on and on. We reached Trail Crest at 5:30 a.m. and the skies were still dark. Trail Crest marks the junction of the Mt. Whitney Trail and the John Muir Trail. The wind picked up a little bit and after a short break we were ready to continue the last 2.5 miles to the summit.
Looking west from Trail Crest are the Hitchcock Lakes shown in the photo below.
The trail loses a little bit of elevation from Trail Crest as it begins to skirts along the backside of Mt. Muir and the needles.
As we passed the needles there are notches in the cliffs called "the windows" and at each window we stopped to look east and watch the sky begin to lighten. At each window the sky got a little lighter and we thought we might catch the sunrise from the summit.
After passing Keeler's Needle we knew we were getting close. It was up the backside of another small hill and we could finally see the summit house. We reached the summit at 7:15 a.m., were the first to sign the summit register, and had the roof of the continental U.S. all to ourselves.
We took in the amazing views that surrounded us in all directions. We even decided to check out the 1500 foot East Face of Mt. Whitney shown in the photo below.
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It was very windy and cold on the summit and after removing my glove to get some video my hand was frozen within minutes. We decided to hide out in the summit house to take shelter from the wind. The summit house was built in 1909 by the Smithsonian and was once used for high-altitude research.
We were able to get a cell phone signal just long enough to call our mom and tell her we made it. She broke into tears and it was a proud moment for the family. I have climbed many 14ers but sharing the experience with my brother made it really special. I was a little nervous that the elevation might affect him since he lives at the low elevations of Las Vegas, but he was right with me every step of the way. Must be that tough Wyoming blood that flows through our veins. We were hoping somebody would reach the summit soon so we could get some group photos and head out. After hanging out for more than an hour on the summit it didn't seem like anybody was going to summit anytime soon. Propping my camera up on a rock we were able to get a couple group photos before we departed.
We began our descent and didn't pass another person until we were almost all the way back to Trail Crest. As we descended the 97 switchbacks we could see more people making their way up. Many people were suprised that we had already summitted and were on our way back down. Some people didn't have trekking poles and were really stuggling up the switchbacks. We seen one woman literally crawling on her hands and knees up the slopes. As we neared the bottom of the switchbacks we noticed a jet flying low towards the summit. We had seen a ton of jets the day before and didn't think much of it until it turned and we could make out it's profile. It was a B2 Stealth Bomber and we scrambled to hurry and get a photo of it right over the summit of Mt. Whitney. By the time a took a picture of it the jet had leveled back out and it was hard to tell that it was a stealth bomber. I was disappointed I missed the 1 in a million shot but I did get some good video of the jet flying over Trail Crest. Hope the government doesn't come banging on my door. We got back down to Trail Camp around 11:30 a.m. and decided to cook our dinner for lunch hoping it would give us the motivation to hike the 6 miles back down to the car.
After some lunch and a little rest the temptation of a cold beer, hot pizza, and warm bed were too much to resist so we broke up camp and begin our trek back to the trailhead a little after 1 p.m. It was down past Consulation Lake and the welcome sight of Mirror Lake quickly appeared in the photo below.
We reached Outpost Camp around 3:30 p.m. and needed a break. Taking off the boots for awhile felt like heaven and after about 15 minutes we were ready to continue. We quickly reached Lone Pine Lake and knew it was only 2.5 miles back down to the trailhead. The last 2.5 miles drug on forever as we began traversing back down through the forest.
Eventually we made it back to the trailhead at 5 p.m. completely wore out from the 16 mile day. We hit the Whitney Portal Store for some souvenirs before we headed back to Las Vegas. Overall it was a very scenic hike that left you with a great feeling of accomplishment. It was easy to see why the Sierra Nevadas held such an attraction for Ansel Adams and John Muir.