Mt. Whitney

Intro: I wrote this blog in two parts. The first part is in present tense from Trail Camp, and the second part is written in past tense on the car ride back to Huntington Beach. The trip spanned 4 days: Thursday, June 18th through Sunday, June 21st.

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Joe Wuest, Jake Wuest, Callie Beebe, David Barkdull, Justin Wuest

Thursday (written in present tense): It’s been an interesting trip so far. We picked up the leader of our hiking party (Jake) from the Long Beach Airport and headed straight for Whitney. We met up with the rest of the crew at Boulder Creek RV Park. They were road tripping from Coeur d’Alene, ID and they had a 5th wheel to make the trip more comfortable.  It was ridiculously hot at the RV park. It was at least over 100 degrees today.

The route: Beginning at Whitney Portal and continuing to Trail Camp, 99 Switchbacks,m Trail Crest, the backside of Mt. Muir and Keeler Needle, up to Mt. Whitney.
The route: Beginning at Whitney Portal and continuing to Trail Camp, 99 Switchbacks, Trail Crest, the backside of Mt. Muir and Keeler Needle, up to Mt. Whitney.
Justin, stream crossing.
Justin, stream crossing.
Lone Pine Lake
Lone Pine Lake

Today (Friday) has been incredible. I’m writing this from Trail Camp. We’re a ways above the tree line so there’s no shade and the wind is blowing pretty good. There are no clouds in the sky and from here you can see Mt. Muir, Keeler Needle and Mt. Whitney very well. It’s hard to imagine people looking up at that and thinking, “Hmm, that looks like a good idea.” What about in the early 1900s? The equipment back then was nowhere near what it is today and there was no trail. No modern water filtration or fancy light weight tents. It gives you a whole new level of appreciation when you look at it from that perspective.

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“Sunset” behind Mt. Muir

Sunday (written in past tense thinking back on the experience): We left Trail Camp at 5 am on Friday. Others had left earlier (One group said they left at 1:30 am), but we found that 5 am was a good time for us. The sun was beginning to rise so there was no need for a head lamp, but it was nice and cool out. Leaving Trail Camp, the next section of trail is called the 99 switchbacks. As you’re climbing, you can see Trail Camp below and out to the valley below. Whitnessing the sun rise from that exposed section of the mountain was nothing short of incredible. The sun shone off Mt. Whitney creating some nice lighting.

Sunrise from the 99 switchbacks.
Sunrise from the 99 switchbacks.

It’s important to be careful when you’re climbing the top portion of the 99 switchbacks because the water runoff inevitably follows the trail down, creating some icy spots. There’s actually a spot where they put in some cable railing and I remember thinking, “Is this a joke? What do we need this for?” The snow packs along the inner side of that section and the runoff hits the outside, so there’s lots of ice. The other side of the railing features a rapid decent down to the bottom.

Callie hiking through a particularly icy section of the trail.
Callie hiking through a particularly icy section of the trail.

Trail Crest

After the 99 switchbacks we got to Trail Crest which was great because the sun was high enough in the sky at that point that the wind whipping through there was good for cooling us down. Looking off the backside, you see Sequoia National Forest and a few lakes including Guitar Lake. I don’t know the names of the others, but the way that the sun was hitting the range we were on, cast a shadow on the mountains on the other side, but the tops were still getting the sun too, so there was a strange reflection on the lakes below that I’d never seen before.

Trail Crest looking off the backside into Sequoia National Forest.
Trail Crest looking off the backside into Sequoia National Forest.

At this point we were a little over 2 miles from the top, but it was a fun 2 miles. Despite my 110 bpm heart rate beating in my head, the experience pushed us forward at break neck speed. We slowed at the gaps between mountains though. There’s a nice gap on the far side of Mt. Muir and Keeler Needle that we stopped to take pictures at and also catch some more of that wind pushing through.

Jake at the Keeler Needle gap.
Jake at the Keeler Needle gap.

The Summit

The last section of trail is pretty uneventful. Lots of rocks, but still some pretty nice views of Sequoia. We got to the summit at 8:15 am and spent the next hour soaking in the views. Since our hiking group was split into two groups, Justin, Jake and I got to the summit about 45 minutes faster than the rest of the pack. This gave us time to take a generous amount of panorama photos and take a nap. Seriously though, the rocks up on top are very big, flat and slightly sloped, and we weren’t the only ones who noticed this.

Catching my breath at the top.
Catching my breath at the top.

An interesting thing I found on the top of Whitney, was the benchmarks. There were a few of them, but none had the elevation listed. It seems that the actual elevation of Mt. Whitney is debatable. People say that the mountain is still getting taller, so the number changes from time to time. I thought it would be interesting though if the benchmarks had the elevation on them, that way you could see what the elevation was on that particular year. There is a sign that has the elevation, but I’m told that that number is out of date now too. If you take a look at one of the benchmarks below, there’s no elevation listed on it.

Benchmark U43  from 1926 with elevation missing.
Benchmark U43 from 1926 with elevation missing.
Callie and I on top of the world!
Callie and I on top of the world!
Callie taking a rest and enjoying the views.
Callie taking a rest and enjoying the views.

We made it back down to trail camp in about an hour and 45 minutes. We got there about an hour faster than the rest of the group, so we were able to break down camp, refill all the water and get ready for the last 6 miles out. At that point our joints and muscles were pretty tired, but we made it. It was sweltering hot, but the motivating thought was that there were hamburgers and ice cold soda waiting for us at the trailhead. Another trip in the bag and some memories we’ll never forget.

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Next up: The John Muir Trail.

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