Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2016-09-03

Climber: bob l

Date:Saturday, September 3, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Whitney
    Elevation:14498 ft / 4418 m

Ascent Trip Report

I doubt I can add anything to what others have already said about Mt. Whitney. All the info you need to prepare for and to accomplish the hike is available on the internet. I suggest that you read everything you can because I think the mental aspect and challenge of the hike is the most important part to conquer. Just know that it’s an epic hike and you are attempting to climb the highest peak in the US! You are trying to do something special! I drove from Las Vegas and stayed at the Whitney Hostel in Lone Pine. Upper cot #3. I haven’t slept in a bunk bed cot in a long time and I had a hard time sleeping. Mt. Whitney and its 22 miles were looming as the evening’s hours ticked by. Some in the room actually started leaving for the trailhead at 12:00 am while another was just getting there an hour or so later. I think I fell asleep around 2:00 am. The alarm went off at 5:00 am. I packed my gear and met my group at 6:00 am at the adjacent hotel. We drove up to the trailhead which is about 13 miles from the center of town and we started marching around 6:30 am or so. Kind of a late start for this hike based on other’s reports. The morning was generously beautiful. The weather was perfect. No wind, no chill, just a comfortable glare from sunrise. The first mile of the hike is a scenic, woodsy walk up a maintained trail. You can tell it’s used a lot. You file your way across some small creeks and time moves by nicely. You reach the first camp area around 3.8 miles out and at this point, the hike seems to stroll along. It seems pretty doable so far. I looked at my elevation numbers and here it was about 10,360. From the camp, the trail and elevation start to strengthen their grip a little as it moves into a more, rocky, uphill terrain. You pass a meadow area then grind your way up some rock facades and steps in order to reach a second camp area at 6.3 miles out. In between these camps, the scenery surrounds you with high rock walls, a lake, and just pure nature. It’s striking. At or near the second camp, you’ve also taken your first steps above 12,000 elevation. At this second camp area, you can see the big challenge ahead. In front of you are the famous switchbacks. These lead up to the top of the ridge that is staring highly back at you. Mt. Whitney sits emperorly and mightily off to the right anchoring this enormous ridge line. The switchbacks are tough and chore-like to negotiate. Some are short tight turns, some are longish straight stretches. I just put my head down and kept moving my feet trying to breathe at a steady pace. You are trudging uphill at a pretty good slant while the elevation seems to be rolling down at you. When you finally finish the switchbacks, there are 95-100 of them depending on which reports you read, you reach Trail Crest and 13,777 elevation. That’s the highest I’ve ever been so far and here I could feel the mountain’s breathy, rarified air. To get to the summit, it’s a 2 ½ mile traverse across the ridgeline which hugs the top backside of the mountain. For most of the way, the ridge is rocky and moves up and down and also requires some minor hopping here and there, but the trail is clearly visible and navigable. The main battle along the ridge is with the elevation. It’s like a presence around you. I was determined not to let it in. Although you can see the summit from most of the ridge walk, it’s a slow motion few miles getting there. Eventually, I reached the small noble cabin that sits on the summit plateau and I realized that I had made it. I was standing at 14,495. Others have said that you feel like the tallest person in the world and it’s true. It’s a great, difficult mountain to ascend. I was super proud of myself. On top, I was still worried about the elevation effects so after basking for too short of a time, I headed down. Retracing the 11 miles back to the trail head was work, but along the way I was able to contemplate and savor this hard earned accomplishment. This hike definitely fulfills as a once in a lifetime event.
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