Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2017-07-28

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Others in Party:Austin Kaase
David Heffernan
John Cook
Michael Midgette
Whit Miller
Date:Friday, July 28, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Whitney
    Elevation:14498 ft / 4418 m

Ascent Trip Report

This has been a bucket-list hike from very early in my life because of its significance in being the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. And here we are, making it a reality.

We lucked out with the lottery, getting our permits for Friday July 28th for our group of 6 peakbaggers. Austin and John from Atlanta, Mike and Whit from SF, David and I from San Diego.

Leading up to this trip we paid close attention to the Trip Reports from the Whitney Portal Hostel message board - which is updated almost daily with people's experiences from both the main trail and the Mountaineer's route.

The Atlanta and SD crew united in SD and we drove up to Lone Pine 2 days in advance to attempt to acclimatize somewhat by camping at 10,000 feet in Horseshoe Meadows - $6 to camp in some super nice campgrounds. The next day, Thursday the 27th, we had a morning 1-hour hike and then proceeded to collect our permits from the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center. We arrived at 11am when they were beginning to raffle off the unclaimed permits. We explained that we had reservations and we were told to wait with everyone else. Soon, as the raffle was starting, we spoke up again and another one of the rangers told us we can check in. A brief moment of panic, as we almost had our permits given away!

We stayed in Lone Pine at the Whitney Portal hostel in a 6-person private room for $196 per night tax incl. This turned out to be a great home base during our trip. We had lunch at the Alabama Hills Cafe - which was the food highlight of the trip. After the SF contingent arrived, we loaded up on supplies at the local supermarket, geared up for the big hike. In the afternoon we drove up to the Whitney Portal and hiked the first 20 minutes of the trail and chatted with a few spent-looking hikers that were finishing their day. It was a good thing we made the drive to the portal because it took a good half hour, where google maps said it was 15 minutes. Later, we were in bed lights out by 8pm, ready for our 2:15am wake up.

Alarms went off and we were up and about and out of the hostel by 2:45am, arriving at the Trailhead at 3:15am, and beginning our hike at 3:25am - 5 minutes ahead of schedule. We were warned of afternoon thunderstorms, so we gave ourselves a 12:30pm turnaround time.

We were making great time in the early morning before sunrise, getting to about 5 miles in before sunrise. Whit and I opted for wearing sandals in the beginning due to the numerous water crossings. We crossed maybe 2 streams leading up to the meadow, which was the most wet area in the trial. Also a beautiful place. We arrived here about 3 hours at daybreak. We continued on and took our lunch break at about 11,000 feet, 5 miles in around 8:00am, still clear of any altitude problems. I switched from my Shamma sandals to my Salomon boots at this point. Arriving at High Camp at 12,000 feet at around 8:45am, we filled our water (3 litres) one last time, and we set off for the switchbacks.

This is where the hike gets hard. At this point, you can feel how much less oxygen there is in the air, and the trail is straight up some gradual switchbacks. It took us almost 2 hours to climb this section to the trail crest. Midgette, Whit and I held up the rear - slow going for us, while Heff and John charged up, followed by Kaase. Heff said he was up there probably an hour waiting for us to catch up. At the trail crest we got an amazing view in all directions, and the whole time the summit in sight taunting us during the approach. We had another break here and got going around 11am.

Heff and John again were off the front setting a fast pace. The rest of us started with me leading the way. I was feeling pretty woozy/wobbly, but had to catch myself as we had about a 1,500 foot sheer drop to our left. A wrong step here would mean certain death. We thought we were close to the summit at this point - only 900 feet elevation to gain and only 2 miles to hike. However, this ended up being the toughest part of the whole day. After a few minutes I started to feel determined to make it to this summit and the adrenaline kicked and I was feeling great. My pace quickened and I charged away from the rest of the guys. Kaase was not doing so well. Whit stayed behind to hike with him as he dealt with his altitude sickness symptoms. I soon reeled in John and Heff as we made our way to the rock pile about a half mile from the summit. Here it became route-finding as we followed tiny cairns up this jagged pile of rough boulders. This wouldn't be very tough normally, but after hiking for 8 hours and being at 14,000 feet elevation - it was hard! We navigated our way up until we saw the mountain hut. From there, adrenaline kicked in once more and we had a clear path to the summit party - a bunch of people were on top taking in the views. Heff and I reached the summit a few minutes before noon and John was not very far behind. A wave of emotions came over me at this point -
an incredible feeling. Midgette joined us about 15 minutes later. We congratulated eachother and took in the view and got a few pictures - but this whole time we were worried about Austin and whether he would make it. 12:30 came around and there was no sign of any storm, so Heff volunteered to hike down to see if he could spot them. He returned saying he saw 2 hikers far away, so we gave them until 1pm to get to the top. 1pm came and still no sign of them, and we decided it was time to start hiking down. Not long after we departed (7 minutes or so) we came across Kaase sitting on a rock with Whit by his side. He was looking rough, we had to get him down, but not before we got him up. So we all hiked back to the top as a group, shouting words of encouragement for Austin as we charged back to the summit. We got one group picture and then it was time to get him, and us, down.

Returning back down this rocky crest trail was tough, as the effects of being at this altitude for a long time had weakened us. Austin was struggling. Taking many breaks. He pointed out the rock he vomited on coming up. For a guy who was feeling so bad he still had a good sense of humor. We got to the trail crest around 2pm and took no break. Whit was not doing so well either at altitude, not talking much and looking very fatigued. He took the lead to take "the chute" to glissade down from the trail crest. There was still plenty of snow to do it. I was impressed with his glissading technique as he was in control the whole way down. I decided to follow suit and take the chute down as well. I was not quite as graceful as him, picking up a bit too much speed, but able to stop myself when needed. Definitely a thrill. We then traversed a big snowfield to meet back up with the bottom of the switchbacks at High Camp.

Here, Whit was still not looking great. I went off and used my "wag bag" and felt 100 times better. I encouraged him to do the same. We were both worried about Kaase due to his history of bad knees descending, and that switchback section is not forgiving whatsoever. But to our surprise, a few minutes later we see a guy charging down the trail way faster than anyone else. And sure enough, it was Austin! The guy was flying. He put a huge gap on everyone else and they couldn't even keep up with him. He was back to his old self and was looking great. We regrouped, refilled our water, and got going once more. It was about 4:00pm and we had about 6 miles to go and 4,500 feet to descend. We figured we could make it down in about 2 hours from there.

I led the way on the descent, down to the tree line, where immediately it became easier to breathe. It's amazing how much of a difference it makes. We were moving well and taking in the sights. We arrived at the meadow and the trail flattened out. It was amazing to see this area again in the afternoon light - we weren't able to completely appreciate in the darkness of the early morning. As we descended past the meadow, my body started feeling tired. I think this meadow was the perfect ecosystem and the most lush with life, and even noticeable humidity. As we descended past this I was feeling the dry air and my body starting to ache. I was kind of fading off the back with Mike as we hiked up alongside Lone Pine lake. I really wanted to go swimming. I tried to yell at the guys up ahead, but they didn't hear me - they were dead set on descending to get a burger at the Whitney Portal store. I waited for Mike to catch up and told him I was going to go swimming and I would see him at the bottom. He said well if you're going I'm going - I didn't even think of asking him at first. Who would pass up this opportunity to swim in an alpine lake in the Sierras? Lone Pine lake is slightly off trail requiring about a 5-minute bushwhacky hike. We got there and we were the only ones there. The water was so still and inviting. I jumped in - the water was cold but it felt amazing. What a place. After we both swam for 5 minutes we got back dressed and hiked our way out, meeting the guys at the bottom around 7:30pm.

Just a spectacular day from start to finish. We all shared a beer at the portal store and made our way back to Lone Pine. This hike did not disappoint and I would do it again in a heartbeat. The best thing about it I think was sharing it with this great group of guys. It really felt amazing to accomplish the highest mountain we had ever climbed together.

The next day we went up to Sabrina lake outside up Bishop to relax, and enjoyed some waterfalls and some of the spectacular driving on US Route 395. We capped off the trip with a visit to Jake's Saloon in town and a walk out to check out the stars. The Owens Valley, Eastern Sierras, and Lone Pine were a great host for us. Awesome place. We all left this trip feeling more tough, victorious, and more like men.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6124 ft / 1866 m
    Round-Trip Distance:22 mi / 35.4 km
    Route:Mount Whitney Trail
    Trailhead:Whitney Portal  8374 ft / 2552 m
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Perfect day
Ascent Statistics
    Time:8 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:6 Hours 30 Minutes

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