After climbing Mount Fuji last year, I was interested in similarly-leveled day hikes in North America. I discovered that Mount Whitney (located near Lone Pine, California) is the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. This seemed like the perfect challenge to take on.
Because I was battling with uncertain road trip dates, juggling another lottery entry (Half Dome cables), and just kind of forgot, I didn’t put in a bid for this year’s Whitney lottery.
By some mysterious chance, I looked at available dates online just days before Greg and I left on our trip, and there it was! June 20th! What scared me a little at the time was that we were set to complete the Half Dome hike on the 18th, only two days prior. I knew it would be an exhausting week.
What I didn’t anticipate was how tired I would be, just from traveling and living out of a car. In addition to that, I read every single report and review of the Mount Whitney trail conditions which quickly terrified me.
Though the Snow was melting quickly, there would likely still be snow toward the top of the hike. I have very little hiking experience and even less in the snow and ice. I bought some equipment and taught myself the simple self-arrested methods. I tried hard and read everything I could to prepare myself.
The day before we were set to attempt the hike, I got an email out of nowhere saying that I was a “no-show” and never picked up my permit. I freaked out and called the Inyo National Forest’s permit information line. I had never “confirmed” the reservation which meant that it had to be picked up by noon the day before the hike or it was released. I thought I had read all of the information and fine print, but I somehow missed this. Luckily, a Forest Service ranger saved the day and grabbed my permits back.
I picked up my permits, and got all the information I needed, including a “wag bag” for carrying out any solid human waste. I had decided I would rather hold it than ever use the wag bag. I even hesitated to bring it with me.
We arrived at Whitney Portal, made dinner, and scoped out the area. I tried to get to bed by 7 (that didn’t work) for our midnight wake up time.
Too soon, the alarm went off, and we were off. We left on the trail at 12:50. I was pleased with the constant, but relatively low grade of elevation gain. Very quickly, we were moving slowly. Constantly, but slowly.
Even worse, the elevation was drawing my attention to my uneasy tummy. I swear it was only a mile in, and I had to use the damn wag bag. I carried that thing for the entire hike.
I consider myself a very fit person, but fast hiking doesn’t come easy to me. We were moving slowly and being passed, even in the dark early morning hours. My energy was low, and my recent cold symptoms were acting up.
We missed most of the sights under the tree line because of the dark morning hours, but the sunrise was beautiful. It was nice to not use the head lamps, but it was getting hot quickly.
We kept moving at a constant slow pace, but morale was low. After trail camp, we headed up the pre-99-switchbacks switchbacks. We heard warnings from rangers and other hikers about the icy conditions at the cables section. We made it a few steps before seeing the problem area. The cables and poles were essentially useless, and crampons were needed for a comfortable crossing. There were people doing it with only trail runners, but we were skeptical. It would be easy to get across now, but coming back in a few hours would be unpredictable. Plus, we had no idea what was ahead of us.
We made the decision to turn around here. We still had amazing views of the valley and a long way back. Plenty of people crossed with no problems, but it wasn’t our day to summit. Safety should be everyone’s number ONE concern, and there was no telling how much ice or slush would be there on the way back down.
We headed back, informing everyone along the way of what we saw. Everyone was very friendly and eager to stop and chat.
The hike back seemed infinite. I didn’t remember most of the hike we did in the dark. The last switchbacks were endless.
Seeing the parking lot brought me so much relief. I immediately disposed of my wag bag in the wag bag dumpster and used a real toilet for the first time that day.
We took our boots off and tasted the sweet nectar of coconut La Croix (we were newly obsessed).
We had a good meal from the Portal Store: a veggie burger and fries. The fries were AMAZING. I was in major need of those calories, and the whole thing was very enjoyable.
After spending $15 on two magnets and a sticker (I don’t know where that total came from), we headed to the car where we would chill, have dinner, and sleep for the night.
Overall, it was a positive experience. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t summit, but I don’t need to look at a switchback for a very long time – not sure if hiking is my thing.