Climbing Mount Whitney has been a goal for a couple years. After several cancelled trips and the knowledge that this climbing season would be my last in this area, it was time to do my first solo 14er. Someday I hope to do the Mountaineer's Route, but going alone, I opted for the 22 mile Whitney Trail because it's technically very easy.
The trip ultimately started with securing a Whitney area permit online. After driving 5 hours and arriving Sunday afternoon at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center (open 'daily') to pick up my permit, I realized that all of the employees who ran the station had been furloughed. No permits, self-service, night pick-up or otherwise were available. I made an assumption that if no one is available to issue permits, no one would be available to issue citations either. Unfortunately, I believe this also means that no one would be available to maintain parts of the park or help coordinate if a rescue of some sort was required (other than volunteer SAR).
Whitney Portal Road
Driving in on Whitney Portal Road was beautiful. At 4pm the portal itself was busy, with a handful of people out and about, individuals coming down the trail, dozens of cars parked around, and the Whitney Portal Store dishing out burgers. Apparently most national parks have been closed because of the disagreements in congress, but the only obvious sign here was having closed restrooms with someone's handwritten addition. Whitney has no gates to close, so in that I suppose it remained open.
Wandering around the portal had nice views, like this waterfall running by the campground.
Whitney Portal Waterfall
I decided to just sleep in the back of my 4Runner next to the start of the trail to simplify an early wake up. Setting my alarm for 2:00am, I woke early at 1:50; after some oatmeal and coffee, I was on the trail at 2:30. My $1 thermometer said 41 deg F when I began. With a new moon above, the brilliant stars did little to brighten the path. Even so, the trail is very well maintained and easy to follow. At only two points in my time in the dark did I question the path, wander a few feet off to make sure I was on the actual trail, and continue on. I wasn't expecting it, but someone even constructed a log path.
The only event of note early on was stumbling across what appeared to be two giant eyes staring at me in the black of night. I stopped in my tracks and watched, moved a little and saw the eyes move with me. I had a whistle on me, so as I slowly followed the trail (which naturally drew me closer) I chirped a few times .. until I realized that someone's camp cookware set was reflecting back from my headlamp. To whomever was in the tent trying to sleep, my apologies for probably waking you with my whistle.
Sunrise occured at trail camp where I refilled water. I started the hike with a 2 liter platypus with 1 liter spare in my pack. I had drunk 1.5 liter at this point so refilled. It was a beautiful sunrise.
Sunrise at Trail Camp
The 99 switchbacks are easy to see as you climb.
Toward the top of the switchbacks, you get a view of Whitney and can actually see the outpost on top if you look really closely in the picture below.
Whitney hut in the distance
Crossing over to trail crest gives views to the west of the palisades.
Following trail crest also gives a few climpses to the east.
The last 2 miles on trail crest was actually pretty easy, and the last quarter mile had almost no elevation gain, as the west side of Whitney is a giant mound. The outpost was in great shape and gave some welcomed protection from the cold wind. Total time up was 8 hr 20 min. After some food, a few minutes rest and a couple obligatory summit photos taken by a fellow climber who arrived 5 minutes after me, I started the long trek back.
Obligatory Summit Shot 1
Obligatory Summit Shot 2
The east side of Whitney drops off and gives some beautiful views.
This panoramic is interesting because you can see both sides of the ridge, from the 99 switchbacks to trail crest. You can actually see where I was standing when I took picture #7.
Over the last hundred years or so, a significant amount of work has gone into making this a nice trail. Some sections were so developed that stairs essentially existed as in the picture below. Being such an accessible trail, it gets a lot of use as well. On the way up I passed 1 person, but on the way down I crossed paths with nearly 2 dozen. I stopped again at trail camp to refill another 2 liters of water. A filter is much easier to carry than the 3.5 liters I refilled or the 5.5 liters I drank in total. There are at least a few more weeks of liquid water to filter before things freeze.
The weather turned out to be perfect, the hike enjoyable, and overall a great success. Fortunately I didn't run into any problems; even though it is an easy trail, it is a long way from help.
One oddity I noticed was having jet flyovers. During the down hike, I counted 18 separate sorties fly above me, each 2 jets. Edwards AFB training events?
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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