Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Mt. Whitney Hike: the North and West Sides (Part 6)

Looking more to the northeast one can see some ice which is a lake. Tulainyo Lake has an elevation of 12,802 feet high. Some say it is the highest lake in the lower 48, but after doing a quick Google search I really don't think that is true unless there is a qualification on what a "lake" has to be. It is famous for being the starting point for the "Wedding of the Waters" that took place in the late 30's. Water was transported in a relay to the lowly elevated Badwater in Death Valley.
This next picture is looking north. You can barely see White Mountain in the middle in the distance. Another 14'er is Russell not too far away which is in the middle below.
There are a ton of peaks I could identify in the following pictures, but I'll pass on that. On this day I could see most of the peaks about 60 miles away. That would be in the realm of the town of Bishop. Peaks, like the Palisades, could be seen.
A zoom on the same area:
This is more to the northwest. You can see that the rocks were built as shelter against the wind below. It turns out that the Kern River starts out ahead just below in this valley.
The Kaweah's. A very interesting range.
A zoom of the Kaweah's:
I finished my time at the summit by standing on the highest block with this benchmark. For about a minute I was the tallest person or object in the lower 48.
Often I have read in books, on the net, on the signs at the trailhead that the summit is only half of the hike because you have to travel the same distance on the way down. While this is true for this hike I do not look at it this way. On any peak hike I give it my all and let it all hang out to get to the summit. I don't worry about the trip back. In fact, for this hike I felt like it was a victory celebration going down. I was relieved I actually got to the top so I just enjoyed going down taking pictures and talking to people. I got back down in just over 5 hours, but I stopped a lot for these pictures and to take in the air. After I got past Lone Pine Lake my legs felt like they were pounding the ground like a nail getting hit by a hammer. I got back to my truck, ate in Lone Pine, then took off home.

I don't like giving advice on a hike like this since I can get a way with a lot of stuff that others can't. For example, I have been to high elevations since I was kid so I don't really get the symptoms of altitude sickness someone else might. My training for this was a total joke. I didn't do any peak hikes leading up to this hike, but I do a lot of walking/jogging at sea level. A lot of people do this hike then show up on the Whitney Portal Forum and start talking like experts for everyone and giving advice. I want to avoid that and just say you need to know yourself; meaning, know your strengths and limitations through experience. My main concerns were the following:

1)Having the leg strength up to the summit.

2)If the altitude would be a problem.

3)My legs on the way down which is a different type of pounding than #1.

Liquids are more important than anything else on any hike I do. I only needed to sip 3 Gatorades to get the summit. I used water from the 25th switchback on the way down and a filled up in a small stream within the first mile from the trailhead near the very end of the hike.
The final factor and most important is TIME. No matter how I am doing on a hike, if I know I have plenty of time or the whole day to do it then I feel great. This is the reason I always start hikes before the sun comes up.

Please use this site if you are a newbie and want to try the hike:

Bill's Whitney Day Hike site.

The Mt. Whitney Hike: The South and East Sides (Part 5)

The funny thing is after I got to the top after all that time spent hiking I never really stopped moving. I immediately got the camera out and starting shooting anything I could. I talked a bit to the people above, but I never really rested. The next thing I knew I had been up there for about an hour and twenty minutes. Time went really fast. Okay, here is the summit hut:
The summit hut was sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. It was built by G.F. Marsh of Lone Pine in 1908. It took just over a month to build it. They packed mules up here to get the foundations made. I always thought it would be much bigger than it was. It has two rooms. Only one is open to the public. I looked in and it had room for about 3 people to put down their sleeping bags. Personally, I would only feel comfortable by myself or maybe another person. It just seemed too cramped for my size. If weather conditions are bad then it is not a good place to stay since lightning has and will kill people inside it.

The above picture is looking in a southwest direction. You can see the Great Western Divide to the right and back of the picture. As I mentioned last time it is what divides the eastern and western parts of the Sierra. The picture below marks the southern portion and part of where I had come from in the last part of the hike.
A few feet over and you can see the drop off. There was a rock I stood on up there that was sort of like a teeter totter. It would slowly move once you stand on it. I felt comfortable up there, but thinking about it now sometimes I get really close to edges that maybe I shouldn't. Recently I was on a high area that I was not too familiar with and I had a bad feeling about it. I hope I never step on the wrong rock that really isn't that grounded. I have had people tell me they did not like how far I got over some edge sometimes. ;)
In this picture, the highest one in the middle is Mt. Langley. In the distance to the right is Olancha Peak. There are some others that I can't remember off the top of my head.
To the middle left we have Lone Pine Peak which is the most prominent and some times confused with Whitney for newbies who come to Lone Pine for the first time. It's about 2000 feet lower, but more of a scramble to get to. Someday I need to tackle that one.
Here we have the view looking back at Lone Pine and the eastern side. Whitney Portal, where I began the hike, would be in the lower middle at the end of the road. This is the shot I wanted since I always look up this way from all my Alabama Hills shots and movies I watch.
Here is the zoom.
There were no clouds on this day, but the 395 side of the Sierra always has a hazy look to it while I am there. The Western side was very clear that day.

Next up: the final entry with the north and west sides.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Mt. Whitney Hike: The Final Push to the Summit (Part 4)

The interesting rock formations to the left of the trail go on for a while, but then disappear as you start to get close to the final ascent.
You can barely see it, but, the trail goes to one of those patches of snow below and then the final 10 minutes is just a zig-zag trail to the top. Somewhere around this point that I finally encountered two people using the trail and passed them up. They complained it was too cold. I agreed, but I had just enough clothes on and had put on some gloves that I was feeling great. Keep in mind that everyone, except for me, this early in the morning had been camping just below at Trail Camp so that would explain why they felt so cold. I had many hours of hiking to keep myself warm since I had come from the portal.
Guitar Lake:
A good shot of what those needles look like from the back side. The Paiutes had a story about a Hawk who plucked two of his feathers to capture and kill a bee that had cause much havok among other animals. These "little Whitney's" are the feathers.
This is looking back south and partly where I had just been. Muir peak is the high point in the picture and can be climbed as a side trip off the main trail...maybe next time.
The base of the mountain and the last 10 minutes of the hike.
It was at this point I said to myself, "it looks like I am actually going to pull this off". I saw the summit hut. I knew my long journey was coming to and end.
However, I decided I was not going to stop until I reached the plaque. Which is just a little further on the other side. When I reached the plaque I stopped, took a drink, and started taking pictures.
There were two people already on top at 8:30am in the morning. Three guys had stayed over night in the summit hut. As I was taking pictures more people came up and I saw a bunch heading up as I went down. The altitude really had no obvious effects on me at all during the whole trip. I never really did any altitude hikes the months going into the hike nor did I train for this at all this year. I do keep myself in okay shape by jogging and taking regular walks, but I felt I could do a lot better time wise if I do this again.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Whitney Hike: The Sequoia Side (Part 3)

Of course, the other factor one should be concerned with on this hike is the weather. Another reason I did not want to do this hike late in the middle of summer is the chances of lightning and bad conditions are greater. On this day there was no clouds in the sky. A perfect day so that issue was completely out of the picture I guess it makes sense to say. A few weeks later that would be a different story with lightning strikes causing fires in nearby Independence on the 395 affecting the whole area with dark smoke. On to the hike, at this point over the pass you enter Sequoia National Park and can see "behind" Mt. Whitney to the Great Western Divide range which is the dividing point between the Eastern and Western Sierras.
Looking back down from where I came:
At this point I was sure I would make it, but the last 2.5 miles goes on a lot further than one would think. You descend a few hundred feet right away knowning this is going to be troublesome on the way back. Keep in mind it is about 11 miles to the top, but you have to go back those 11 miles. Any uphill on the way down is annoying. There are a few spots like that.
The trail is a good one here assuming you do not encounter snow/ice. Lots of interesting rock formations to look at part of the way there.
I think my favorite viewing part of the hike is the area known as the "windows". These are the areas between the needles or spikes to the south of Whitney; most pictures you see of Whitney they are to the left of it. What is cool and can be a bit scary is on some of these the trail is only a few feet wide on these spots. There are long drop offs on both sides. Check this out:
It does not look like it, but the above picture is like a bridge. As you cross it and look to the right you get this:
Thats a nice drop off. On some of these it would take a while to hit bottom. On the left of me you get this:
On the above picture you might hit those rocks a bit quicker, but the results are still the same on a drop. I had no problems with this area, as most people, but some get scared and I can only imagine what it must feel like if there is a giant gust of wind coming through the windows.
The above picture is of Hitchcock Lakes. This is on the Sequoia side. There are lots of interesting things to see on this side of the hike that one cannot see from below.

More to come...

The Whitney Hike: Switchbacks to Trail Crest (Part 2)

I started the dreaded 96+ switchbacks. I have read there were originally 99, but then some work was done and they were cut to 97 or 96. I never have figured out how many there actually are. The thing is the whole hike has switchbacks, but these are the main switchbacks everyone refers to that get you over the pass.
At the beginning they are very short, and you get up to 25 of them really quick. The 25th one was important because I knew I could get clean water from it on the way down. I took four bottles of Gatorade and one empty bottle to be filled here. Funny thing is I only used three bottles of Gatorade to get to the top. I was surprised about that. People say you need a lot more than what I had with me. For some reason on the way down I never really needed that much water. I was prepared, but never drank that fourth bottle of my trusty Gatorade. I filled up water twice though on the way down.
This was the dreaded area. Since I had never experienced this area I was concerned about it. The cable area is about 45 switchbacks in and is dangerous. Any slips through those cables and you die. Had this been a good snow season this would have been more difficult. One of the reasons I was confident in going this early in the summer was that you could pass through it without touching any snow/ice. The thing to keep in mind is during the early morning hours many of the switchbacks had some ice on them. So I was pretty careful, not only here, but on all of them.
Okay, I got by the part I was most concerned with. Now I was feeling pretty good for a few minutes. Then, my head tightened up a bit. I was thinking I was starting to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness. I had not been over 12,279 feet before. I was thinking it might start getting worse and I might get a headache. I had some advil to use, but never did. The switchbacks continued to get monotonous and longer. I then started having doubts I would make it. It seemed like about 80% of this trip I was not sure I would make it.
At this point I could see my final destination. If you look real close you can see the summit hut.
Looking back down you can see Consultation Lake.
Iceberg Lake in the furtherest one in the distance and is right below the summit of Whitney.
There were people in front of me that morning on the switchbacks. They seemed so far away. Then after all 96+ of them I saw the sign I was looking for.
Actually, you see the backside of it and have to get in front of it to see this side. But, once I reached Trail Crest I was feeling good now. Everything I had suffered during those morning hours in the dark was past me. Even though I still had a long 2.5 miles and about 1000 feet to go (with a 500 foot decline in there somewhere) I was pretty sure I was going to finish now. Most people turn around about this point during their first time. What I thought might be altitude sickness was nothing at all. My theory is that if you are feeling good at this point you WILL make it. It is just a matter of time.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Whitney Hike: Lone Pine Lake Area to Trail Camp (Part 1)

Okay, here is one I have been promising for a while. I have talked about 1/5 of this hike before. Anyone can hike to Lone Pine Lake without a permit, but beyond it you must have one of the precious permits. I am going to skip talking about the trailhead to Lone Pine Lake and just refer to the old entries:

Mt. Whitney Area 1
Mt. Whitney Area 2
Mt. Whitney Area 3

Originally I was going to do this hike later in the summer with my brother, but his work schedule made it impossible. I decided to do this hike by myself instead. Two things made it possible: 1)It is a drought year so there was very little snow on the treacherous parts of the main trail. 2)Many permits were available early in the summer. So even though I had two permits I had paid for via the lottery for the main trail I decided to take my chances and just go for a walk in.

I had to wait until 11 am the day before the hike to get a permit, but I did it. I then drove as quickly as possible to Whitney Portal. I had the famous burger at the store and just waited around for the next 13 hours or so. It was very warm even at the portal, and if someone were watching me they would think I was depressed. I was not very happy with the conditions. I could not get any rest due to the heat. By the time the sun went down I was laying in the back of my truck, but could not go to sleep. Too much anxiety over possible bears, people driving by, and the hike itself. At 1 am I decided to take off.

It took me an hour and half to get to Lone Pine Lake. My pack was more heavy than I expected, my flashlight was really not very bright, and I was going much slower than I thought. I realized my penlight was much brighter than the flashlight so I changed batteries!

Okay, keep in mind that most of the following pictures were shot on the way down. I have to do this because most of these areas I crossed by in the dark, and I want to show how it the trail looks all the way to the summit. So, here is the point where you need the special wilderness permit:
By this time, my trekking pole started to collapse on me. It's around 2:30 am at this point. I figured I would have some problems like I do early on most hikes, but this was getting annoying. Keep in mind it was really dark, I was by myself, and wondering if I would encounter any other living creatures on the trail. I reached Bighorn Meadow. At this point I was concerned about getting off trail, but I really had nothing to worry about. Things flattened out for the next 15 minutes.
Of course, I did not see this on the way up, but it is a nice waterfall in the area that is probably really nice on a non-drought year. I liked it as it was.
Everyonce in a while I would look back like this. Futher up you can see all the lights down in Lone Pine. I saw a falling star as I continued up. This is looking back at Bighorn Meadow and one of the first places people often camp, Outpost Camp.
It was not too far after this that I accidentally crossed over some rocks and left the trail. The next thing I knew my flashlight was hitting some guys sleeping bag! OH NO! I said, very quietly, "Oh shoot, sorry!" I kept walking and was lost. I came back and the man asked me if he could help. He told me I crossed over the rocks and missed the switchback. I was really stunned. I went back and still was in the wrong direction.

I could not find the trail. At this point I was so miserable over the situation as it was that I was just about to turn back. Many thoughts went through my head. I can't tell you how close I was to saying, "Screw this, I need to go back home and get on with my life. I am fooling myself in trying to do this." I can only attribute the grace and mercy of God on this one. Somehow in my last attempt to find the trail I saw my mistake. It makes me sick thinking back on how I almost screwed this one up. Some other thoughts that I was thinking...if I turned around I don't think I would ever enjoy watching any of those movies with Mt. Whitney in the background...there are a bunch of elementary school kids that know me that knew I would be doing this hike. It would be like they were kicking me in the chest each time they asked how I did. Even though I found the trail here at around 3 am I still was not too confident I would make it, but I just told myself just keep going and see what it is like when the sun comes up. Here is how the beautiful Mirror Lake looks from above.
I kept going higher and higher. I was still going at a slow pace, but I felt my ability to follow the trail with my flashlight was a bit better. It isn't a hard trail to follow, but in the middle of the night anything can happen. I had seen pictures and videos of this trail before, but I did not recognize the following area. I wasn't sure if I was going the correct way, but I was on a good trail.
The next thing I knew things were getting a little lighter out, not sunlight, but it was not as dark. I could see the high wall of the canyon and then Consultation Lake on my left!
A few minutes after this I realized that I could shut my flashlight off and walk! It was around 5 am, the sun was not really out yet, but there was enough light. I had reached Trail Camp at this point! I started seeing people on each side of me on the trail in tents and sleeping bags. My spirits lifted a bit thinking I might actually pull this off after all! I had a funny feeling as I felt as if I was being shown a bunch of homeless people on each side of the trail. I have read people refer to this trail area as "the slums of the backcountry". It is not that bad, but it makes sense to me.
At this point I had gone 6 miles and a few thousand feet. With the sunlight coming out I was feeling pretty good, but I knew the worst was coming. Early in the morning I was looking back on the people. You have to look closely, but there are people here and some tents around.
At this point I had gone about 4 hours. Now I had to deal with what many consider the toughest part of the main trail: the 96+ switchbacks!

To be continued...