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...