Friday, August 17, 2007

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...