Wednesday, October 6, 2010

summiting mount whitney - part 2

the alarm clock blaring at 3:10am, i bounce out of bed and almost get annihilated by the tommy gun spray of the best western shower. a lot of hemming and hawing about what to bring ensues, but i decide to pack my camelbak with: 5 liters of water, 3 packs of electrolyte chews, 3 clif bars, a pack of protein bites, a freshly made PB&J sandwich, a banana, a thermal vest, an outer shell, a flashlight, sunglasses, sunblock, an extra pair of socks, the wag bag and an empty water container.

on monday, october 4, we started our journey on the mount whitney trail in complete darkness at 4:20am w/temps in the high 40s. a neat visual that early is that one can only see other hikers, identified by the bright LED ray of their headlamps. within minutes, it got increasingly colder, so we whipped out our layers in no time. of course, i was the only einstein wearing shorts but i figured warmth up top was most important since we would always be moving.

the bottom pics above showcase trailside meadow, a gorgeous mustard-hued area at the lower bowl of bighorn park at 11,395 ft. and approximately 5.3 miles from our start at whitney portal. below we press onwards and upwards.

we finally approach trail camp (12,039 ft.), which is the last opportunity to procure water. i was told that normally there are a slew of tents here, but i saw maybe 4 total when we passed thru at 8am, primarily because it was FUCKING FREEZING. luckily for us, pam brought along a filtration system, where we draw water from the source, pump it thru the filter and voila - we have instant drinking water. this is obviously important, because on a 22-mile hike one cannot carry enough water in your bag to last the whole day; plus, keeping hydrated is crucial to combat the effects of altitude sickness.

bottom right (above), is the start of the grueling 97 switchbacks just past trail camp. if you look closely enough, right around the middle of the photo there are a number of hikers making their way up. it's comedy to see them from afar, since we know we're going to be suffering in just a few minutes as well. i try to count the number of switchbacks - just to take my mind off the punishing trajectory - but lose count somewhere around 50-something. we find ourselves taking more breaks to catch our breath, but just when we think it's hopeless, we finally come upon these cables.

temps are now in the high 30s and my shorts are no longer doing the trick. thankfully, pam has an extra pair of tights and vim an extra beanie, so i gear up for additional warmth thru the snow. we arrive at trail crest (13,600 ft) a little after 10am, where majestic views of hitchcock lakes (below left) and guitar lake (below right) are there for the taking.

at this point, the mountain is covered in snow as we soldier on for the last 2.5 miles to the summit. a gang of black clouds moves rapidly past us, so we don't have much time before some type of storm hits. a seemingly interminable amount of time passes before we finally get visual confirmation of our destination - in the form of a summit hut.

after many hugs and high fives, we quickly sign the register at 1:10pm and pose for pics at the plaque. the way up took us 8 hours and 50 minutes - about 2 hours longer than we anticipated because of the conditions, so we agree to get outta there ASAP. we maybe spend a total of 5 minutes atop the summit - enough time for me to pop an excedrin to combat the first signs of a headache - since snow begins falling at a steady clip.

right on cue, the weather takes a dramatic turn for the worse:

the way down is a quiet yet focused one - the three of us have exhausted most topics to talk about, plus we have a mental clock ticking with the onset of sundown. we did come across a fellow hiker who looked to be in bad shape, as he ran out of water around trail crest and confessed that he was delirious. fortunately i had an extra container of water in addition to what i had in my camelbak bladder, so i happily donated the container and pam offered up some diamox in an effort to revive him. we ran into him at trail camp filling up his water supply, so we breathed a sigh of relief that he was OK.

we finally returned to whitney portal at 8pm - our journey from start to finish totaled a scant 15 hours and 40 minutes, but we friggin did it! my very average burger at mount whitney restaurant in lone pine never tasted better...


belindae said...

read your story about Mt. Whitney. Congrats to you. My husband and I were up there the very next day and had to turn around because of the snow. Awesome that you beat the weather.

money B said...

thanks! it was touch and go a lot of the way, and we lucked out that the worst started to come just as we reached the peak. i'm sorry you guys couldn't make it, but the important thing is you and your husband made it safely back down. next time for sure! :D