Mt Whitney Solo Day Hike 2013

I've wanted to hike Mt Whitney for years, but have never bothered to enter the lottery to get a permit to hike it.  In late 2012, a friend from work hiked Whitney and posted pictures, which finally proded me into entering the lottery in Feb 2013.  You can specify the date you want to hike, along with up to 14 alternate date.  Kent, Ray, and Paul all talked about hiking Whitney, but they didn't enter the lottery.  I won one of my alternate dates - Tuesday August 20, 2013.  When I notified everyone I had won permits, their excitement dropped dramatically when they found out my permit was for mid-week.  Worse, I started a new job the first week of August, and decided I probably wouldn't be able to hike, so any remaining interest from my freinds died at that point.  I finally decided that I spend plenty of time at work, but if I forfeited my dream of hiking Whitney for work I would regret it.  At the last minute, I flip flopped and decided to hike.

I live at sea level. I figure I had no chance of going from sea level to 14,505 feet in under 48 hours and successfully hiking 22 miles. I had decided that I would try to climatize at altitude for two nights prior to the hike - one night in Tuolumne, and another night at Whitney Portal.  I was able to secure camping permits for both nights. I got one of the last available permits for Whitney in the spring, and was able to find a permit for Tuolumne later in the summer.

I left home Sunday morning August 18, taking Kathy's Camry because my beloved 99 Celica was stuck in the shop waiting for a part to replace its 5th gear - it ended up taking nearly two weeks to get the car back.  I drove to Tuolumne Meadows and set up my tent.

I wanted to spend the afternoon at Tenaya Lake, one of the best spots to relax on earth.  The weather didn't cooperate - it rained briefly right as a pulled into the parking lot at the lake.  I forged ahead and set up my chair lakeside after the rain died down, but the sun never came back out and the wind was just cool enough to make picnicing unpleasant.  I gave up within 45 minutes or so and drove back to Tuolumne.

My other big plan for the Sierras is to complete the John Muir Trail, one segment at a time.  On August 6, 2009 I hiked from Tuloumne Meadows campground to Upper Pines in the Valley.  Sunday evening I took the bus to the Visitor Center, then hiked the JMT between the Visitor Center and the Lembert Dome parking lot via Sode Springs.  One more small segment completed. 

Dusk at the Merced River was gorgeous

Monday morning I packed up, drove to Tuloumne Meadows Lodge, took a shower, hiked back to the Lembert Dome parking lot, then took the bus back to my car. 

One more small segment of the JMT completed - I had now hiked (in segments) the complete trail between the Valley and
Tuloumne Meadows Lodge.

Another long term goal of mine was to see the Bristlecone Pines, the oldest living things on earth.  Monday would be the day.  I drove to Big Pine, turned the drive up Highway 168 into the mountains... and was stopped by a Highway Patrol at a roadblock about a mile up the road.  A double hay truck had overturned up in the mountains spilling hay all over the road and closing it.  Crews were busy cleaning up the mess and towing what was left of the truck.  The officer advised to check back in an hour or so.  This presented a problem.  It was noon, and I had to pick up my hard won Whitney permit by 5pm in Lone Pine, about 45 minutes to the south.  I went into Big Pine and had a sandwhich from one of the small grocery stores.  I called the Visitor Center in Lone Pine to see what arrangements could be made for a late permit pickup.  They said they would place my permit in their overnight box and told me how to access the box.  The Ranger I spoke with said she had been on Whitney the day before and had been in a very serious thunderstorm.

After lunch I went back to the roadblock.  By this time traffic was coming down the road, and the officer said the road would be opened soon, but the officer still wouldn't let me go up the road.  Within another 10 minutes he relented and let me drive into the mountains.  The hay truck mess was quite a sight.

I stopped at a few overlooks on the way to the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Visitor Center.  It was storming over the Sierras, and it looked awful over Whitney.

The approach to the bristlecones is interesting.  You drive well above the treeline for miles, then round a bend and see a small, isolated forest - the Shulman Grove - about half a mile ahead.  The parking lot had perhaps a dozen cars.  The silence was broken only by the birdsong and the sound of a gentle breeze blowing through the trees.  I went into the visitor center and bought a teeshirt, then hiked the short and easy Discovery Trail.  I met a few people early on, but then had the trail, bristlecones, and mountain all to myself.  It was so quiet you could here the cars drive up from a mile away.



Glaciers in the Sierra across Owens Valley

This cloud reminded me of the 'energy ribbon' in the movie Star Trek: Generations

I spent perhaps an hour on the trail before driving back down the mountain and south to Lone Pine. 

I made it to the visitor center at 4:45pm.  They had already placed my permit in the box out front, but they simply gave me a new one.  They were closing for the day so I couldn't linger long, but I was extremely relieved to have the permit in hand.  They also give every hiker a 'swag bag' in case you have to use the non-existent 'facilities' on the mountain - years ago they removed the outhouses from the camp and the summit to protect the environment.

Lone Pine, like most towns in Owens Valley, has essentially two kinds of stores - restaurants and sporting good stores. While driving slowerly through town evaluating my dinner options it started pouring and hailing - an absolute deluge.  I parked on a sidestreet under a large tree to try to protect the car from the hail.  The rain let up after 10 minutes or so.

For dinner I selected Margie's Merry-Go-Round, a very unusual place built in the 50s to look like a merry go round that features Chinese food with a smaller American menu.  I was the only diner inside.  I quickly heard from the waiter and his girlfriend about the blackout last night - their restaurant was the only one in town that decided to stay open, but they worked their butts off and nodody tipped them because they were upset at the lack of power and minimal food choices.  Once the power gave out, they couldn't prepare Chinese food anymore.  I didn't want a steak or Chinese food, which left enchiladas as one fo the few remaining menu options.  It wasn't the best Mexican food I'd ever had, but it was ok.  As they handed me the check the power gave out.  Fortunately I had just enough cash to pay with exact change and even leave a tip, so I didn't have to wait around for the power to come back on to try to use my credit card.

I drove up Whitney Portal Road, stopped briefly at the Alamaba Hills.  The views were amazing.  Eventually I found my campsite, unforgettable number 39.  I selected it in the spring because it was the most isolated.  The parking spot for 39 is about 100 feet from the campsite itself - you either hike down a very steep embankment, or you hike down the streambed that runs through the middle of the campsite.

Whitney Portal Campsite 39

Whitney Portal Campsite 39
Note the river running through it, surrounded by rocks on either side

I pitched my tent in the only remotely flat spot and hoped for the best.  I drove up the road to check out the store and find the trailhead, then went to bed.

I woke up around 3:30am and told myself I had to be crazy to get out of my warm sleeping bag in the freezing cold and start hiking in the pitch black.  In the dark I dressed for the hike, and I took everything out of my tent since I was quite concerned it would flood in my absence.  I drove about a mile up the road, found a place to park, and started hiking at 4:23am.  I was a little surprised that I was alone - I assumed I would have company.  I cross a few streams in the dark.  It was nearly an hour into my hike before I saw another person coming down the trail.  I could not figure out why anyone would come down the trail at that time of day.  The second person I saw was coming downhill as well.

I arrived at Outpost Camp at daybreak.  There were about a dozen tents in a large area, and a few people were just getting up and getting ready to hike.

Outpost Camp is in the trees in the right foreground
Not a great picture, it was much better than it looks.

Shortly after Outpost Camp you're treated to an entirely new view in a new canyon.

mirror lake

Mirror Lake - elevation 10,756 feet

I got to Mirror Lake as the sun came up.  The canyon walls tower over the lake on three sides.

Constellation Lake

Consultation Lake - elevation 11,590 feet

Approaching Constellation Lake at about 11,500 feet I started to notice the altitude. I figured I was doing pretty well to get that far before I noticed it. There were a few tents spread out almost randomly along the trail near Consultation Lake. They appeared to have fantastic campsites, though I wasn't sure how close they were to any water sources.

trail camp

Approaching Trail Camp
Note the tent pitched on the granite
There were perhaps 20 tents in the area

The small unnamed and most likely contaminated lake next to Trail Camp.

Mt Muir is dead center, though I didn't know it at the time - I was still not sure where Whitney was at this point.

Click here for a great panorama of The view from Trail Camp.

I spent perhaps 10-15 minutes at the lake at Trail camp taking pictures and refilling my Camelbak using my SteriPen.

I was not looking forward to the infamous 99 switchbacks I was fast approaching.

Perhaps a quarter of the way up the 99 switchbacks
Mt Muir is on the right

Trail Camp lake to the left, Consultation Lake to the right.

I'm most of the way up the 99 switchbacks now
This is still looking east with Owens Valley in the background.

whitney trail crest

Trail Crest, looking west - elevation 13,646 feet
The Hitchcock Lakes are behind me
Now I get to hike on the east side of the crest. 
I have to hike another two miles north towards Whitney

The ridgeline is spiked with numerous peaks.  Occasionally the trail, which lies west of the ridgeline, got close to a gap in the peaks.  I climbed up 10 feet or so to see what I could see in the gap.  I was treated to a jaw dropping view looking east.

The trail to between trail crest and Whitney seemed to take forever.  Finally I approached the summit.

Someone had printed a sign, and everyone had their picture taken with it.
I arrived at the summit at about 11:30
This picture is looking north, and a storm was approaching from the south.
I spent perhaps an hour enjoying the summit and taking pictures before reluctantly starting down the mountain. 

Click here for a great panorama of The view from Whitney facing North.

Click here for a great panorama of The view from Whitney facing South.

Looking south, heading back down the trail. 
I soon experienced a light freezing rain or snow, almost identical to the light snow I experienced on the JMT in 2009.  It was not quite enough to get wet, but not terribly pleasant or reassuring at 14,000 feet and several hours away from shelter. I was thankful it never rained / snowed too hard.  I got back to Whitney Portal at about 5:30.  I ate a burger at the store and bought a Mt Whitney hoodie.

It had rained much harder on my tent than it had rained on me.  The sides of my tent were covered in dirt that had been splashed up from the driving rain.  I was very impressed that even the vestibule of the tent was completely dry.  There was some water in the tent because of the way I'd set it up but nothing serious.

The next morning I woke up before dawn.  It looked like rain and the wind was blowing.  I decided to pack up as quickly as possible to prevent my gear from getting wet.  Once I was ready to leave the sun broke through and I was treated to a spectacular view of Whitney

whitney portal

Mt Whitney from the road next to the campground

The hike was amazing.  In hindsight it is a mistake to do it in a day, it would be much more worthwhile to spend the night and take a more leasurely pace to enjoy the stunning scenery.  Every few miles you climb into a new canyon and the scenery changes dramatically.  I have to assume very few people hike Whitney in a day, and that most people backpack.

On the way home, the Camry died and I was stranded in Bishop overnight waiting for a new hybrid radiator from LA.  I had to stop the car every 4 miles or so and top off the hybrid radiator, which has sprung a leak from an improper repair.  While there were plenty of things to see in the mountains near Bishop, there isn't much to do near Bishop itself.  I did get to see the Laws Railroad Museum, which also featured a section on mining

I initially planned to camp near Bishop, but later decided a shower and bed were more appropriate.  I used Priceline's name your own price app to get a room at the crappy Days Inn in Bishop, and ate an unremarkable meal at a forgetable mexican restaurant.

Thursday my part arrived at about 10:30, and it took them only 45 minutes or so to complete the repair (the 'book' says at least 2-1/2 hours, of course). 
Overnight I learned about the Rim Fire, which had just started and had already closed Highway 120 on my way home.  I wrestled with the idea of driving south instead, but finally headed north anyway.  When I got to Tuolumne Meadows I was shocked at the amount of smoke coming from a fire that was still 30 to 40 miles away.

Rim Fire from Tuolumne Meadows

I drove through Mariposa for the first time ever on the way home.  It took perhaps an extra hour, but it was shorter than I had feared.

The Rim Fire later forced me to cancel my plans to hike the JMT from Tuolumne Meadows to Devil's Postpile - I rescheduled for a few weeks later, only to have our 'government' shut down, ruining any chance of hiking in 2013.