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Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2013-08-23

Climber: Peter Stone

Others in Party:Jill Stone
Twm Stone
David Stone
Ceri Stone
Patrick Stone
Date:Friday, August 23, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Mount Whitney
    Location:USA-California
    Elevation:14495 ft / 4418 m

Ascent Trip Report

I've wanted to climb Whitney for many years, for all the usual reasons, however getting permits and planning a trip for the whole family from a foreign land was a challenge. Not least the choice between a very tough day-hike or a physically easier but logistically more complicated multi-day hike. As a family with younger children (age 11 and up) I knew they wouldn't be able to complete 22 miles with over 6,100 feet of ascent in just one day and still enjoy it, but for an overnighter I wasn't sure how much of their own kit and supplies they'd be able to carry either (and therefore the older members of the group would have to bear a disproportionate load). In the end we opted for a 3-day/2-night trip, camping at Outpost Camp each way so as to minimise carrying weight above 10,000 feet. In retrospect I'm sure this was the correct decision. Outpost Camp has other advantages over Trail Camp too: lower altitude (better for sleeping), quieter, sheltered, warmer, prettier and wooded. The only real disadvantages are the longer summit day (13.8 miles camp to summit and back to camp, rather than 9.4 return from Trail Camp, but still better than a 21.4 mile day-hike) and some inconsiderate noisy day-hikers do pass through very early in the morning.

After a hefty breakfast in Lone Pine we picked up our permit, WAG bags and bear cannisters at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center just south of town, before shopping for extra food at Joseph's Bi-Rite Market. We had left all unwanted food and perfumed items at the Whitney Portal Hostel to avoid the need for storage at the trailhead and drove the 13 miles up to the Whitney Portal parking lot; pretty busy so had to use the overflow section. We hit the trail at 13:45. The lower wooded section and Lone Pine Lake are very pretty so it was good to see them in the daylight. We made Outpost Camp at 17:00 and set up our tents before tucking into supper.

The next day we set off just before sunrise at 05:45 with a nearly full moon to aid our journey. The trail itself is marvellously constructed and easy to follow even in reduced light. The grade steepens from this point but we were at Trail Camp by 07:45 and were surprised to see ice in August on some of the small pools. After filling up with additional water and eating part 2 of our breakfast we embarked on the infamous switchbacks up to Trail Crest. However, despite being long and a little tedious they are well graded and not nearly as dispiriting as expected. Entering the Sequoia National Park at the crest gives a completely different and even more spectacular set of views, but someone arriving at this point with a gun and a dog is obliged to turn back(!). One then has to descend from Trail Crest before making the final traverse and gradual ascent up to the 14,508 feet top (latest survey data). We summitted at 11:45 and spent around half an hour there signing the summit register, taking photos, chatting with some of the assorted crowd, counting benchmarks, inspecting the Smithsonian Institution Shelter and entertaining a marmot. We were back in camp at 16:45, so for a mixed ability family it was an 11 hour summit day: 6 hours up and 4.5 hours down. After a solid night's sleep we exited the next day, breaking camp at 06:30. A steady hike back to the trailhead and we made it to Lone Pine in time to have a celebratory brunch at the very welcoming Alabama Hills Cafe.

Distances & Elevations: The Inyo National Forest folk give out a useful sheet with your permit with the following information to help plan your hike:
Trailhead: 0 miles, 8,360'
Lone Pine Lake: 2.6 mi, 10,000'
Mt Whitney Zone: 2.7 mi, 10,000'
Outpost Camp: 3.8 mi, 10,500'
Trail Camp: 6.0 mi, 12,000'
Trail Crest: 8.7 mi, 13,600'
Mt Whitney Summit: 10.7 mi, 14,505'

Permits: The application process by lottery varies from year to year and is well described on the Inyo National Forest website - I'm told small parties can usually pick up day-hike cancellations/no-shows midweek from the Interagency Visitor Center, even in July/August, but as a party of 6 wanting overnight permits and flying across the Atlantic to visit California I wasn't prepared to take the risk. I've been entering the lottery by post and more recently on-line for many years in the hope of getting a slot; 2013 was the year I got lucky! However, as a word of warning they didn't send me the promised reminder email prior to my reservation confirmation and the pick-up instructions in the Recreation.gov email were confusing & ambiguous (see the Inyo website for the correct info). Furthermore we didn't even have our permits checked at any stage - don't know how common that is but a local could sneak in anytime!
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The Smithsonian Institution Shelter atop Mount Whitney (2013-08-23). Photo by Peter Stone.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:7135 ft / 2174 m
    Extra Gain:500 ft / 152 m
    Distance:21.4 mi / 34.4 km
    Route:Mount Whitney Trail
    Trailhead:Whitney Portal Trailhead  8360 ft / 2548 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Clear



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