Ascent of Mount Whitney on 2013-08-23
|Others in Party:||Jill Stone|
|Date:||Friday, August 23, 2013|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||4x4 Vehicle|
| Elevation:||14495 ft / 4418 m|
Ascent Trip ReportI'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 is 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 7,000 feet of ascent, in just one day and still enjoy it; but for an overnighter the permits are fewer and I wasn't sure how much of their own kit and supplies they'd be able to carry. 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), less busy, sheltered, warmer, prettier and wooded. The only disadvantages of using Outpost Camp are the longer summit day (13.8 miles Outpost Camp to summit round-trip, rather than 9.4 miles return from Trail Camp, but still much better than a 21.4 mile day-hike), the fact that sleeping there makes it more difficult to make the trip a single over-nighter (but why rush it, an overnight permit allows you to stay as long as you like) and some inconsiderate noisy day-hikers do pass through very early in the morning.
We'd spent the previous week in the White Mountains so our acclimatisation was good, but we couldn't leave for the mountain until we'd used our Lone Pine hotel's wi-fi to check our son's GCSE exam results and accept a place at his first choice school for A-levels. This completed we ate a hefty breakfast and then picked up our permit, WAG bags and bear cannisters at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center just south of town. After shopping for extra supplies at Joseph's Bi-Rite we left all unwanted food and perfumed items at the Whitney Portal Hostel to avoid the need for storage at the trailhead. We then 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 some suggest. Entering the Sequoia National Park at Trail Crest gives a completely different and even more spectacular set of views, but someone arriving at this point with a gun or a dog is obliged to turn back according to the sign(!). One then has to lose a little altitude on the western side of the 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 Outpost 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 into 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'
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 from Europe I wasn't prepared to take the risk. I've been entering the lottery by post and more recently online for many years in the hope of getting a slot; 2013 was the year I got lucky. Actually lucky isn't the correct word, rather than once again submitting just a couple of applications we used some simple statistical analysis of previous lottery results and worked out the number of multiple entries we had to make to have a realistic chance of success; $6 for each entry but overall a negligible proportion of the total cost of a climb. However, as a word of warning they didn't send the promised reminder email prior to my reservation confirmation and the pick-up instructions in the Recreation.gov email were confusing & ambiguous (the Inyo website had the correct info). Furthermore we didn't even have our permits checked at any stage - don't know how common that is but perhaps a local could sneak in anytime!
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:||Ski Poles, Tent Camp|
| Nights Spent:||2 nights away from roads|
| Weather:||Cool, Calm, Clear|
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