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Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay
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Linda Vassallo

Locale: Eastbay
Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/21/2010 16:20:00 MDT Print View

Hiking Dates: 8-21-09/8-22-09
Map: Tom Harrison Mt. Whitney Zone
Temps: Low 30's to high 60's
Beginning elevation (Portal): 8,635 ft
Summit: 14,500 +/_ depending on source

Plan: Day 1 hike 6.2 miles to the highest camp, Trail Camp. Day 2 hike the remaining 4 miles to the summit then return to Trail Camp. Day 3 hike back to the Portal. Total miles: 20.4. Most of the elevation gain is between the Portal and Trail Camp but the steepest section of the trail is between Trail Camp and the summit.

Tony, Cameron and I took a weekend to hike Mt Whitney from the Portal to summit. On a Friday, we drove down Hwy 395 to Bishop where we stopped at the Petite Pantry for something to eat before continuing on to the Portal. We were treated to a good meal and entertainment by the proprietor and left with "doggie bags" which provided us with dinner that evening.
That afternoon we were were fortunate to obtain the last campsite near the trailhead and set up camp.

Linda's Gatewood Cape Linda's Gatewood Cape

Cameron's Duomid, Tony's MLD Bivy Cameron's Duomid, Tony's MLD Bivy

That night Tony, being the pyro he is, lit a fire log to chase away the night chills.Tony plays with fire

Cameron and Linda enjoy the fire that Tony built
Standing 'round the fire
(courtesy Tony)

In the wee-hours of the night/morning (talkin' 2 AM) we heard hikers in nearby camps preparing for their day hike to the summit. We remained snug and warm in our mummy bags instead, arising at dawn to eat a hasty breakfast and pack up camp. At the trailhead we all weighed our packs on the scale provided. tony and I would start out at 20lbs, Cameron at 19 lbs.

Sign at trailhead

The trail maintained a steady mild to moderate climb through wooded areas that opened to reveal great granite walls. #6

Cameron and Linda take in the view#7
(courtesy Tony)

Looking back we could see the town of Lone Ping in the distance

First look back down to Lone Pine Granite DomeGranite Dome #10#10

Despite the late season and dry conditions several wildflowers species were still in bloom, much to my delight.

Scarlet Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus) Scarlet Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus)

Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum)Monkshood

Cameron and LindaCameron and Linda
(courtesy Tony)

Lone Pine Creek flows along much of the lower trail providing a steady water supply on the way up.Pine Creek

Tony crossing Lone Pine CreekTony crossing Lone Pine Creek

(courtesy Tony)

Rules of the Road. Needless to say the WAG bags were the delight of the hike...Rules of the road(courtesy Tony)
There were many switchbacks along the trail which were welcomed as the trail became steeper

Cameron coming up switchbacksCameron and switchbacks
(courtesy Tony)

We're in "The Zone"The Zone

(courtesy Tony)

Anderson's Thistle (Cirsium andersonii) with BeeAndersons Thistle

More switchbacksMore switchbacks

Looking back, Lone Pine Lake in distance. Lone Pine Lake
(courtesy Tony)


We are just above Bighorn Park an oasis among the granite giants. At Bighorn Park we caught our first sightings of Mt Whitney.Bighorn and Whitney
(courtesy Tony)


(courtesy Tony)

Lone Pine Creek at Bighorn ParkLone Pine Creek and Bighorn Park

Bighorn Park and Mt WhitneyBighorn and Whitney

Afternoon clouds begin to gather at the summitClouds

We noted that the sky was becoming overcast and we considered the possibility of some rain. We still had about 3 miles to go to reach our destination of Trail camp at the base of Mt Whitney. We passed through Outpost Camp, literally a wide spot in the trail (the trail goes through the middle of camp) and came upon Mirror Lake, a jewel nestled at the base of Thor Peak

Mirror LakeMirror Lake

Climbing higher we came to a tree, stunted by it's environment, noted as the last tree we would see from that point on. We were now officially above tree line.

The Last TreeThe Last Tree

Cameron and Linda and a view looking backCameron and Linda
(courtesy Tony)

Cameron and Linda taking a breakCameron and Linda
(courtesy Tony)

Lone Pine Creek continued to mostly parallel the trail and created an oasis of grasses and wildflowers where we least expected to see it. Some wildflower species continued to add spots of color to the landscape as we continued on.

Lone Pine CreekLone Pine Creek
(courtesy Tony)

Lone Pine CreekLone Pine Creek

Pigmy Daisy (Erigeron pygmaerus)Pigmy Daisy

Cushion Buckwheat (Erigonim ovalifolium)Cushion Buckwheat

Looking backLooking back

First view of Consultation Lake (elevation 11,680 ft) Consultation Lake
(courtesy Tony)

Consultation Lake
Consultation Lake

Our destination (Trail Camp) just aheadDestination ahead

Granite-Gilia (Leptodactylon pungens) is pollinated by night-flying mothsGranite-Gilia

The sky remained overcast and upon reaching Trail Camp we set up our shelters before exploring the area. Trail Camp is not a camp per se but another wide spot along the trail with some flat areas upon which to pitch tents. It has the last reliable water source and is the last place to camp until you get to the summit.

Tony and Cameron set up for the nightTony and Cameron
(courtesy Tony)

Linda set up for the nightLinda's Gatewood Cape
(courtesy Tony)

Linda filtering water Linda
(courtesy Tony)

Cameron in his DuomidCameron

Tony sheltered from the wind by his "Great Wall"Tonys great wall

There was the occasional Marmot and Ground Squirrel to be seen around the rocks near camp

Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis)Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel

Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris)Marmot

The clouds began to descend from the summit and it began raining as we were preparing our dinners, and so we retired to our shelters for the evening. I enjoyed listening to the rain on the Silnylon and it quickly lulled me to sleep.

Rain clouds descend 1Rain clouds descend

Rain clouds descend 2Rain clouds descend

Rain clouds descend 3rain clouds descend

What's for dinner? Tony rehydrating his mealTonys dinner
(courtesy Tony)

Under the Tarp: Tony's viewTonys view
(courtesy Tony)

Linda preparing dinner. All the comforts of homeLinda's Gatewood Cape
(courtesy Tony)

Last photo for the eveningLast photo of evening
(courtesy Tony)

That night the storm escalated and hard rains were accompanied by nearly continuous strong gusts of wind raging about us. Some time around midnight I awoke to realize that the ground was so saturated that the rain water was beginning to pool around me. Sounding the alarm, I hastily pulled up stakes and with the assistance of Tony and Cameron I had the shelter relocated and set up again within minutes. They also needed to relocate a short while later. Some time in the early morning hours the rain stopped but the wind continued. Note: I was extremely impressed with the performance of my Gatewood Cape and the experience is chronicled in earlier postings on BPL.

In the early dawn I opened my shelter door and was greeted with a most beautiful sight. Mt Whitney alpenglow! And I had a front row seat! While the glow lasted only a few minutes before fading the memory of that vision has stayed with me still. Magical...

Mt Whitney alpenglow 1: First morning view from my shelterwhitney alpenglow 1

Mt Whitney alpenglow 2: Panoramawhitney alpenglow 2

Alpenglow on nearby peakalpenglow 3

Fading alpenglowalpenglow 4

The morning air was cold and crisp and we donned our extra layers but they were shed a short while later as the air warmed and we continued to exert ourselves on the steep trail we were now on.

Linda breaking campbreaking camp 1
(courtesy Tony)

Tony breaking campbreaking camp 2

Cameron breaking campbreaking camp 3

The remaining 4 miles of our hike were not a repeat of the previous day. Almost immediately the trail became steep, challenging our endurance. As we climbed higher we were treated to every greater visas of of geologic splendor.

Looking back at Trail CampLooking back at Trail Camp

Cables have been placed along a portion of the trail, essential when there is snow present.

Cables along the trail 1Cables along the trail 1
(courtesy Tony)

Cables along the trail 2cables along the trail 2
(courtesy Tony)



View: Wotans Throne (center) Trail Camp (right), Consultation Lake (far right)View
(courtesy Tony)

Clouds rising from the valley far belowClouds

Sky Pilot (Polemonium eximium) 1 of 2 flower species seen at this altitudeSky Pilot

Nearing Trail CrestNearing Trail Crest

We hiked the 96 switchbacks to reach Trail Crest, the spine of the mountain. Crossing over the crest took us to the junction of the John Muir Trail approaching from the west and coming through Sequoia/Kings Canyon Nat'l Park. Again we were treated to vistas of wide glacial valleys and lakes.

Trail Crest sign at 13,600 ftTrail Crest sign


Mt Hitchcock and Hitchcock LakesMt Hitchcock and Lakes
(courtesy Tony)

Cameron on Trail CrestCameron on Trail Crest
(courtesy Tony)

Rock formations and mountains jutted up steeply from the valley floor.

Closer to Mt HitchcockMt Hitchcock

Looking back along Trail Crest. Note the John Muir Trail coming up from the westTrail Crest
(courtesy Tony)

Afternoon storm clouds gather. Guitar Lake on the rightStorm clouds gather

Hikers coming down and our first view of the Summit Hut, just a speck in the far distanceHikers coming down

A doorway throughDoorway thru

Interesting formationInteresting formation

Another interesting formationinteresting formation


The Needlesthe Needles

A mitten ?Mitten

Through the Eye of The Needle 1eye of the needle 1

Through the Eye of The Needle 2eye of the needle 2

Snow that had fallen during the previous nights stormsnow
(courtesy Tony)

Looking back at the Needlesthe Needles
(courtesy Tony)

the Summit Hut, almost thereSummit Hut, almost there
(courtesy Tony)

Cameron at the summitCameron at the summit

Linda at the summitLinda at the summit

We arrived at the summit about 12:30 PM but had only a short time to explore. Clouds were moving in to obscure the views and another storm was approaching. We would have to descend soon.

View from the top 1View from the top 1

View from the top 2: Panorama (looking WSW)view from the top 2

View from the top 3 (looking SSW to the Needles. Hitchcock Lake on right)view from the top 3
(courtesy Tony)

View from the top 4 (looking SSE)view from the top 4
(courtesy Tony)

A beggarMarmot
(courtesy Tony)

We did it! Tony, Cameron, and Linda at the summitSummit group shot

We spoke with one hiker who had just completed his second day-hike to the summit in two days (back-to-back). Whew. (he did this to accommodate two groups of visiting friends).

Iron ManIron Man

Time to head back. Another wildflower was spotted on the way down and a Pica made a brief appearance beside the trail. Picas are members of the rabbit family. Living only at high altitudes they harvest grasses and dry them in the sun. The grasses are then stored in their rocky dens, to be consumed later.

Alpine Gold (Hulsea algida) Alpine Gold

Pica (Ochotona princeps) 1 Pica 1

Pica (Ochotona princeps) 2 pica 2

We made good time back to Trail Camp and ever mindful of the approaching storm we decided to push on to the lower Outpost Camp and avoid a repeat of the previous nights adventure. That would leave a roughly 2 mile hike to the Portal in the morning.

Linda and CameronLinda and Cameron
(courtesy Tony)

Rock Fringe (Epilobium obcordatum)Rock Fringe

Weathered Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis)Juniper

Trees and TrailTrees and Trail

We arrived at Outpost Camp in the early evening. Pine Creek runs nearby while a waterfall cascades off an unnamed granite wall nearby. We enjoyed good weather that night and awoke to another blue sky the next morning.

Sunrise at Outpost Camp 1Sunrise at Outpost Camp 1

Sunrise and WaterfallSunrise and waterfall, Outpost Camp

Zoom on WaterfallWaterfall at Outpost Camp



Last look at Outpost Camp Last look at Outpost Camp

It was a quick jaunt back to the trailhead after breakfast. Wildflowers were open, their faces turned to the warm morning sun.

Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia californica)Grass of Parnassus

Bigelow's Sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii)Bigelow's Sneezeweed

Scarlet Monkey Flower (Mimulus cardinalis)Scarlet Monkey Flower

Bee Fly (Genus Leidanthrax)Bee Fly (Genus Leidanthrax)

As we had enjoyed our meal at The Petite Pantry in Bishop a few days earlier we decided to return for one more meal before saying "good by" to the area. As a side trip we stopped to visit Mono Lake, but that's another trip report....

The Petite Pantry 1 The Petite Pantry

The Petite Pantry 2the Petite Pantry
(courtesy Tony)

Edited by eastbayhiker on 03/22/2010 02:27:15 MDT.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/22/2010 15:16:16 MDT Print View


Congrats on putting up your first photo essay/trip report!

It was a pretty amazing adventure with both of you.

Since I had been there before, I thought that this was going to be a cake walk.

Who knew that we would be facing 13 hours of rain and then heavy tent shredding winds at 12,000 ft!

Having the "thrill" of relocating all of our shelters at a little after midnight in the dark with rain dropping down on us was a challenge and gave me a very healthy respect of how much wind my MLD poncho tarp can take.

Collective note to ourselves: Don't pitch your shelter in a run off ditch! (Learning by screwing up again).

Really was nice to see the trip through your eyes and to get to see photos of myself for a change! :)

Thanks again for taking the time to edit and post up all these photos while having your right arm in a sling the whole time.

For those of you reading this trip report, what Linda did not mention was that while we were scrambling to relocate our shelters in the rain, she slipped and fell on the granite and hurt herself, which later required shoulder surgery. I did not even know that she had hurt herself on the trip til weeks after we had come back.

Anyway, thanks for doing all the work on this one.


Kat ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
trip report on 03/22/2010 15:27:50 MDT Print View

What a beautiful report. Awesome pictures, nice descriptions. Thanks so much for sharing.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/22/2010 16:31:11 MDT Print View

That was a thorough photo essay. You even got shots of a pika. I have only two shots of a pika myself from 34 years of dayhiking that trail, so consider yourself lucky.


Linda Vassallo

Locale: Eastbay
Re: Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/22/2010 16:54:33 MDT Print View

Thank you Tony for the kudos. I really enjoyed working on this report. Loved reliving the trip.

This trip was indeed an experience and adventure and I'm so happy you and Cameron could share it with me. The camaraderie is priceless.

I marveled at the geology and grand vistas and delighted that wildflowers were still present. Rising to the challenges thrown to us by the storm was exhilarating. Putting the Gatewood Cape through it's paces during that storm really cemented my confidence in the product. And, of course, looking at the photos after the fact I can see where we should have pitched our shelters elsewhere-learn and live...:)

This trip only whetted my appetite for more :)

Linda Vassallo

Locale: Eastbay
Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/22/2010 16:59:14 MDT Print View

Thank you Katharina. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Bob, This was my first Pica sighting. It popped up beside me on the trail and I had only seconds to aim the camera in it's direction before it just as quickly disappeared. What a thrill to see. It's good to be lucky I say

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/22/2010 17:10:44 MDT Print View

Linda, I'm guessing that you saw the pika somewhere up around 13,000'. On the Whitney Trail, I saw one at 13,000' and one way down at 10,100'. Cute little things!

You can find more of them around the Saddlebag Lake Road near Tioga Pass, but they are very elusive.


Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Mt. Whitney Summit Hike on 03/22/2010 17:21:18 MDT Print View

Excellent pictures Linda!! Sounds like you peeps had a say the least!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/22/2010 18:51:11 MDT Print View

"You can find more of them around the Saddlebag Lake Road near Tioga Pass, but they are very elusive."

If you venture further into Kern country west and north of Whitney, you'll find them just about anywhere there's a talus slope with grass nearby. They quite common there but they don't generally come out and pose for pictures, with good reason: I was camped in the Upper Kern once in mid October across a creek from a Pika colony. I was enjoying my evening tea and the Pikas were chittering away happily. Just then I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye; a weasel, his coat turned white for the winter, was flowing over the ground toward the Pika colony, death incarnate intent on dinner. As he disappeared into the talus, there was one long YEEEEEEEEPP! followed by dead silence. As I said, they have good reason to be shy. I'll never forget that scene.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Upper Kern River? on 03/22/2010 18:55:03 MDT Print View

Would that pika colony be somewhere on the Kern upstream from Wallace Creek?


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/22/2010 20:01:21 MDT Print View

Great photo essay. What is really neat about it, is that I felt like I was right there with you.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Upper Kern River? on 03/22/2010 20:39:44 MDT Print View

"Would that pika colony be somewhere on the Kern upstream from Wallace Creek?"

Quite a ways up from Wallace Creek, in the Upper Kern Basin.

Been there continuously for at least 35 years now, occasional weasel and all.

fsds sdfsfd
(SBhiker) - F
Awesome!!! on 03/22/2010 22:29:20 MDT Print View

Great adventure!!! I love it all the way down to the scientific names of the plants! Ill go to bed tonight with Mt. Whitney on the mind! Definite to do at some point in life!!!!

Linda Vassallo

Locale: Eastbay
Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/23/2010 00:06:22 MDT Print View

Jay, Nick, Craig: Thank you for your comments :) It was indeed a grand adventure. Craig, I hope you make it to Whitney in the future, you will not be disappointed

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/23/2010 00:12:51 MDT Print View

Linda, since you got the photo of the (purple) Sky Pilot and the (gold) Alpine Gold, your next challenge is to get one photo with them both in the same frame. Sky Pilots are normally in moist soil, and Alpine Gold are normally in dry soil, so catching them both together took me years and years up there. There is one spot... near the Keeler Pinnacle.


Juston Taul

Locale: Atlanta, GA
Thank You on 03/23/2010 00:50:27 MDT Print View

What a wonderful pictorial. I felt as if I were along for the ride. Now I'm wanting more than ever to go myself. I really enjoyed the write up. Thank you.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay on 03/23/2010 00:55:11 MDT Print View

Great photo essay and trip report! I truly felt like I was there - now I can't decide whether I'm inspired to go, or if I already did so vicariously. I don't know if I could possibly see it more beautifully than the way you laid it out. Thanks!

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay" on 03/23/2010 06:44:14 MDT Print View

Thanks for taking me along Linda! Cheers.

Angela Zukowski
(AngelaZ) - F

Locale: New England
Re: "Mt Whitney Summit Hike: A photo essay" on 03/23/2010 08:09:08 MDT Print View

I loved the flower photos! And the pika!!!!

Your pictures reiterated that I have got to get out west - the sooner, the better!

omar M
(kashmir) - F

Locale: New York
gear on your Mt Whitney Summit Hike? on 03/23/2010 17:11:54 MDT Print View

great photo essay.

linda, I could not recognize the pack you carried? cuben fibre zpack?

also, cameron what was the red and black windbreaker you were wearing?