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
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.
Cameron and Linda enjoy the fire that Tony built
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.
The trail maintained a steady mild to moderate climb through wooded areas that opened to reveal great granite walls.
Cameron and Linda take in the view
Looking back we could see the town of Lone Ping in the distance
Granite Dome #10
Despite the late season and dry conditions several wildflowers species were still in bloom, much to my delight.
Scarlet Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus)
Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum)
Cameron and Linda
Lone Pine Creek flows along much of the lower trail providing a steady water supply on the way up.
Tony crossing Lone Pine Creek
Rules of the Road. Needless to say the WAG bags were the delight of the hike...(courtesy Tony)
There were many switchbacks along the trail which were welcomed as the trail became steeper
Cameron coming up switchbacks
We're in "The Zone"
Anderson's Thistle (Cirsium andersonii) with Bee
Looking back, Lone Pine Lake in distance.
We are just above Bighorn Park an oasis among the granite giants. At Bighorn Park we caught our first sightings of Mt Whitney.
Lone Pine Creek at Bighorn Park
Bighorn Park and Mt Whitney
Afternoon clouds begin to gather at the summit
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
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 Tree
Cameron and Linda and a view looking back
Cameron and Linda taking a break
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 Creek
Lone Pine Creek
Pigmy Daisy (Erigeron pygmaerus)
Cushion Buckwheat (Erigonim ovalifolium)
First view of Consultation Lake (elevation 11,680 ft)
Our destination (Trail Camp) just ahead
Granite-Gilia (Leptodactylon pungens) is pollinated by night-flying moths
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 night
Linda set up for the night
Linda filtering water
Cameron in his Duomid
Tony sheltered from the wind by his "Great Wall"
There was the occasional Marmot and Ground Squirrel to be seen around the rocks near camp
Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis)
Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris)
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 1
Rain clouds descend 2
Rain clouds descend 3
What's for dinner? Tony rehydrating his meal
Under the Tarp: Tony's view
Linda preparing dinner. All the comforts of home
Last photo for the evening
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 shelter
Mt Whitney alpenglow 2: Panorama
Alpenglow on nearby peak
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 camp
Tony breaking camp
Cameron breaking camp
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 Camp
Cables have been placed along a portion of the trail, essential when there is snow present.
Cables along the trail 1
Cables along the trail 2
View: Wotans Throne (center) Trail Camp (right), Consultation Lake (far right)
Clouds rising from the valley far below
Sky Pilot (Polemonium eximium) 1 of 2 flower species seen at this altitude
Nearing 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 ft
Mt Hitchcock and Hitchcock Lakes
Cameron on Trail Crest
Rock formations and mountains jutted up steeply from the valley floor.
Closer to Mt Hitchcock
Looking back along Trail Crest. Note the John Muir Trail coming up from the west
Afternoon storm clouds gather. Guitar Lake on the right
Hikers coming down and our first view of the Summit Hut, just a speck in the far distance
A doorway through
Another interesting formation
A mitten ?
Through the Eye of The Needle 1
Through the Eye of The Needle 2
Snow that had fallen during the previous nights storm
Looking back at the Needles
the Summit Hut, almost there
Cameron at the summit
Linda 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 1
View from the top 2: Panorama (looking WSW)
View from the top 3 (looking SSW to the Needles. Hitchcock Lake on right)
View from the top 4 (looking SSE)
We did it! Tony, Cameron, and Linda at the summit
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).
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)
Pica (Ochotona princeps) 1
Pica (Ochotona princeps) 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 Cameron
Rock Fringe (Epilobium obcordatum)
Weathered Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis)
Trees 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 1
Sunrise and Waterfall
Zoom on Waterfall
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)
Bigelow's Sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii)
Scarlet Monkey Flower (Mimulus cardinalis)
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 2