(A doable one-day trek with planning)
21-22 Aug 2002 - by Mitch Lewis
A one day trek to Mt. Whitney is a totally doable hike with the right conditioning and planning.
The conditioning hikes included Mt. Wilson (Pasadena) at 18 miles round trip from Eaton Canyon to 5,500-feet; Cucamonga Peak (Mt. Baldy region through Ice House Canyon and saddle) at 12 mile round trip to 8859-feet; and Mt. San Gorgonio (Redlands) at 15 miles round trip to 11,500-feet. These training and conditioning hikes were within six weeks of the Mt. Whitney trip.
We planned to be at the Whitney Portal trailhead at 4:00 a.m. on August 22, 2002. We hiked the portion from the trailhead to Lone Pine Lake (an unpermitted use zone) on August 21, 2002 as we knew that we would be on this section of the trail in the dark with miner's lights. This section of the trail is an easy 2.5 miles one way to a beautiful lake that you would not have time to stop by on the one-day trek. This day-before hike gave us a good idea of distances and landmarks which we could identify the next day when we would be hiking in the dark early morning portion of our hike. It was a stratedgy that worked out extremely well. The day trip took 90 minutes to ascend to Lone Pine Lake and 60 minutes to descend to the Whitney Portal Trailhead, and well worth seeing the pristine foilage and lake in the day light.
The next morning we literally zoomed through that portion of the trail without hesitation.
On the day of the trek we paced ourselves well on the leg from the trailhead to Lone Pine Lake. We started up the easy 17 switchbacks to Bighorn Meadows with the dawn. When we got to the Bighorn area just before Outpost Camp we were able to take advantage of some great photograph opportunities. The portion of the trail though Bighorn is a piece of cake. I would strongly advise taking advantage of the solar toilet just above Outpost Camp. The next part of the climb to Trail Camp is long and not amenable for "trail potty" necessities.
Save you energy and do not blow your "energy wad" from Outpost Camp to Trail Camp. It is a long and beautiful hike over granite steps which can zap your finish to the summit if not taken easily and at a moderate trail speed.
Be sure to lunch and refuel at the Trail Camp. The second and last of the solar powder toilet is in this camp. Be sure to use it unless you have the bladder capacity of a Saharan camel. You are at over 12,000-feet at Trail Camp so you should enjoy the time for lunch. We had some dry turkey sandwiches and trail mix.
The 97-99 switchbacks on the Switchback Trail section is next. It is a difficult part of the trail, and should be taken at a trail speed that is not too taxing. Be sure to stop for photo ops. often. This is the portion of the trail which will separate the one-day hikers who are successful and those who will fail. It is only 2 to 2-1/2 hours out of your life, so cinch up your trail courage and just "do it."
Once at the finish of the Switchback Trail portion you will be at Trail Crest. Wow!! What a view!! You definately will know that you are at 13,500-feet!!
The next portion of the trail is not a lot of elevation gain (maybe 1,200-feet), but it is where the weak of ankle will be the most challenged. The trail is very rocky with a lot of shale. Take your time and get over to the Summit Trail in an unhurried fashion. You are so close!! Take time to look at the view from the windows between the Needles!! Be careful here.
The Summit Trail is a piece of cake even though you are tired. The summit cabin shelter will not be visable until you are almost there ... so do not fret because you do not see it on the way up.
We summited at 12:30 p.m. So in time it took 8-1/2 hours, but in hiking time it took 6-1/2 hours. We stopped every 30 minutes for lots of water and something to eat on the ascent. We stayed at the summit for 1 hour. After starting down at 1;30 p.m., we reached the trailhead at 7:39 p.m. It was 6 hours down, but a hiking time of 4 hours and 55 minutes. We stopped every 45 minutes for a good drink of water. We ate our second meal at the Trail Camp on the way down. My heart rate at 53 years old was 140-160 beats per minute on the ascent, and 120-130 beats per minute on the way down. I never felt tired, or had any indication of altitued sickness symptoms (thank Goodness).
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