Mt. Whitney - Main Trail - 2 nights at Trail Camp

15-17 Aug 2003 - by Matt Posner

For this story and lots of pictures go to:

Base Camp at Whitney Portal

August 13, 2003

Flew from RDU to Ontario California on America West Airlines. Airlines are getting cheap these days. My ticket cost around $240 with taxes. We had no food from RDU to Phoenix. The good news is we got in 30 minutes early. The bad news, the next plane left 30 minutes late due to toilet breakage.

From Ontario, I took I-10 to I-15 to Highway 395. A nice easy drive. Stopped at a Sports Chalet on I-15 and picked up some stove fuel and an In N Out Burger. Yummy. Haven't had a burger from them in a long time.

It took about 3 hours to reach the Whitney Portal Campground. Along the way I passed several dry lakebeds. On one of them they were harvesting salt.

I pulled into the Mt. Whitney family campground and found my reserved campsite. Site 8 was very nice. It was blocked from the road by big boulders. You had to go through the boulders to get to the campsite. The site was large and had plenty of space for me and Andrew and Kristina.

Andrew and Kristina arrived about an hour after me. They were in Las Vegas and drove through Death Valley to get to Mt. Whitney. On this trip they will have visited the lowest spot in the US and the highest in the lower 48 states.

We setup our tents and then went to the Whitney Portal Store for dinner. The portions here are huge! I had a great chicken sandwich. After dinner we went back to the campsite and played Gin Rummy by headlamp. It must be beginners luck, I won the first game.

August 14, 2003

Today was an acclimatization day. First order of business was to go into town (Lone Pine) and get some breakfast. We then went to the Ranger office picked up our permits. After that we drove up to Horseshoe Meadow. This was a cool drive with great views of the valley below. Horseshoe Meadow is at 10,000 feet. We took a nice hike over fairly flat terrain. There were a lot of interesting trees here. They looked like they had been varnished or something. We hiked for a while and found a nice spot for lunch and cards. We then hiked back to the car and back into Lone Pine.

We stopped at Kirk's Barber Shop for a shower. Not the cleanest showers, but had great water pressure and tons of hot water. While waiting for Andrew and Kristina, I caught a bit of the news. It turns out New York City was having a massive power outage.

We then checked out the local culinary scene. We ended up at the Pizza Factory. The food hit the spot. So we then headed back up to the Portal. Once again, cards by headlamp and then off to bed.

Portal to Trail Camp - 8,360 - 12,000 feet

August 15, 2003

Woke up around 7:00 a.m. and started packing. On Whitney you must use bear canisters to store you food. These are essentially 5 lb plastic barrels. I spent forever trying to figure out how to attach this beast to my pack. I still didn't have it right when we started up the trail. What a pain.

We then headed up to the Portal for breakfast. I had the biggest pancake I've ever seen. This thing was a monster. I could feed a family of four. After breakfast we had to move our cars out of the day parking lot. All of the lots were full so we ended up parking on the road a good 1/2 mile from the trail.

So finally at 10:00 we hit the trail! I did not have a good day today. Right from the start my energy level sucked. In hindsight, I blame the pancake. I think I overdosed on carbs. We took it VERY slowly. I drank a ton of water and sucked down Carb Boom. Nothing seemed to really help.

We made our way up to Lone Pine Lake and had lunch. This is a cool high alpine lake. A lot of people come up here to picnic and fish. This is as far as you can go with out a permit. Kristina showed a group of guys how to tie the famous boot Swiss knot. Yet another convert. These guys were doing a training hike today in preparation for a one day trip to the top and back the next day.

After lunch, back to climbing up and up. We were approaching Trail Camp when a storm came up on us. Rain and sleet followed. The temperature started dropping and we were cooling off. We hung out under an overhang for a while, but started to get cold and wet. In a break in the rain we setup our tents. I was dehydrated and breathing really hard at this point. Once my tent was up, I climbed into my sleeping bag to warm up and rest. I was pretty tired.

After two hours of rain, sleet, and loud lightning, I climbed out of my bag and went to look for water. I hiked down to a small lake we passed on the way up. The water looked terrible. Kristina and I collected some water and hiked back to our tents. About 5 minutes later, I looked around and spotted this large lake 40 yards from out tents. Ah, this is the water source. So we dumped our yucky water, and refilled with some nicer water.

Andrew finally got up and we proceeded to make dinner. We setup my stove. I had a chicken and rice freeze dried dinner. It was good. I felt a lot better after dinner. My strength was up and felt hydrated.

At Trail Camp they have a solar toilet for solid waste. These things STINK. You try and get in and out as quick as possible. Do not breath through your nose. You will gag. These toilets rank as the worst smelling things I've ever used. Here is my ranking of toilets from best to worst: home, hotel, gas station, pit toilet, porta potty, solar toilets. The good news is I set my high altitude poop record here (12,000 feet).

So we all crowded into Andrew and Kristina's tent and played cards. Then off the bed. Tomorrow is summit day.

Trail Camp to Summit to Trail Camp - 12,000 - 14,497 - 12,000

August 16, 2003

Woke up in the middle of the night and saw tons of stars. It's unreal how many you can see when you are up high and have no light pollution.

I finally got up and moving around 5:30 a.m.. Woke up Andrew and Kristina ("Good morning campers!") at 6:00. We had breakfast, got water for the day, and packed for the summit. We hit the trail at 8:00.

We took our time as we ascended the 97 switchbacks to Trail Crest. I did not experience the problems I had yesterday. We took it slow and steady. You can really tell the air is thin up here. We made it to Trail Crest and took a short break and some photos.

Then it was off the summit. From Trial Crest you go behind the ridges you see from Trail Camp. Right out of Trail Crest you drop 300 feet and the the trail goes behind the knife edge ridges. After the quick drop in the trail, the trail levels out for a while. Then more switch backs to the top. The four windows are really cool. A window is an area where there is no mountain on either side of you. You cross on a trail with drop-offs on either side. The trail is pretty wide, so it's really not that bad crossing them. I imagine if its really windy, they would be more challenging.

We made it! The summit was nice. There was no wind and the sun was shinning. It took us about four hours to make it from Trail Camp to the summit. I took a bunch of pictures, checked out the summit hut, and signed the log. Andrew and I set off the find the geocache on the summit. Kristina rested. She was not feeling so great. After about 30 minutes, we headed down. The clouds were building and Kristina needed some richer atmosphere.

On the way back to Trail Crest, Kristina felt really sick. She laid down beside the trail and puked a few times. Luckily she rallied real quickly. A little rest and water and off she went.

The clouds kept building as we headed down. It was getting darker and darker. We counted the switch backs on the way down. We counted 97 switchbacks. About five switch backs from Trail Camp, it started to rain and sleet. We put on rain gear and trucked into camp. It was nice to climb into the tent and weather the storm. It rained and hailed for at least two hours. The wind really kicked up and the temperature must have dropped 30 degrees. I rested and snoozed during the storm. The storm produced some of the loudest thunder I ever heard. It rumbled through the canyons up in the mountain. A lot of peoples tents flooded during the storm. It seems the rock wall shelters around the tent are great at blocking wind, but do not drain very well.

The storm ended and the skies cleared. It only rained on us in the mountain. The valley never saw any rain. So we cooked dinner and went to bed at sundown. Andrew was complaining about his bruised hips from sleeping on just a Z-Rest. I traded him by 3/4 length ultra light therm-a-rest in exchange for him carrying my bear canister down tomorrow. Secretly I think he hopped I would have a bad nights sleep. Too bad, I slept great that night. In fact, I slept great the entire trip.

Trail Camp to Portal - 12,000 - 8,360 feet

August 17, 2003

Got up, packed and hit the trail at 8:00 a.m. Tried to eat a Cliff Bar this morning. The thing was like a rock. I gnawed on it for a while and gave up.

The trail down was nice. My pack was lighter (thanks Andrew). I took a lot of pictures on the way down. We made it to the Portal at 11:00. I ordered a huge burger and fries. According to the scale at the store, I lost 8 lbs on the trip. By the way, the burger tasted fantastic. I then bought a bunch of t-shirts and postcards. We then waited in line to get a shower at the Portal. It felt great to get clean. The showers were hot. The floor was kind of gross, but what do you expect when a bunch of grubby hikers are taking showers all day long.

We loaded up our cars, trying to get the stuff from our backpacks back into suitcases and duffel bags. Andrew and Kristina headed to LA. I did a few geocaches on the way out of town. Traffic on the way back was OK until the road became two lanes. The RVs really slowed things down. Made it to the airport way early. So I just lounged around and caught up on the news.

I flew the red eye flight back to Raleigh. I had to change planes in Vegas. It was cool to fly over and see all of the lights of the hotels on the strip. At the airport, I had enough time to lose $20.00 in the slots and video poker machines. The flight to RDU was on time and the best thing of all, my luggage made it!

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