2013 Mt. Whitney Trip Report
August 19, 2013
Here is a Trip Report from a Scout's perspective followed by some adult notes:
Mount Whitney – Buddy Bachman’s account
The first day of the Whitney trip was also the one that started latest. On the car trip to Lone Pine, there was enough time for most passengers to take naps or play video games. We stopped a few times to get water, but otherwise we drove straight through to the welcome center in Lone Pine. While the adults waited to get our hiking permits and information on mountain conditions, we boys retreated to the far side of the building to hang out. The following drive into Lone Pine was relatively short; we stopped there for a much-welcomed lunch. At lunch in Lone Pine, Mr. Garg and Hari caught up with us as they had left earlier that morning to claim our campsite. We all ate, and while the food was not the best, it was definitely acceptable. Back on the road, we headed into the mountains and to the campsite that would become our first acclimation point. After successfully putting up the tents, we boys left the site to play a very flimsily structured game of hide-and-seek. Upon returning and some snacking, we were ready to go to bed and most of us quickly fell asleep.
The next morning, we were supposed to wake up at 5:00 but because our only alarm was set to central time zone, we all woke up at 3:00 am. Once we realized the mistake, we happily went back to sleep until the actual 5:00 wakeup. The first order of business for the day was to eat. For breakfast, we ate instant oatmeal with some dried fruit and other easy foods. The adults found a nice little hike for us to take in order to acclimate, so we set out on our mini-training hike that was only about 3 miles. We got back before too long and got ready to go to our new campsite. On the way, we stopped in Lone Pine to quickly get lunch and shop for groceries for the hike. We visited Lone Pine’s outdoor stores to make last-minute purchases on gear, then headed up to our base camp, which was slightly lower in elevation but nearer to Mt. Whitney than the site from the night before.
In base camp, we began setting up. Unfortunately, it started to rain soon after we arrived so we had to set up our tents quickly. As I was putting the last of my things away, I noticed everyone was gone. Seeing that nothing was left out, I ran back up to the cars where I soon found everyone hiding from the rain and hail. Together we waited until the rain stopped a few minutes later. For the rest of the afternoon, the rain was on and off so we tried to put everything away quickly and set up the next day’s food and get to bed early. We were making sandwiches and eating our “delicious” freeze dried dinners with peas, when the rain started up in full force. We quickly stashed all of the food in the bear boxes and were in bed by 6:00 pm.
We woke up at midnight that night and quickly put away most of the tents and ate a simple breakfast of fruits and granola bars before getting water or whatever last-minute preparation we forgot to take care of the day before. By 1:30 am the last tent came down and we were ready to go. We quickly drove up to the trailhead, put on our daypacks, and finished the last-minute preparations for the trek. We were on the trail at 2:00 am and heading up the first set of switchbacks in the dark. Headlamps on, we trudged forward, stopping at water crossings and trying to use the bathroom far away from the trail and water sources whenever possible. Along the way, we found a spring in the side of the mountain that Mr. Jones had told us about, so we topped off our water and continued slowly working our way up. At our next stop, we reached a rock where we could see the sun starting to rise. We took several breaks along the rest of the way, and made it up the icy ground, around various frozen puddles, to Whitney’s upper Trail Camp about halfway up the mountain. There we took a longer break, grabbed some food, and prepared for the next big step: the dreaded “97 switchbacks”. Those switchbacks took what seemed like forever to get up! The ground on the way up was rather icy and slushy, so we had to be extra-careful not to slip, but the sun was coming out and it was getting warmer so some of the smaller spots began to melt.
We continued up the remaining switchbacks to Trail Crest. There, we walked the remaining two miles along the ridge of the mountain chain where we were able to see both sides and the amazing views both had to offer. We could see various lakes including one known as Guitar Lake.
Approaching the summit was one of the longest five minutes I’ve experienced. Although I could see the top, there were still several more switchbacks to get there. The view from the very top was amazing as one would expect from the highest point in the continental United States (around 14,500 feet). From there, we could see the entire valley in all its glory. We quickly took pictures before heading down. We moved quickly because we could see some dark clouds rolling in and didn’t want to get caught in a hailstorm or, even worse, a lightning storm. We all headed back and the last of the group made it back to the trailhead by 9:00 pm. At the trailhead, we packed up and drove to the McDonald’s in Lone Pine to eat our victory dinner before heading to a hotel in Ridgecrest.
The rest of the trip was much more comfortable as most of us slept in beds, which was a welcome change after hiking 22 miles and 18 hours. The ride back to Irvine went off without a hitch as our car’s passengers talked and the other’s played video games and all made it back no problem. The trip altogether was fun and, aside from the one day of intense hiking, pretty easy. This was by far one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had; I look forward to similar challenges in the future and perhaps more trips with these intrepid hikers.
Thanks, Buddy. That was a great account of our trip.
Just a few additional details: to get to Mt. Whitney, you take the 15 freeway north to Hesperia and pick up the 395 north to Lone Pine, CA. It's about 4.5 hours from Irvine. The first night we camped at Horseshoe Meadows campground at 10,000 feet to help adjust to the altitude. Mr. Garg and Hari went ahead of the group and secured a campsite for us - the only one that came open on that day. We did several training hikes at that altitude to acclimate. The second night we camped right at the Whitney Portal at 8,400 feet. That's the altitude we began our assent from. I kind of divide the assent into three parts. From the portal up to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet is a 3,600 foot gain over 6 miles. It's a steady uphill hike on good trails starting out in the forest. Once you get to Trail Camp, you are above the treeline and facing the side of a mountain that goes straight up 1,300 feet. That's the second part of the hike, the 97 switchbacks, that begin taking you up and up rapidly to the ridge line at Trail Crest over 2 miles of hiking. Trail Crest is at 13,300 feet and it was here that some of the scouts began feeling the effects of altitude sickness, headaches and feeling kind of blah. From the ridge, we could see both side of the mountain, and that's where the third part of the assent began when our path went to the back side of the mountain and we could finally see the peak of Whitney in the distance with it's white emergency building at the top. The trail at this point is very rocky and there are some steep dropoffs. There are only 2.5 miles remaining to the top and at first the hiking is not too bad but once the altitude gets to 14,000 feet, it becomes difficult to hike very far without stopping to catch your breath. The last half mile or so is the hardest simply because there isn't enough oxygen in the air. Our group arrived at the top between 12:30 and 1:00 PM which meant we had spent almost 11 hours to get to the top and some of the scouts were feeling a little nauseous by then. At the top, the view is "amazing" like Buddy says. Coming down was such a relief as we were going downhill most of the time. It took until almost 9:00 PM to get back down for the whole group. The seven scouts and four adults all did a fantastic job conquering the mountain. They were: Buddy B, Hari G, Russell L, Andy L, Davy L, Isaiah F, Daniel S, Mr. Suarez, Mr. Garg, Mrs. Morris and Mr. Luoma. Thanks to all the people that supported us in this endeavor with your advice, guidance, help and suggestions.
Yours in Scouting,