The time for our much anticipated Mt. Whitney hike finally came. I have to say that I wasn't as prepared as I would like to have been, but I decided I owed it to myself to make a push for the peak. Maybe after the hike I could repair the damage.
I headed out with four other coworkers: Chris and Jonathan (my long time hiking buddies), and Matt and Jeff. We loaded up in Matt's RV early Wednesday and headed for Mt. Whitney. Our goal was to begin the hike in the early AM hours on Thursday.
To be honest, we left ill-prepared. Nobody had chosen a campsite before the trip. Also, Matt's RV had yet to be tested on the types of mountain passes we would traverse. As it turned out, the braking system was not quite in optimal condition. Matt had some braking trouble coming down from Sonora pass heading towards Highway 395. But thankfully, Matt and Jeff proved to be handy and were able to bleed the brakes and replenish the lines with some new fluid. This stop, among others, made us realize that we wouldn't make it on time to pick up our permits. But fortunately we were able to call in and have the permits left in a box for us. We then climbed towards Whitney Portal. We weren't sure if we would find somewhere to sleep, but again, things just kind of worked out. We found a nice spot for the RV in the family campground.
After a short rest we arose at around 3 am to start our hike. Some members of the group took a good long time to get ready, so we actually didn't leave our campground until around 4 am. By about 4:30 am, we arrived at the Mt. Whitney trailhead and commenced out hike.
We ascended gradually up the initial switchbacks. The clear skies allowed for great star gazing. As the sun rose, we saw the beautiful sharp walls of rock on both sides of the trail. Small streams of water flowed down from the rocks crossing the trail. Although I might not have liked our generally slow pace, I am actually grateful for it as I believe it prevented all five of us from suffering any serious altitude sickness.
After several hours of hiking, we arrived at the second backpacker's camp and took a lengthy rest. Chris went farther up the trail to look for a good spot to go to the bathroom. When he didn't return, I decided to do the same. I eventually found him a handful of switchbacks up the notorious 97 switchbacks. Unfortunately, there were so many hikers that there was nowhere to "go" in private. So we just kept going. We looked down the switchbacks to see if our group would leave. When they hadn't, Chris and I decided that we had a much better chance of making it to the peak and back home in a reasonable time if just the two of us headed up.
Finally, we made it up the long, but pleasant switchbacks to the ridge. We followed the ridge and its breathtaking views (and plain breathtaking from lack of oxygen) to the summit. The views and the sense of accomplishment, along with fatigue, made this a very emotional and beautiful experience. We didn't stay long on the peak as the weather was uncertain and we felt occasional sleet. We had been warned a million times of perilous weather on the peak, and we didn't want any part of that kind of danger.
As we descended the peak, we were pleasantly surprised to see Jonathan, Jeff, and Matt on the ridge. We encouraged them and shared some of our food and ibuprofen. The rest of the hike down was tiring, but the scenery equally as beautiful as it was on the ascent.
Chris and I arrived back at our campground well into the evening quite exhausted. We only hoped that our friends would make it down equally as safe, which they did.
I didn't fully describe the scenery we witnessed, but I hope you will enjoy the photos with the accompanying captions.