Mount Whitney, California

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The highest peak in California, Mt. Whitney is also the highest peak in the continental United States.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

As the first step in a long-time goal, John got a permit to climb Mt. Whitney through the lottery in February. After training all Spring, it was finally time to head south with Julie, Jasmine, Richard and John crammed into the car on their way to John's sister Cathleen's house in Carson City. There we spent the night and left Jasmine.

The next day we drove to Lone Pine where the wind was raging at 20-30MPH. The thought of being up high in that wind was frightening, even more so since it was unabated at 2am when we rose (I can't say "awoke"- I'm not sure anyone slept) to depart.

After driving to the 8400' trailhead, we were on the trail by 3:10am. The headlamps came off before 5. This picture was taken shortly after that, but with Richard setting the pace we'd already made it past 10,300' Outpost Camp.

This picture was taken just a bit below 12,100' Trail Camp, where we were almost an hour ahead of our schedule.

We noticed that the trail was somewhat rocky.

It was also quite cold, as the temperature in Lone Pine was about 15 degrees below normal. Note Julie's pile jacket and gloves in the picture, which she wore virtually all day. In the early morning, trying to rock-hop across the creeks by headlamp on verglas-covered stones was interesting.

After Trail Camp comes the infamous 97 Switchbacks. We didn't have a big problem with this section except from the previous day's snowmelt which had frozen into hard water-ice on parts of the trail.

The cables were not up yet, and there was still a nice fat wad of snow on the trail. Care was taken not to step off the edge.

Note the icicles hanging from the rock above Richard's head. There was also ice on the rocks underfoot!

Trail Crest is at 13,700', and after walking for hours up an east-facing canyon you can finally see the west side of the escarpment. We were well ahead of schedule, and awestruck by an amazing day. Julie has a big grin knowing that most of the elevation gain is over.

With less than 1000' of elevation to go, you start to think you're about there. But it's two more miles of very rough trail, and slow going.


Richard and Julie are standing on the trail, and if you look closely, that's trail in the foreground.

We made it! The top of the continental US: 14,497'.

Julie and John had headaches, but overall everyone was doing pretty well. We wandered around for a few minutes, took some pictures, and Richard called his wife. Then we sat down to have a bite to eat.

The little shack was built for research by the Smithsonian in 1910. If you know where to look, you can see it on the summit in the next picture (with the "high" point as #1, move to summit #3 (of 5) with the long gradual left ridgeline, and look for a little bump about in the middle of its left ridgeline).

Julie put one bite of food in her mouth and immediately succumbed to altitude sickness. She was nauseous and had vertigo. The only cure is to get down.

Although I'd like to brag about doing this at the ripe old age of 47, I'll have to admit that Richard, my dad, deserves more credit for doing this at 73.
Dad on the summit

Unfortunately, it takes a long time to negotiate the trail back to Trail Crest and then the 97 Switchbacks, especially when your body is short on food and you feel horrible. Julie didn't really feel better until we got back to Outpost Camp at 10,000'. Due to her condition, that took 7 hours.

By the time Julie was feeling better, Richard was needing a nap. He said he could get there sooner by sleeping for 10 minutes first. But Julie wasn't going to go any faster, and we needed to stay together. The sun was setting, so John had no mercy as he prodded Richard to keep moving. We didn't have to put our headlamps back on, but John had to turn on the car headlights to pull out of the parking lot!

Mr. Natural Home | 2003 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski