Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 6, Mt. Whitney

Midnight. Itvis chillier out now than it was five hours ago but not as cold as I thought it would be. Perhap the big boulder behind me and the low rock wall are blocking the wind. My alarm didn't go off. Not good. I caused it go off and Andy said, "we changed to 2:00AM." so muchbfor trying to help out, back to bed.

 The alarm sounds. It is certainly colder. I have a bit of frost on the quilt. Heavenly bodies ate lower in the sky and nowhere bright enough to see by unaided. Signs of life from the others in our group as we pack up and maybe have a bite to eat before beginning our night hike to the trail junction with the spur trail to the summit of Whitney some 2.9 miles and 1,700 vertical feet above Guitar Lake.

 On with the longjohn pants and puffy jacket. No doubt something will come off when we start to really climb. With Adam leading the way we began our assault on the trail. Darkness surrounded us and we just saw our small headlamp lit worlds. Once in a while a stationary light marked a campsite of some person or group who camped away the bustle, such as it was, of Guitar Lake. I suppose if you get set with water, unreliable after Guitar Lake though this morning we crossed much flowing water, you certainly could camp Brobdingnagian the lake a bit closer to the top of the mountain. The climbing grew steeper and pauses became a bit more frequent to rest. I wondervif anyone else really needed those breaks. But we were making progress. Now and then we would gaze back and see a trail of bobbing lights following our path. A train of orcs someone said. But nothing sinister here.

 Slowly slowly slowly. The sky began to lighten. You could begun to see we had really gained serious ground. Guitar Lake became visible way off in the distance and granite crags nearby became more impressive. The swutchbacks, generally of quite good quality, continued. I plodded on with Matt keeping me company as we worked our way upward. I don't think we were ever terribly far from the others but I am sure the climb took more out of me than them. I was still not 100% and I had pretty much concluded that I would not make the final four mole roundtrip to summit. Maybe I could gave done it. No way I could do it as fast, or likely even close, as the others. If that makes me a wimp so be it.

 It would take us all about three hours to reach the junction sign and find packs of folks who had already begun their summit attempt. The wide rogravel area with cliffs on one side falling away and a cliff on the other blocking any hope of sunshine for hours yet was windy and cold. Quite chilly. At least the others would be moving and staying warm. I just huddled at that spot under my sleeping quilt now and then chatting with the intrepid souls with more omph than I who were readying themselves for their climbs or who were coming back from frigid windy sunrise assaults. Very cold for me (yes in hindsight I should have begun my descent right away. I wasn't having significantmaltitude issues it was more my bowels and concern about being way too slow for the group).

 Video shot near the end of the final switchbacks to the junction.

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IMG_1095.MOV (2572 KB)

I can't believe I neglected to take a photo of the sign. I hope someone else did. Kiss the sign and feel proud because to get this far requires a good bit of work and the descent will be no cakewalk. I feel a bit bad that I've not done the summit but the mountain is not going anywhere. When the boys returned a bit before 11:00AM. Matt and Adam torrme off down the trail while the rest of us tore into my Boars Head sausage first. Then the climb to Trailcrest before the 99 switchbacks down to Trailcamp. Finally sunshine and warmth. The shivers we all had been experiencing faded away. Andy and Konrad pulled ahead and from a switchback below Andy called up to say let's just meet at Whitney Pirtal. Then they pulled ahead. I plodded on. The switchbacks are moderately rocky but the footing is actually not bad. That isn't too say this is an easy teail. It is not. Especially when the sun really begins to best down on you and everything heats up. Down down down. The turns slow me down. Big steps slow me down. A couple bathroom breaks slowed me down. Scores of people passed ne going down. Hordes passed me going up. How do the dayhikers do it? Their roundtrip is about 22 miles with something like 5,000 feet of elevation gain between the summit and Whitney Portal. You don't see them carrying much water let alone cold weather clothing for the top. But hundreds climb this sunbaked rocky trail.
I reached Trailcamp and its lake whose name I do not know at 1:00PM. It is a lovely deep blue lake with hard hot rocks surrounding it. Your most pleasant final campsite on this side of the mountain. Sure you could camp near Trailcrest but that'll be chilly and waterless. When I left this lake around 1:30PM I didn't know the toughest bit was yet to come.
The hike from Trailcamp enters a section of rocks that pour heat off of themselves. The trail, for me, was tougher here with less good footing. I feltvi did better on the previous section. Worse I managed to not really see the pretty lakes like Mirror Lake as I went by. Sure the spit by Outpost Creek a mile and change from Outpost camp was nice but this section was just hard. By this point in the afternoon the only people I was seeing going up were thise planning to camp. Many more scampered past me on their way down. Some I'd seen heading to the summit hours before. It would take 2.5 hours to reach Outpost camp.
That campsite certainly seems pretty enough. Being below treeline makes a world of difference. I passed some folks who recognized me from on high and continued the 3 plus miles down. Finally the footing improved but the trail seemed endless. Climbing up and bit then descending and leveling out as it came to the Lobe Pine Lake and Whitney Portal fork. You stroll a gravel path through lush forest with the sounds of Lobe Pine Creek (I assume) in your ears thinking I must be close. Then you see the mountain valley belie, way below, and you wonder. Switchbacks again. Good footing but I'm still slower than others and these things seem endless. Now and then I would heat a cat engine but it never seems to get closer. On abd on. A long seeming stretch. When I waded the North Fork of Lone Pine creek and passed the signs about permits and entering the John Muir Wilderness I felt I must be close. I was but it didn't feel like it. Just after 6:00PM I walked past the trailhead sign and utterly failed to get an iPhone snapshot to share with you. Minutes later I found the gang sipping drinks and tracking down a hotel for the night. They had been at the store for about 90 minutes. That store is staffed by very helpful people and the Mooseberger was something else ( couldn't quite finish it, remember my system was still not quite right, though better). What a haul this day turned out to be.
** Ken **
Sent from my iPhone

Posted via email from Ken Knight's posterous

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