Up the hill

Lone Pine Travel Blog

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Trail map- it's hard to see, but the base camp was at "you are here", the 12000 foot trail camp was to the southwest near the bend in the trail, and you can see the Whitney Summit just north of that
I'd been buried at work for a couple months, pretty much not leaving my desk- weird, since spring is usually the field season for a wildlife biologist. My friends called up "want to go for a hike this weekend, we're climbing Mt. Whitney" You have to reserve a spot on the trail a year ahead, but someone had bailed, so there was a spot open. Sure, why not! They'd been training, gathering up gear, practicing for the climb for the last six months while I'd been... typing, but how hard could it be??


I live at sea level (ok, at 28 feet...) and don't like cold, trees, or altitude so don't really have any gear. For some reason I have an ice axe, but not all the cool REI titanium, ultralight, Goretex equipment climbers have. No problem, I grabbed my car camping stuff, tied three packs together with rope and duct tape.
First sight of the mountain from the desert as we approach. The peak is the sharpest one in the background, just right of center.
.. and it becomes climbing eqipment! Really heavy, bulky, climbing equipment. Off we went the next day for the Owens Valley.

This is an interesting climb. The assent is from the east slope of the Sierra Nevada. In a short 7 miles, the trail rises from dry, cactus covered desert to alpine barrens at over 14,000 feet, the highest peak in the contenental USA. Only McKinnley in Alaska tops it. The mountain is closed during the winter, and this was the first day it was open for climbing, May 30th. Word around the park office was that the scouts had run into way more ice and snow than normal, but it may still be passible with axes and crampons. This usually isn't an issue this late in the year, so we were only able to rent a few sets, some of us wouldn't be able to summit.
Moon rises in the dark blue sky at 6000 foot base camp. Notice how the sky darkens as we climb...


We headed up to 6000 feet the first night to camp and acclimate a little to the high altitude and cold. The next day we'd climb to 12,000 feet, camp, and summit the next morning once some of the ice burned off. Spirits were high at the camp, though not everyone had backpacked before and there was some intimidation craning our necks up to see the icy peak with clouds ripping by high above. The eastern slope of the Sierra is an awesome sight, a near vertical wall of broken rock rising to dizzying heights from the desert floor.

Bears are a big deal here. There's a dearth of resources so even the tiniest waft of food scent in the air will bring them at night, and they'll destroy whatever they need to to get to it. A big, heavy car in the lot had been torn apart during the night; the culprit was after a sprig of decorative berries some hapless campers had left on the seat.
Getting ready to climb at base camp
All food, lotions, or anything scented goes in very heavy armored casks that seal and go in your pack. What a pain, bulky and each adds 7 pounds to your load.

Early the next morning we headed out, climbing through the pines, into the firs and spruce. The first step at the trailhead is steep, and it just stays relentlessly steep. It's about like climbing stairs, but all day, with 60 pounds on your back. We climbed to Lone Pine Lake, a glacial-scraped pool perched high above the desert. Here you could really see the contrast between the cold, lush forest around you and the blazing desert floor, just an hour's walk away. It was like looking out from a balcony.

As the day wore on, we climbed steadily through forests, then cold mountain meadows, and finally beyond the treeline into jumbled rock, snow, and ice.
Pointing out the lowest patch of snow at probably 9000 feet
Traversing the sheets of ice slowed us down, on the steepest slopes the trail was buried so it required inching along a smooth surface, trying to punch into the melting icy snow for purchase.

Again, I live at sea level so 10 hours of climbing later, I was pretty much a zombie, grinding up the last thousand feet to the 12,000 foot trail camp. Gasping for breath, but without oxygen in the thin air to satisfy. No stopping though, when the sun dropped below the the peak, the temperature would plummet to close to zero, we had to be in the tents. We were running low on water too, counting on a pool that forms near the planned camp.

We spent the night camped on hard rock and ice, shivering in tents wedged into crevices to escape the howling, icy wind. The pond froze solid by the time we got there, so water was tight.

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Trail map- its hard to see, but t…
Trail map- it's hard to see, but …
First sight of the mountain from t…
First sight of the mountain from …
Moon rises in the dark blue sky at…
Moon rises in the dark blue sky a…
Getting ready to climb at base camp
Getting ready to climb at base camp
Pointing out the lowest patch of s…
Pointing out the lowest patch of …
Boots
Boots
Switching to boots.  Notice I alre…
Switching to boots. Notice I alr…
Bear warning sign  on the trail
Bear warning sign on the trail
Bear boxes for locking base camp…
"Bear boxes" for locking base cam…
Packing the bear-proof, armored fo…
Packing the bear-proof, armored f…
A rest stop soon after starting, w…
A rest stop soon after starting, …
Its only a couple hours into the …
It's only a couple hours into the…
Mike wears out
Mike wears out
Mountain meadow, like the dead mar…
Mountain meadow, like the dead ma…
Trail gets more rugged.  It crosse…
Trail gets more rugged. It cross…
These remaining ice sheets slow us…
These remaining ice sheets slow u…
View up final segment of trail to …
View up final segment of trail to…
Me and Cecilia climbing ice and sn…
Me and Cecilia climbing ice and s…
12,000 foot trail camp where well…
12,000 foot trail camp where we'l…
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Lone Pine
photo by: daveruz90