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Monday, July 21, 2008 09:30 PM >>>

how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?

Monday,  07/21/08  08:40 PM

Well, I did it.  I climbed Mt. Whitney yesterday, and I have the pictures (and the overall soreness!) to prove it.  I actually had no idea how hard it was going to be, or how dangerous; in fact, before this I had little comprehension of the difference between hiking Mt. Whitney (basically, walking up the trail) and climbing Mt. Whitney (actually, er, climbing, as in hanging from rocks with 100' of nothing below you).

hang in there, dude!

My friend Mark Elliot and I climbed up the "moutaineer's route" to the summit, and then descended the trail back to the Whitney Portal; overall it took us about sixteen hours.  I would not recommend trying to do this in one day, but we did it :)

Our day started at oh-dark-hundred in Lone Pine (actually, about 5:00AM); the peak of Mt. Whitney was barely visible in the darkness, framed by the moon.

moon over Whitney; that slight purple dot is over "the notch"
Whitney Portal (base) = 8,325'

After a big breakfast (!) and driving up to the portal, we began the hike around 0700; as we climbed up, the views back down the valley to the East were amazing.

not in Kansas anymore

After about two hours (and some rather, um, interesting climbing up "the ledges") we reached Lower Boy Scout Lake.

Lower Boy Scout Lake, Keeler Needles (and Mt. Whitney) in the distance

The beauty of these high meadows is incredible.

wildflowers abound...

... as do waterfalls

After some serious climbing - and about 3 1/2 hours after starting out - we reached Upper Boy Scout Lake.  Here the foliage turns to rock, and the mountains really begin.

at Upper Boy Scout Lake, so far, so good

Lone Pine is now way off in the distance

At this point the weather began looking iffy, and we weren't sure if we could make it to the top.  Fingers crossed, and much scrambling over the talus ensued.

mist shrouds the Sierra crown; Keeler Needles at left, Mt. Whitney at right

Finally, five hours after starting, we reach Iceberg Lake.  Now the serious fun began, and man I must tell you, looking up at those peaks is intimidating!

Mt. Whitney beckons...
some objects are further than they appear

Iceberg Lake panorama
(click to enlarge)

We stopped here for lunch, taking in the scenery while refueling.  Fortunately we were not affected by the altitude; although people frequently camp here you are warned about altitude sickness.  We also met some of the locals...

A marmot checks us out; I can has cheeseburger?

Then onward; about 2,000' left, much of it seemingly straight up (!).  Now the difference between hiking and climbing really became apparent.  Making things even more fun, the East chute was filled with some icy snow.  Whoa.

looking up the East chute to "the notch"; note ice

Still we proceeded slowly and methodically, and made it to the notch.  After 6 1/2 hours, we are nearly there.  The views in every direction are unbelievable, and you must try not to think about the exposure.

yay, made it to the notch!  so far, so good...

the view to the West - you can see for miles and miles and miles and...

Now there was a little matter of climbing the North face to the summit.  This is considered a "class 3" climb, but whatever you call it, this is serious.  It just doesn't do to think about falling.

the North face, just 300' to go - straight up

Fortunately Mark is an experienced climber, and a solid guide.  We took our time and he roped us through a particularly tricky section, entering the face.  I must say in retrospect this was the best part of the climb; methodically working our way from hold to hold.  There were some really cool sections, including a 'chimney' to wedge through near the top, and it was really fun.  I really like rock climbing, who knew?

Mark, in the route

That picture of me at the top of this post was taken by Mark, about halfway up the North face.  Woo hoo.  So after a very concentrated hour, we made it!  Eight hours after starting out, and 6,000' higher.

and you may ask yourself, "how did I get here"?
once in a lifetime
(same as it ever was)

2,000' straight down to Iceberg Lake

The feeling of vertical dimensionality you get, standing at the highest point in the U.S, looking down in every direction is hard to explain.  Of course I've looked out an airplane window, but this is pretty different.  The volumes of air are apparent, and the Earth looks curved.

maximum verticality

altimeter check
Mt. Whitney = 14,496'

After gazing for a while and eating and drinking, we took off back down the Whitney Trail; 11 miles of switchbacks.  The trail begins by heading South behind the Keeler Needles and Mt. Muir, before joining the Muir Trail at the "Trail Crest".

peeking down between the Keeler Needles

at the Muir Trail Crest; looking East...

...and looking West... Wow!

At that point the trail heads down and East, along a different valley to the one we climbed up.  The views back along the ridge toward the peaks were incredible; it was hard to believe we had been standing "up there" just two hours ago.

the Sierra crown: Mt. Muir, the Keeler Needles, and Mt. Whitney

The path down the remainder of the valley was long but amazingly beautiful in the fading light...

High Sierra beauty  

...still ticking, but winding down...

Six hours later, we were back at the car; no problem :)  So, eight hours of hiking climbing up 6,000' vertical feet to the highest point in the U.S., followed by eight hours of descending back down through some of the most beautiful High Sierra scenery imaginable.  Quite a day. 

And I may ask myself, how did I get here?