Mount Whitney: The Day Trip

25 September 1999

By Bill Finch with additional photos by Jane Finch

Mount Whitney and the Sierra Crest

An email invitation from Bill Holst, fellow Sequoia-Kings Canyon Hikers Club member, held an offer I couldn't pass up. Bill won the lottery, four passes for a one-day assault of Mt Whitney on September 25, and invited me to join him on the hike. When I told my wife, Karen, of the offer, she replied, "Of course, you should go. You ought to think about asking if Jane can go, too."

"Jane do Mt Whitney in a day?" was my first reaction. Then I thought back to our recent vacation at Universal Studios where Jane, my 15-year-old daughter, had run up the stairs from the Jurassic Park ride to the main park. She left me panting as we climbed 500? feet of stairs. Why not? I accepted the Bill's invitation and asked if it would be OK to bring Jane. Bill graciously extended the invitation to include Jane and all that remained was a little planning and arranging a substitute teacher for the Friday before the day of the hike.

Jane and I left Fresno right after school on Thursday and drove for Lone Pine. A couple of hours later we were in Bakersfield where we took the Highway 178 turnoff for Walker Pass. After a half-hour dinner break, we were back on the road and on our way toward the pass. We drove through Kern Canyon, passed Lake Isabella, and soon we were descending Walker Pass for the Owens Valley. We arrived at our lodgings in Lone Pine at around 9:30.

The next day, Jane and I decided to get a look at Whitney Portal where the trail begins. Soon after passing through the Alabama Hills, we had an excellent view of Mt Whitney, our goal of the following day. Mt Whitney
Mount Whitney from the Whitney Portal Road - The Whitney Portal road is a destination on its own with its great views of Mount Whitney and the Owens Valley.

In less than a half-hour, we were breathing cool, pine-scented air at the trailhead which is at about 8300 feet elevation. We picked up a few souvenirs at the store since it wouldn't be open the next day, at least when we were there. We planned on leaving before the store opened and returning after its close. On our return to Lone Pine, we stopped to take photos of the scenic Alabama Hills, site of dozens of Western movies. Alabama Hills
Many western movies were filmed in the picturesque Alabama Hills.

We lounged around that afternoon, napping as much as possible, until the phone rang. It was Bill who was ready to start carbo-loading for the next day's hike. He took us to his favorite pizza parlor where we enjoyed a great combination pizza. We returned to the motel where we agreed to meet at my car at 2:30 the next morning so we could be at Whitney Portal by 3:00.

We were on the trail at 3:15 the next morning and a full moon helped light the way. It was perfect hiking weather, clear and cool. We made several creek crossings. Jane fell at one of the crossings and scraped her leg but it wasn't serious. As we passed through timberline, the sun began to glow in the east. sunrise
Sunrise - I told Jane not to take this photo because I thought there wasn't enough light. I'm glad she didn't listen to me.

We took our first break at Trailside Meadow where we filtered water. water break
Bill Holst filters water from the stream of Trailside Meadow. Note the lovely fall color

We continued our ascent past Consultation Lake which was still in shadows. Consultation Lk
Consultation Lake - Jane took this picture of the lake while it was still in deep shadow.

We were looking forward to using the solar outhouses at Trail Camp but we were disappointed to find that they were closed. A large area around the outhouses was pretty smelly because of numerous protest statements left by disgruntled hikers. We moved up wind and took a breakfast break. A few dozen over-night hikers remained at Trail Camp when we got there and we saw a number of them leave for the summit as we enjoyed our breakfast.

The next leg of the trip involved the infamous switchbacks to Trail Crest. Jane decided that she would keep track of the number by inking a mark her left arm for each switchback. The trail had been moved since I descended it more than ten years ago. A huge amount of work had been put into relocating the trail onto the northeast-facing rock wall below Trail Crest. Safety cables have been installed along on section of trail, which is perennially icy. cables
Cable on Switchbacks - Another photo by Jane showing the Bills completing their way up the icy section of the switchbacks.

The Sierra crest loomed above as we continued our climb. sierra crest
Sierra Crest above Switchbacks - Impressive skyline along the Sierra Crest. Photo by Jane Finch.

After 97 switchbacks (by Jane's count) we arrived at Trail Crest, elevation 13,600. Jane was not feeling well. Trail Crest
Jane at Trail Crest - The climb and elevation gain began to take their toll on Jane at Trail Crest. Note the 97 marks on her left arm, one for each switchbacks we had just hiked.

She was getting puffy and loosing her appetite. I made sure she drank plenty of water. She was thinking about quitting but managed to continue.

Trail Crest is where the route crosses over the Sierra crest and for the remainder of the hike to the summit, the trail stays just west of the divide. Fabulous vistas of Sequoia high country entertained us as we made our way northward toward the summit. Most of our energies, however, were focused on making it to the top. Bill felt fine but Jane was feeling worse with every step. She was suffering from nausea and took a couple of ibuprofen for a headache. We took several long breaks. At about a mile from the summit, Jane was ready to quit. We took an extended break and I gave her a low-key pep talk, reminding her that it would be all downhill in another mile and we had already finished the hardest part of the hike. Never the whiner, Jane mustered her strength and made the final push to the top where she signed the register for herself and me. register
Jane signs the register on the summit of Mount Whitney after a difficult hike from Trail Crest.

Bill followed in a couple of minutes.

After signing the summit register, we moved toward the highpoint of the summit. Jane was more exhausted than I realized and she collapsed on a granite slab and slept for most of our half-hour stay on the summit. Bill was excited and celebrated with a cold beer he had brought for this special occasion. summit for Bill
He made it! - Bill Holst is obviously excited about making the summit. All those hours of training paid off.

He was the only hiker on the summit that had made it up in sandals. We enjoyed the incredible views on this nearly cloudless, windless, day. A new wrinkle this year was a number of hikers were sharing their triumph via cell phone. Jane began feeling a little better so we took her picture next to the summit plaque, then began our descent. Jane on summit
Jane began to feel a lot better after her half hour rest on the summit. The remaining photos were taken by her during our descent.

The descent was as easy for Jane as I had promised her and she began taking an interest in recording some of the lovely views on her camera. We were fascinated by the views of Owens Valley from the occasional windows along the trail. It wasn't difficult to see how some of the lakes, several thousand feet below, got their names. Guitar Lk
Guitar Lake - Jane became interested in the lakes west of the divide and took several photos, including this one of Guitar Lake and its surrounding lakelets.

By the time we picked up Jane's pack at Trail Crest, she was feeling much better. On our way down the switchbacks, we stopped at a spring, filtered water, and took a meal break. Soon, we were walking in shadows again. Jane was fascinated with the changes in light and took photos of shadows, shadows
Shadows moved quickly to the east as we descended the switchbacks. Photo by Jane Finch.

clouds clouds
The waning light drew our attention to changing colors of the clouds. Photo by Jane Finch.

and alpenglow as we continued our trip down the mountain. alpenglow
Various ridges were bathed in alpenglow. Photo by Jane Finch.

It began to get dark when we got to Trailside Meadow and the remainder of the trip was carried out with the aid of flashlights and moonlight. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we reached the trailhead at around 10:30 that evening, after only a few slips and falls, none of which were serious.

We were happy to be finished, but too tired to celebrate much. Jane decided she wanted to return home that night, so we left Bill at his room in Lone Pine and drove home. I had to pull off and rest several times on the way back, but we managed to make it back to Fresno at nine the next morning. Mt Whitney: the day trip? Not for the faint of heart!

04 September 1999
One Page Version 25 January 2013