Hiking Mt. Whitney
Somewhere around 4am the wind got crazy, and by 5:30am we were all awake. A beautiful sunrise greeted us as we pulled on clothes and crawled out of our tents. Polished off the last of the ramen for breakfast, left everything unnecessary in Mike's tent, and up the 97 switchbacks we went.
It's some of the most well-graded switchbacks around, complete with fresh water at switchback #23 (where we met quite a few other hikers refilling their bottles), but the high elevation makes it one tiring experience. 1.9 miles up to Trail Crest, which is a healthy 13,500 feet, and those inclined to do it even lighter can ditch their packs for the final 1.9 miles (I know I did!).
The last 1.9 miles and 1,000' of elevation are mostly over scree, which sucks, but someone did an amazing job with the trail, so it's actually not that bad. Mike tried to hang out over a window, but we discouraged him from such lunancy, and instead struggled to the top, 14,496 feet according to the sign (14,505 feet based on newer data). It's quite broad at the top, with quite a few hikers there-- and pretty awesome to be at the tallest point in the continental United States.
Talked to quite a few other hikers up there, many of whom were doing Whitney as a day hike (most had left between midnight and 3am, and it was 10:45am when we'd hit the top... ouch), and a surprising number who had come from the west on the John Muir Trail and were doing Whitney as a week-long-or-more hike. Pretty crazy, but that seems to be the crowd who thinks tall mountains exist to be climbed! *grins*
Headed back after taking a few pictures and videos. Found the switchbacks down were quite nice, although descending down to 12,000 feet (from 14,505 feet and 13,500 feet at the top and and Trail Crest, respectively) still sucked-- we could definitely tell the air was still thin at 12,000 feet! Packed everything else up and redistributed some of the weight (thanks, Mike and Travis!), then headed back down to Whitney Portal.
Went slowly at first, but as the elevation got lower and the air got thicker, we moved faster, and by the time we were at 10,000 feet, Mike had taken off like a rocket while Travis and I were moving three times as fast as I was earlier in the day! The distances got surprising, though-- while we were still moving slowly and efficiently down to Mirror Lake and to Lone Pine Lake, we thought we were almost done by that point-- turns out Mirror Lake is almost 4 miles (and 90 minutes) from Whitney Portal, while Lone Pine Lake is a little shy of 3 miles and an hour away!
Clearly the effects of 14,500 feet and more than 17 miles of hiking by that point (11 of which was that day!) was affecting our judgement! (total moving time was just shy of 9 hours, distance was 14.7 miles. Plus 6 miles and 4 hours the previous day, although the GPS may or may not be a little suspect)
We made it back though, Mike about 5 minutes last our secondary deadline of 5pm (delayed due to a helpful ranger), the rest of us about 30 minutes past. Met up with Mike's family, used the first sorta-real bathroom we'd seen in almost 36 hours (outhouse is better than a WAG bag...), had a slow, lousy steak at Totem Cafe in Lone Pine, made it a few hours later back to Los Angeles, and suddenly the trip was over.
It was one hell of a hike. Well worth all the effort, all the planning, and the views.